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Officials remain committed to revitalizing Old Brooklyn historic church site despite funding setback

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Posted at 5:12 PM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 20:15:50-04

CLEVELAND — A long-awaited project to redevelop an important corner in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood will have to wait a little longer after the Ohio Housing Finance Agency opted not to award tax credits toward a proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Memphis Avenue and Pearl Road. Although describing the setback as disappointing, officials from the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation said they remain committed to revitalizing the vital corner of the Pearl Road corridor.

Last week, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency did not include the proposed redevelopment at Memphis Avenue and Pearl Road on its list of tax credit recipients. The Old Brooklyn Community Development Corp. and local developer, NRP Group had proposed the project, which included 50 affordable and market rate apartment units and more than 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail space.

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“It was disappointing in a lot of ways,” said OBCDC interim director Lucas Reeve. “ The revitalization of that critical corner in our main downtown — essentially our Main and Main — we’ll have to go back to the drawing board in a lot of ways.”

Included in the redevelopment plan was the demolition of St. Luke’s Church, a historic yet dilapidated house of worship that lost its congregation nearly a decade ago. Initially built in 1905 and expanded in 1925, the charming red-bricked church has occupied the corner of Memphis and Pearl for more than a century. The church’s roots pre-date the Civil War.

The proposed demolition of the church as well as the nearby Green Line building was met with opposition from some community members and a handful of nearby business owners who pushed for the renovation and re-purposing of the site.

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The church property had been in the possession of the county land bank until it was formally transferred into the OBCDC’s possession in 2020. The local community development corporation, however, has been intimately involved in the property for the past few years, including marketing the former church property to interested developers. At the time, no buyers had emerged. Developers that had toured the site determined a renovation and re-use of the former church wasn’t financially viable.

Reeve said the recent renovations and investments in the area, including the newly-opened Brighton Park across from the Metroparks Zoo, have turned the St. Luke’s site into a potential catalyst for continued growth in the commercial corridor. The addition of 50 apartment units were viewed as vital, Reeve said, because the Pearl Road corridor has only 100 residential housing units.

“The one thing that we understand is a key element in the continued emergence and strengthening of our commercial corridor is bringing more people there. Those apartment units were critically important — and to do it in a way that provides housing for all.”

Despite not securing the vital tax credits needed to fund the project, Reeve said he remains optimistic as to the site’s future. Re-applying for the tax credits in 2023 is one of the options being considered.

“History has shown that lot of times a project will have to go through a couple of applications before it gets funded,” Reeve said. “That will certainly be a part of the conversation. Certainly Old Brooklyn — as well as NRP — were really excited for this project.”

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In addition to considering a future application for tax credits, Reeve said other options are being considered. If an interested party with a firm financial commitment could renovate and re-purpose the former church, Reeve said the OBCDC would certainly consider it. However, any future use of the property will be weighed against the needs of the area, specifically the creation of new housing units and commercial space.

“We’ll always kind of look at it through that lens of the level of revitalization that the project could bring and then also matching that with what we know of the condition of the building as well… and how significant of a investment it would be to turn that building into something viable in the future,” Reeve said. “Ultimately we are committed to the revitalization of that corner, however that looks, that is our goal. Since day one that has been our stated goal. We need to do whatever we need to do essentially to make that a reality.”