Community effort led to creation of Zone Recreation Center
(Plain Press, September 2019) The Zone Recreation Center at W. 65thand Lorain Avenue has its own origin story, some of which is chronicled in the pages of the Plain Press.A December 21, 1977 article by Larry Bresler titled “$1.5 million set for NWS Rec. Center” reported that City of Cleveland Community Development Director Norm Krumholz committed to $1.5 million in the 1978 city budget to build a new near west side recreation center. Bresler, today the director of Organize Ohio, remembers the organizing efforts that led to the commitment.
Bresler says in the early 1970s a group called the Near West Side Recreation Coalition was heavily involved in trying to get a recreation center for the neighborhood. He said the Ralph Perk Administration had stonewalled them. In 1977, Perk lost in the primary and Ed Feighan and Dennis Kucinich were facing off in the general election. Bresler, who was a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) Supervisor at the time, said mostly VISTA workers helped organize a meeting at St. Stephen’s Church on W. 54thto get both candidates to answer questions from the community about getting a recreation center. Bresler, who remembers the event like it was yesterday, says 300 to 400 people showed up at the event. He said, Feighan, who was from the neighborhood said he would like to see the recreation center happen, but due to the financial condition of the city, he could not make a commitment. Kucinich said to thundering applause, “You want your recreation center, you’ll get your recreation center.”
A week after Kucinich was elected, organizers met with Kucinich and his people to discuss the recreation center and where it would be located. An old private gym at between 30thand 32ndand Lorain on the South side of the street was one site proposed. It was determined to be too expensive to rehabilitate. Another site proposed was the Kentucky Garden on W. 38thbetween Bridge and Franklin – residents resisted the idea of giving up the garden. Bresler said finally organizers came up with a plan for what they believed was the ideal site – a site at W. 65thand Lorain Avenue that had been cleared for freeway construction that the community opposed. They proposed the site to the Kucinich administration as serving two purposes – first – it had a lot of land for the recreation center and second — building on the site would forever block efforts to extend I-71 from Denison Avenue to the Shoreway. Bresler recalled that Kucinich loved the idea.
Bresler said, George Voinovich, who was Lieutenant Governor at the time, supported the idea and helped to get the State of Ohio to set aside part of the land for the recreation center. Bresler said residents then met with architect Robert Madison and he put together a plan for the recreation center people wanted. The recreation center eventually opened in 1982 when Voinovich was mayor and was named after the late Councilman Michael Zone. Bresler speaks of the ten years of meetings, organizing and the work of residents committed to getting a recreation center for the neighborhood saying, “there never would have been a recreation center without that kind of effort.”