East Cleveland – Cleveland’s first suburb – was designed to offer a relaxed, scenic alternative to downtown living while also providing easy access to University Circle and the city’s core. It was known for its beautiful homes and parks. Like many other suburbs, East Cleveland has faced significant challenges over the past decades. Still, the residents remain passionate about returning their city to its former glory, and now they have help.
In collaboration with the City of East Cleveland, the Cuyahoga Land Bank is leading a $122 million strategic redevelopment plan to breathe new life into the city, starting in the 30-acre Circle East District neighborhood directly adjacent to Lake View Cemetery along Euclid Avenue. The 5-year plan is to create a unique and inclusive neighborhood that will include new city infrastructure (waterlines, sewers, sidewalks and roads), 200 new energy-efficient homes and a vibrant commercial mixed-use corridor along Euclid Avenue leveraging its proximity to the University Circle educational, medical, and employment hub. “After many years of discussing what’s possible, we are about to see a fundamental transformation to our city, parks and community,” says Julie Criscione, East Cleveland resident and chair of the Architectural Board of Review. “Seeing the ideas and dreams of revitalization becoming a reality is so exciting!”
The Cuyahoga Land Bank has assembled both the needed land and an impressive team of public and private sector partners who share the residents’ passion and belief that the time is right for an East Cleveland rebirth.
In addition to the Circle East District redevelopment, several other large scale development projects are underway in East Cleveland. Phoenix Investors, who purchased Nela Park in 2022, plan to renovate and improve the 90+ acre property as a mixed-use redevelopment. And, a $100 million mixed-used development by Genesis Global, a New York based real estate firm, is planned along Euclid Avenue.
At the heart of the Circle East District is the Mickey’s Building, an art deco style 25,000 sq. ft. former auto dealership at the corner of Euclid and Woodlawn Avenues. The Land Bank, with financial assistance from JobsOhio, the City of East Cleveland, the Port Authority, and Cuyahoga County is 75 percent through the renovation of this commercial building at the gateway to the District.
When complete at the end of 2023, the building will house space for biotech, life sciences or health-related firms, a first-floor café and a community gathering space where Ingenuity Cleveland is curating monthly arts-inspired events which began in August. This programming is supported by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Bank of America Foundation funding. The new café will serve as a community hub, providing a place for new and old residents to gather and interact. Explaining County support for the project, former County Executive Armond Budish said, “The renovation of the vacant Mickey’s Building is part of a larger East Cleveland neighborhood revitalization project aimed at turning the area into a walkable pedestrian district and a rebuilding of the residential infrastructure, which can help attract more businesses.”
The Land Bank controls another 21 commercial parcels along Euclid Avenue and will solicit private developer proposals this Fall for redevelopment of these shovel-ready four acres. East Cleveland officials understand the importance of a clear framework within which developers operate both to protect the community’s vision and to enable a smooth development process. To this end, they partnered with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission to create a Strategic Land Use Plan that identifies focal areas for redevelopment and are now updating the city’s residential and commercial zoning.
New Contemporary Homes
Starting in 2024, the Cuyahoga Land Bank will break ground for the Phase 1 new homes. Single-family homes and townhomes are planned for Phase 1, providing a range of designs and options for middle-income owner-occupied housing that meets the needs of contemporary lifestyles. The first new homes will be built on Woodlawn Avenue, and each new phase will proceed eastwards street by street. Longtime resident Beverley Brown says, “I am excited about having new housing options in our wonderful neighborhood.” The Land Bank has been working with realtors and lenders to create attractive financing options for buyers. For employees of University Circle institutions, there are also great incentives through the Greater Circle Living Program. The City of East Cleveland offers 15-year 100% tax abatement.
An Involved Community
Strong neighborhoods start with engaged and passionate residents. East Cleveland residents worked with Case Western Reserve University in 2015 and Cleveland State University in 2020 to forge a vision for how they want their city to rebuild. They have continued that involvement by working since April 2023 with the urban design team Seventh Hill to help the Land Bank determine how the Circle East District neighborhood should look and feel, sharing their ideas for public art, green spaces and streetscape elements through the Connect EC initiative. With assistance from the Ohio Department of Development and the McGregor Foundation, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has invested $125,000 in home repairs to assist existing residents with improvements to their historic homes. Agencies like CHN Housing partners and ESOP are also working with residents to provide financial counseling, weatherization and home repair programs.
Sustainability & Infrastructure
The Cuyahoga Land Bank is committed to sustainability and green initiatives in every aspect of the Circle East District. It is particularly focused on energy efficiency and rebuilding the City’s tree canopy. The Land Bank will be seeking the National Home Builders Association (NHBA) green building standard certification for the entire District. Project plans include energy-efficient construction, rooftop solar panels and EV chargers in each new home. The Land Bank is working with Cleveland Owns to install a community-owned solar array on the rooftop of the Mickey’s commercial building, creating an opportunity for ordinary citizens to become a part of the energy economy. By joining the Cleveland Solar Cooperative, member-owners will pool their money and the cooperative will purchase and install solar panels on the roof of the Mickey’s building. The Land Bank will return some of energy cost savings to the cooperative, and member-owners will decide how to spend that revenue.
Project plans also include a comprehensive tree-planting program, including constructing a new greenway that bisects the existing residential streets, creating a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Thanks to Cuyahoga County’s Healthy Urban Tree Canopy grant program funding, the Land Bank will complete a Tree Study for the District in the Fall and plant 30 trees along the greenway in Fall of 2024.
The City of East Cleveland, with assistance from City of Cleveland Water and NEORSD, has secured $4.68 million of funding to rebuild the waterlines on six streets and the sewers for Phase 1 of the project. Combined with City of East Cleveland ARPA funding committed to the project, this will enable construction of new sidewalks, tree lawns, lighting, and the resurfacing of the Circle East District streets.