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Neighborhood celebrates as former meat packing plant on Cleveland's west side meets its end

Posted at 7:40 PM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-20 19:43:31-04

Free coffee and donuts might as well have been champagne and caviar as neighborhood leaders, city officials and community organization leaders embraced one another on Monday. There were hugs and handshakes, high-fives and big smiles - all for a long-fought for demolition of a neighborhood eyesore.

On Tuesday, the former Swift & Co. meat packing plant on W. 65th St. finally began to meet its end as demolition crews began to carve holes into the century-old meat packing plant.

Once a major cog in Cleveland’s meat processing machine in the early 1900s, the century-old building has been a decrepit eyesore for decades. But it's an eyesore no more.

“Today is the happiest day,” said Rebecca Barker. “You won’t believe how happy I am about having this torn down.”

For Barker, the hum and shriek of demolition equipment might as well have been a heavenly choir. Concerned about the aesthetics and safety of the building, Barker has called city officials to complain every week for ten years, she said. 

Her biggest concern was the crumbling façade that sent bricks barreling down onto the concrete sidewalk below. With two schools within two blocks of the former industrial plant, the worry that one of those tumbling bricks might hit a student walking to school was ever present.

“We knew that it was a big issue, and obviously with tight budgets, it’s never easy to find money,” said Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack. “But we prioritized it to make sure the community saw a result here.”

Finding the money to fund the projected $600,000 for the first phase of the demolition project was one challenge. Going through the legal process of having the eyesore razed, however, was an entirely different challenge, said Ayonna Blue Donald, the interim director for Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing.

“It is very difficult because sometimes with these buildings, generally speaking, there is not a person around that is going to take ownership or responsibility for it, so sometimes you have to hunt people down,” Donald said. “To say [demolishing the building] is important is really an understatement. It means so much to communities when you have buildings like this for 10 to 12 years that everyone is campaigning to get torn down and actually see progress.”

In its heyday, the former Swift & Co. meat packing plant was one of the largest and most vital facilities in Cleveland’s booming meat processing industry, which ranked as high as seventh nationally before much of the industry collapsed in the 1940s. Swift closed its Cleveland operation in the early 1960s. 

Since the business folded, the property has changed hands more than a half-dozen times. All the while, the property continued to deteriorate, as vandals and squatters accelerated the building’s decline.

The neighborhood suffered the consequences of the absentee ownership, but they never gave up. Councilman McCormack said the neighborhood’s dedication to having the property demolished is commendable.

“The greatest thing about Cleveland and the neighborhoods here is that people care. People care about their neighborhood,” McCormack said. “They stay on top of issues. They work with their communities to make sure they are improving.”

Donald said the demolition of the expansive facility will occur in phases. The total price tag is expected to exceed $3 million. No timeline has been established as to when the remaining structures on the property will be demolished.

“It costs a lot to raze these structures just in demolition costs and abatement costs,” Donald said. “But it gives a little boost to the community I believe.”

It might be the start of an even bigger boost. Officials from MetroWest Community Development Organization said the property has received some possible redevelopment interest. However, that interest always came with the caveat that the building needed to come down. With demolition beginning, officials hope that redevelopment interest can be rekindled.

The first phase of the demolition project will take down the front half of the building, as well as the nearby Bell Tire building, Donald said. As for what might eventually take its place, officials are looking for a new manufacturer to set up shop, perhaps another food processing company.