CLEVELAND — Eight years after Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus were rescued from Seymour Avenue in 2013, the Clark-Fulton neighborhood that was rocked by their disappearance is showing the world it’s ready to thrive.
Old San Juan Jewelers has been on Clark Avenue just a few blocks away from Seymour Avenue for roughly two decades, cementing its place in the community by the time the girls were found in 2013.
“I remember when they found the girls, I remember when they disappeared, I remember taking flowers to their porch,” said Alexandra Pagan, whose family owns the business. “It was just something so emotional for us because we did experience that loss with that family.”
“Yeah, in 2013, the neighborhood was clearly in a tough spot,” said León. “This story coming to light at that time, quite frankly, but a big cloud over the neighborhood. I think a lot of folks thought this neighborhood might not be the right neighborhood to invest in.”
He estimates investment projects were delayed by about two years. But then around 2015, he says interest picked back up again. Today, Clark-Fulton is dotted with recently completed projects, current construction sites, and property that developers have their eyes on.
“For the first time ever, it feels like people want to be here,” said León. “They want to park their dollars here. They want to work with the [Community Development Corporation], they want to work with elected officials.”
“The investment that’s coming to the neighborhood is based on what the residents have been asking for for years,” said Ward 14 Cleveland City Council member Jasmin Santana.
She says a big focus needs to be on affordable housing so that residents who have been in Clark-Fulton for decades have a place to go.
“And when I say ‘affordable,’ I’m saying, one-bedroom, $550, $600, which really is affordable to the neighborhood,” said Santana.
MetroHealth Director of Economic and Community Transformation Greg Zucca says the investment happening in Clark-Fulton is playing out the way planners imagine in their dreams.
“[MetroHealth’s investment] really sent a signal to other developers, to other investors, to the financial community that this is not a community that we’re going to abandon, that this is not a neighborhood that should be abandoned,” said Zucca.
On top of the investments in medical facilities, MetroHealth is also investing $60 million in a residential development called “Vía Sana,” translating to “healthy way.”
The project will bring 72 affordable apartments and 5,000 square feet of space for the MetroHealth Economic Opportunity Center where residents will be able to train for jobs in the medical field or other professions.
Zucca says the goal of that investment is to improve other “social determinants of health,” like housing, transportation, and access to jobs.
“As a healthcare system, if we really want to drive better health outcomes, we need to make investments in those areas as well,” said Zucca.
The Pivot Center for Arts, Dance, and Expression
The former Astrup Awning Factory has been converted into a new community, performance, and art space dedicated to cleansing negative perceptions of the Clark-Fulton community.
It’s almost directly behind the land Berry, Knight, and DeJesus were rescued from and already includes offices for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Cleveland Museum of Art, LatinUs Theatre Company, Inlet Dance Theater, and will soon house an office for Councilwoman Santana.
The Pivot Center also houses the Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults, DeJesus' non-profit organization that she specifically wanted to operate near the place where she was held captive.
The Lofts at Lion Mills
The Lofts at Lion Mills turned a former industrial warehouse into “36 units of affordable housing for families,” right down the street from the corner of West 25th Street and Clark Avenue, one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood.
Northern Ohio Blanket Mill Factory
An old factory in Clark-Fulton is being converted into 60 units of affordable housing with 31,000 square feet of commercial space with a social service provider on the ground floor. That project is a $32 million investment and is expected to be finished at the end of 2022.
The Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development is rising more than $9 million to buy the former HJ Weber warehouse on West 25th Street to turn it into CentroVilla 25, a market that will bring jobs, food, and opportunities for businesses to thrive.
“We’re addressing the issue of space and we’re addressing the issue of affordability by being able to have multiple businesses in one location,” said Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development Executive Director Jenice Contreras.
The excitement around the massive amount of investment is tempered by the fact that new development has often preceded negative consequences for people who live nearby.
“It gets a little scary, to be honest because we don’t want gentrification to take over,” said Pagan.
“The Latino community has been displaced from so many surrounding neighborhoods and so it is so important to create a sense of place here, which we’re doing because they have no place else to go,” said Santana.
Displacement sometimes happens when new development leads to new businesses that are too expensive for the population that lived in a community before, or when property values rise, driving up property taxes, forcing long-term residents out.
“Folks can’t get priced out of a grocery store because we don’t even have one,” said Contreras. “This neighborhood is still a food desert.”
The property tax issue has been talked about before. Councilwoman Santana says a working group could come up with legislation to address it within the city.
In Columbus, Senator Hearcel F. Craig (D-Columbus) introduced Senate Bill 159, called the Property Tax Relief and Local Government Support Act, which would cap property tax increases on qualifying homes at 5% from one year to the next on April 13, 2021. Since it was just introduced, it was only assigned to a Senate committee a few weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a neighborhood where development has happened to people and not with them,” said León. “We need to create interventions to stop that displacement from happening. Were at that point in time now.”
The Community Plan
Councilwoman Santana, Metro West, the City of Cleveland, MetroHealth, and The Cleveland Foundation are working on a comprehensive development plan for the community that will consolidate feedback from residents into a “playbook” for future developments.
When new developers come into Clark-Fulton, they will be able to reference that plan to see what residents want and need and then shape their plans around those concerns.
León says the plan is to submit a final version to the city in the next few months so that it can become an official part of the development planning process in Clark-Fulton.
You can find more information and sign up for updates on that program here.
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