Sometimes you just need a project

Great effort is never wasted, but sometimes it needs the right outlet. In my own personal life, which I’m sure resonates with most, I often find myself in need of a project to take on or else I go stir crazy.

I think Cleveland’s community development non-profits are the same way. In order to maintain a high level of capacity (funding, staffing, outreach activities, etc) there is a need to constantly move on to a next project, and this is good bc it is those projects that revitalize the community. Funders like foundations, banks, and even public-sector build in performance metrics to incentivize motivated, expedient completion of funded activities, to force these organizations to move onto whatever is next.

Cleveland has a lot of organizational capacity around its vacant and abandoned building issue. There is the Thriving Cities Institute, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Cuyahoga Land Bank, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, City of Cleveland, Cleveland Restoration Society, Opportunity Corridor Project Office, Cleveland Housing Network, and the Vacant and Abandoned Properties Action Coalition (VAPAC) umbrella. Collectively these organizations boast an incredible roster of bright people, and all have the ability to bring unique resources to the table toward solving Cleveland’s vacancy issues. Some bring historic resources, others bring community development resources, others can bypass Ohio’s property and tax laws, and still yet others bring resources from ODOT, where a funding glut exists. All of these tools are needed to address a challenged Cleveland neighborhood.

They typically do not do that. There is a lot of disagreement about what to preserve and what to tear down.

That is why the Scofield Mansion effort, recently begun as a last-ditch attempt to rescue a historic landmark that may soon find itself on the wrong side of “Opportunity,”is so important.

 

6113The most incredible thing about the Scofield Mansion isn’t its romanesque architecture, but where it is located, just a stone’s throw from the new “Opportunity Corridor.” The city has talked a big game when it comes to this Opportunity Corridor, which is an ODOT highway that has been sold as a panacea for what ails Cleveland, whatever that is. More concretely, Planning Director Freddy Collier has raised the bar with the creation of a new design review district (a major tool that works so well for cities) and is quoted insisting that this corridor not have fast food and payday lenders. Even more concretely, many leaders around the Opportunity Corridor planning effort took a recent trip to Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, an important case study for modern industrial revitalization.

This desire and passion to get this project right, combined with the incredible capacity that all of these organizations bring to the table, is why they need a project to rally around.

The Scofield Mansion is just that project. The Plain Dealer is just now reporting in late Autumn 2016 of an effort that recently kicked off to preserve this landmark with preservation funding and using CNP and the Land Bank to get the property in better hands. These are outcomes that these organizations see to fruition on a daily basis.

This project has the ability to stand as a pilot project for greater collaboration between all these players toward mostly the same goal. Cleveland is very good at sheer blight clearance, but it has not realized its potential toward preservation, which is Cleveland’s real opportunity. While it’s tough to pursue more expensive opportunities while a lot of the city is in despair, Scofield’s location makes it the right opportunity to enhance the role of preservation on the east side, which won’t be preserved by clearing away everything (hopefully).

The use of targeted preservation has been found to be far more successful than sheer blight elimination. In West Philadelphia, preservation was found to “nearly double” property values. If done right, the Scofield effort doesn’t just save a cool old mansion and give Cleveland a new landmark anchoring the Opportunity Corridor – but the broader goal is to affect and improve the surrounding neighborhood.

saintlukessiteplan

Toward this goal, the Scofield Mansion can be added to the scope of the St. Luke’s Pointe project, which is an amazing redevelopment of the former St. Luke’s Hospital on Shaker Boulevard. Led by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Cleveland Housing Network, it’s already a great project that gives the neighborhood more desirable housing for both families and seniors. This is what I mean when I’m always talking about virtuous projects – which are projects that create more opportunity than they “use up.” This project leverages funding from the St. Luke’s Foundation, which even paid for the adjacent RTA upgrades:

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All that’s standing in between St. Luke’s and the Scofield Mansion is CMHA’s Woodhill Homes, which at a glance looks overdue for a RAD redevelopment – which CMHA is just now redeveloping its RAD portfolio. So there’s another strong organization to bring into the fold on this effort; not on the “Mansion” itself, but rather toward ensuring that this “Mansion” is the spark needed to revitalize its urban environs.

If done right, this project brings tremendous resources into Buckeye-Shaker: LIHTCs, Historic Tax Credits, CDBG, Land Bank preservation funds, RAD/HUD dollars, TOD/TIF value capture, and more. I just wish it wasn’t too late to add the historic Jesse Owens Academy to the broader scope for a complete neighborhood overhaul. I’ve written about that here.

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