Cleveland Foundation Announces Phase II Innovation District Building Next to HQ Aimed at Uplifting East Side Neighborhoods

This article is originally from, written by Steven Litt on July 11, 2022.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Foundation wanted to shake things up in philanthropy and urban development in 2019 when it announced it was moving its headquarters from rented space in Playhouse Square to a new building in the impoverished Hough neighborhood on the city’s East Side. Now, with the $22 million headquarters nearing completion at East 66th Street and Euclid Avenue, the foundation is doubling down on its big move.

Today it’s announcing plans for the second building in the 12-acre, $400 million high-tech urban development district it’s planning next to the headquarters, halfway between downtown and University Circle. The foundation will seek city approval by the end of the year to build its self-financed MidTown Collaboration Center. The three-story, 95,000-square-foot building has an estimated construction cost of $28 million to $30 million.

The project’s name is a placeholder for a final moniker the foundation will choose in consultation with Hough residents. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2024, the new building is designed to show how racially segregated communities afflicted by redlining and other causes of intergenerational poverty could be uplifted through closer ties to leading institutions in education, lending, business development, technology, health care, and the arts.

Another aim is to show how large foundations can help struggling neighborhoods by using their wealth in ways that go beyond grantmaking. “My ardent personal desire is that this should become a national model,’’ said Ronn Richard, president and CEO of the foundation.

“We think that foundations with big endowments should all move into the redlined, underserved neighborhoods in each city in the country,’’ he said. “It’s the best way to get proximate to the people you serve, and really understand their needs and work with them.’’

In addition to economic and urban development, environmental justice is an important part of the project. The foundation said it is in the final stages of acquiring roughly 10 of the 12 acres for the innovation district from MPC Plating, which is cleaning up what had been one of the city’s most polluted industrial sites. The remediation is expected to be finished in 30 to 60 days and will conclude with a “no further action ”letter from the OEPA, at which point the property will transfer, the foundation said.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb applauded the foundation’s Midtown effort, calling it “a unique model in the nation.’’ Bibb said it was “an amazing step in the right direction for one of the country’s largest community foundations to go from an ivory tower downtown and to be in the heart of the neighborhoods to truly meet people where they are.’’ The mayor said he’s talked with Anthony Richardson, appointed last year as the new president of the George Gund Foundation, about following the Cleveland Foundation’s example.

“I’m willing to find some land for them on the Southeast Side if I can so they can join the Cleveland Foundation,’’ Bibb said. “This should be the future of philanthropy. We talk about poverty, we talk about racism, we talk about improving these neighborhoods. Well, let’s put our money where our mouth is, and let’s be in the neighborhood serving with and for the people.” and The Plain Dealer reached out Thursday to Richardson for comment.

The new collaboration center will house programs with 225 to 250 employees operated by Case Western Reserve University; University Hospitals; the Cleveland Institute of Art; the nonprofit Assembly for the Arts; Hyland Software; the M7 Foundation; JumpStart Inc., a nonprofit economic development firm; and the Economic Community Development Institute, one of the nation’s largest federally-designated microlenders for small businesses.

The center is designed to be a community hub, a healthcare outreach center, a job- and career-development site, and a place where minority entrepreneurs can access capital and expertise. It’s also meant to be a place of gathering and fun. Part of the footprint is reserved for what the foundation intends to be a Black-owned microbrewery and a music club modeled on Leo’s Casino, a long-demolished landmark venue at Euclid Avenue and East 75th Street that hosted the Supremes and Ray Charles in the 1960s.

Within 10 years, the foundation hopes to reach full buildout of the innovation district with a total of 2 million square feet of construction. Modeled in part on projects such as the Coretex Innovation Community in St. Louis., it will include as many as six additional buildings that could house businesses devoted to biotechnology, research, and manufacturing.

The project embodies the foundation’s efforts to promote urban rejuvenation by using the full power of its$3.2 billion in assets. It will lend money to the Midtown project that it plans to recoup over 30 years through leases, parking fees, and other kinds of revenue without turning a profit, or hampering its annual grantmaking, which last year amounted to $124 million.

Tenant institutions in the new building will pay what the foundation calls market-rate rents through 5- to 10-year leases. The foundation chose its location to provide a center of gravity for Midtown, the drab, 85-block area largely commercial and industrial neighborhood between Cleveland State University and the Cleveland Clinic, and to boost the fortunes of Hough, the majority-Black neighborhood that overlaps part of Midtown and extends to the north.

Midtown, which struggled for decades as a nondescript gray zone, has rebounded recently with roughly $300 million worth of new investments. It is home to 650 companies and 18,000 workers, making it one of the city’s biggest employment centers. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s $200 million bus rapid transit HealthLine, completed in 2008, provided an armature for the Midtown Health-Tech Corridor, a marketing umbrella that includes the East Side’s medical centers and the biotechnology startups popping up around them.

And yet, even though the urban development corridor boasts 40% of Cuyahoga County’s healthcare and social assistance jobs, it is flanked by “neighborhoods with some of [the city’s] worst health outcomes,” according to a recent report by Urban Analytica and Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs. The foundation hopes to change those numbers over time by creating new opportunities for employment, wealth formation, and healthier living.

University Hospitals, for example, will open a diabetes center in the new collaboration center as part of a larger outreach in Midtown that includes the Rainbow Center for Women and Children, which opened in 2018 at 5805 Euclid Avenue. “The proof in the pudding is going to be changing life expectancy and showing that these disparities are being eroded,’’ said Dr. Daniel Simon, president of academic and external affairs and chief scientific officer at UH.

CWRU will occupy more than 15,000 square feet in the new center — the second biggest footprint in the building — with the headquarters of its Urban Health Initiative and classes taught by eight faculty members. “We need to build a healthy population with the physical and mental capacity to succeed,’’ said Eric Kaler, CWRU’s president.

The Cleveland Institute of Art will occupy parts of two floors in the new center including a prominently located ground floor space with a high-tech interactive media lab. CIA President Kathryn Heidemann said that students and faculty will work with other programs in the center, and with the surrounding community.

Westlake-based Hyland Software, with 4,500 employees nationwide and 1,800 in Northeast Ohio, plans its first off-site community education center to help the area’s middle and high school students discover pathways to careers in technology. Ohio has nearly 20,000 open jobs in computing with an average salary of $86,000 according to the website JumpStart will occupy the biggest space in the center — more than 17,000 square feet — with programs aimed at fostering new, locally owned businesses, connecting them with investors, and training them in business practices.

Ray Leach, JumpStart’s CEO, said the new center “has an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the challenges and issues related to poverty, particularly in the neighborhoods’’ surrounding the project.

Hough, the site of riots over racial inequities in the summer of 1966 that left four dead — now commonly described as an uprising — has rebuilt over the decades, with enclaves of middle-class Black professionals and new housing built to serve the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and other institutions. Ward 7 Councilwoman Stephanie Howse, whose district includes Hough, is excited about the foundation’s urban development project and what it says about the community she represents.

“I would say Ward 7 is the hottest place in Cleveland,’’ she said. But she added she’ll be on guard against the possibility of gentrification — the displacement of longtime residents caused by rising rents and taxes related to higher real estate values. “I have a responsibility and a charge to protect those who have been here at the same time as we are welcoming new people,’’ she said. The possibility of gentrification is a big concern for the foundation. Its project follows decades in which universities and healthcare institutions – known as “eds and meds’’ anchored in cities have adopted adjacent urban neighborhoods by building schools, supermarkets, housing, and parks. Gentrification caused by redevelopment efforts around the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore convinced Richard of the importance of what he called “planning for success.’’ To that end, the foundation is acquiring additional property around the 12-acre core district that it will either sell or lease to ventures aligned with its mission of neighborhood uplift.

It will use income from those projects to channel money to the new Hough Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization it helped to launch several years ago to help maintain community control over development.

Design is a big part of the equation. Midtown for decades has been dominated by architecturally nondescript, inwardly-oriented buildings. The foundation’s headquarters, designed by S9 Architecture of New York, will feature expansive, light-filled interiors framed in eco-friendly mass timber, rather than steel or concrete.

The Midtown Collaboration Center, designed by the Cleveland architecture firm of Vocon, employs numerous design cues to signal openness, transparency, and accessibility, including multiple entries and extensive use of glass on its ground floor. Another goal of the new center is to frame the southern end of a mile-long revamp of East 66th Street extending north to Superior Avenue in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.

NOACA, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, has applied to the federal Department of Transportation for a $10.7 million RAISE grant, short for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity. The money will help fund a $15.7 million project, called DREAM 66 to rebuild the street as a prototypical “complete and green street’’ for Cleveland. The urban development project will include a multi-use path, bioswales, smart street lights, transit-waiting areas, improved pedestrian crossings, pollinator plantings, information kiosks, and amenities including bicycle and scooter parking. It’s envisioned as a central spine for new developments growing around League Park, a new Cleveland Public Library Branch, the Chateau Hough Winery, and the Fatima Family Center. “This project is the perfect example of using transportation dollars to transform communities,’’ said Grace Gallucci, NOACA’s executive director and CEO.

The foundation’s project dovetails with other projects nearby. They include the completion of a new home for MAGNET the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, which develops new products and assembly processes, trains workers, and places candidates in manufacturing jobs. MAGNET will soon move from a low-visibility location off East 25th Street to the renovated former Margaret Ireland Elementary School at East 63rd Street Chester Avenue, just north of the foundation’s urban development district. To the east, the foundation project will be flanked by the Dunham Tavern Museum, which is transforming its 6-acre campus from an overgrown fenced-off enclave to an accessible and welcoming central park for Midtown.

A new central mews running east-west through the innovation district between Chester and Euclid avenues will connect the Dunham Tavern and the upcoming community collaboration center to Dave’s supermarket at East 59th Street. At the foundation, board members know their urban development project will be watched closely, and judged based on how well it performs for Cleveland.

They welcome the scrutiny.

I know that all eyes are on us not just locally but nationally,’’ said Constance Hill-Johnson chair of the foundation’s board, and the owner and managing director of Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services.

“I am tickled pink that we’re at the forefront,’’ she said.