Benefits and risks of development discussed at MetroHealth Community meeting

Benefits and risks of development discussed at MetroHealth Community meeting

by Bruce Checefsky

(Plain Press, March 2020)   Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana circled the rotunda of the South Branch Library on January 27, 2020 hugging her constituents as the MetroHealth community meeting was about to get under way. When she stepped up to the microphone, her face was flushed, and hair tousled. She looked around the room and thanked everyone for being there. The forty or so residents from Ward 14 and surrounding area sat back and listened as Santana introduced Greg Zucca, Director of Economic & Community Transformation at The MetroHealth System.


“It’s truly a historic moment for Ward 14,” Councilwoman Santana said. “We’re getting so much investment in the neighborhood. We want to make sure residents are involved and the investments are allocated to projects that reflect the neighborhood needs.”

“There’s a lot of rumors going around with MetroHealth and concerns about developers buying houses and buildings. I strongly encourage you to ask questions,” she added.

Zucca began the meeting with a ‘high level overview’ update of the $1.2 billion campus transformation plan along with an overview on how MetroHealth plans to leverage and incentivize the plan to create development and wealth throughout the community.

Specifically, he talked about two development projects that will break ground in 2020, including a 72-unit affordable housing project with a 5,000-square foot work force development center on the first floor where the Tri-C Access Center will be located for their educational and training programs. The second project, located on a 1.5-acre vacant greenfield lot on West 25th Street across the Outpatient Pavilion, is a mixed-use project for MetroHealth medical residents.  MetroHealth has about 400 medical residents a year from throughout the region. The mixed-used workforce housing, designed as upscale dormitory style living, is transitional for residents anticipated to live there between 1 to 3 years, according to Zucca. The commercial and retail space on the ground floor is intended for businesses that fulfill and compliment the needs of the community.

“We’re not looking for national chains like a Starbucks or anything like that,” he said. “We are trying to create a white box retail space for businesses that find it very difficult to locate along West 25th Street. We’re looking at the possibility of a small-scale grocery store to work with our Food As Medicine Program.”

MetroHealth created its own non-profit development corporation called CCH Development to accelerate the pace of revitalization of the West 25th Street Corridor and its neighborhoods by developing real estate and “place making” enhancements. Placemaking is a community-driven process for designing public spaces (streets, sidewalks, plazas, squares, campuses, parks, and so on) that are mixed use, host a variety of activities for diverse audiences, and are well-connected to the city. Placemaking does not itself make a real place, according to some critics of the concept. The new buildings could end up being clumsy and cheap, –streetscapes dull, and the community park feeble.

The NRP Group, a developer, owner, builder, and managing company from Cleveland known for delivering impressive returns for investors, will partner with The MetroHealth System and CCH Development Corp. to develop the mixed-use community. NRP partnered with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Community Development for All People in Columbus, Ohio, several years ago. The Residences at Career Gateway, an affordable workforce development made up of 58 apartments and townhomes, includes a training center where residents and the people in the surrounding neighborhoods can take classes hosted by Nationwide and other local organizations.

Urban hospitals as major players in community development are nothing new but it hasn’t always worked out as planned. In Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University Hospital razed whole blocks of homes, displaced hundreds of homeowners and tenants, and rebranded the neighborhood as part of its East Baltimore Development Initiative more than fifteen years ago. Residents haven’t seen any benefits yet, according to the Baltimore Sun. The Cleveland Clinic invested heavily in the Fairfax-Hough neighborhood by purchasing housing stock and opening a health clinic while spending little to directly benefit to the community. As real estate values increase and property taxes go up, housing instability increases; renters in particular struggle to stay in place.

Scott Skinner, project manager for The NRP Group, showed concept design drawings of Metro North, a 72-unit affordable housing apartment building with a first-floor commercial space, fitness room, community room, and kitchen space. First floor units will have porches to create a neighborhood street community feel as you’re walking down Sackett Avenue, according to Skinner. The three-story apartments sit over a one-story opportunity center to replicate a row of single-family townhouses each with their own entrance.

“A demonstration kitchen will be added not for small businesses but more for our healthy cooking program,” added Zucca. “We will be teaching healthy cooking classes there.”

The federal government says a house is affordable if a family with an income that matches the median income of the region can afford that house. In Greater Cleveland region the median annual income for a family of four is $70,000. The Clark-Fulton neighborhood median income is $23,000 annually for a family of four, significantly below the federal government’s projection.

The MetroHealth project will focus on people making between 30% – 80% of the median income or $25,000 to $53,000 annually for a family of four. One-bedroom units will range between $348 to $465 month; two-bedroom from $470 to $850 month; and three-bedroom from $750 to $1250 month.

Skinner turned his attention to Metro South, a second project slated for construction later this year. Metro South is a u-shaped building of 100 to 110 market rate apartments with 80-85 one-bedroom and 20-25 two-bedroom apartments. The apartment complex, which faces West 25th Street, is mainly targeted for medical residents.

“The NRP Group for the entire life-time of both Metro North and Metro Southprojects will be the property managers,” concluded Skinner.

“Building wealth in the community is another one of our goals,” Zucca continued.

When asked what he meant, Zucca turned the conversation to home ownership and job training.

“There’s lots of different ways of creating wealth. The quickest way is to increase home ownership,” he said. “With the inevitable increase in property values, if you could own your home and hold onto that wealth, you get to see that increase over time.”

MetroHealth also participates in work force development and job training with Tri-C and other partners to create career paths for individuals.

“We’ve increased our minimum wage to $15 per hour,” he added. “That’s another way of creating wealth.”

As the meeting continued, questions about hospital employee and visitor parking, changing traffic patterns, plans for the 12-acre green park, bike lane infra-structure, and communication strategies with the public during the construction period, were asked.

A final comment came from Marc Alvarado who expressed concern about the potential for new retail and commercial services to serve the community. With development under way in the Clark-Fulton area, he wondered whether businesses like Phunkenship, a sour-ale beer brewery on Sackett Avenue at West 32nd Street,are the best fit for the neighborhood.

“I have some concerns about development that doesn’t service the community,” Alavardo said. “I’ve seen it happen in Ohio City and throughout Cleveland. Opportunity zones provide opportunities for developers who profit from seeing my neighbors leave,” he said, adding, “It’s very disturbing.”

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