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Rediscovering the Van Aken District: How a suburban re-development became a hub for fun and entertainment

The Van Aken District officially opened in 2019.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — As the pandemic wanes, we’re focusing on rediscovering the gems that lie in our own back yard. While the Flats East Bank or Crocker Park may immediately come to mind as destinations for fun—an east side suburb continues to make a name for itself.

As a part of our rediscovering Ohio series, 3News digital reporter Kierra Cotton visited Shaker Heights where the transformation at the Van Aken District has been 20 years in the making.

The journey began in the year 2000, when the Shaker Heights City Council decided that change was need to an area that was plagued by a bad intersection. 

"It was a six-way intersection. Um, unfortunately we had a high accident rate there, there were long wait times three to four minutes sometimes to get through a light," said Tres Roeder, Vice Mayor of Shaker Heights. 

Aiming to highlight the areas true potential and backed by a $91 million budget. the city created a three-part strategic investment plan to redevelop the area. 

"When we put it together, we had the idea of making it the living room for shaker Heights and also for making it a financial engine to take some of the pressure off of the personal taxes in Shaker Heights," explained Roeder. 

Fast forward to 2019, and the Van Aken District opens as a revitalized hub and welcomes an array of local businesses and shops.

"I think one of the coolest things about this area is that we're located right in the center of the Height, " says Zosimo Maximo,  co-creator of Grooveryde located in the Van Aken District. " That brings a lot of diversity to our business and something that we're very much for, you know."

Maximo has been physically transforming both the lives of his clients and the Van Aken district since both opened in 2019. 

The inclusive brand was one of the first to help foster the “living room” feeling the district offers today.

"The best things about being at a development, like the van Aiken district we're family, explained Maximo. "It's just has a real neighborly feel, um, where everybody knows your name and, um, you know, you can just kind of be who you are and have a great time here." 

And that was all a part of the plan. Phase two of the city’s re-development includes the addition of living spaces. Just last month, local leaders approved continued planning of an apartment high-rise, featuring more than 200 units, directly across from the mixed- use space. 

The District is also home to a D.O.R.A’s or designated outdoor refreshment areas outdoor refreshment where guests can move about the space with alcoholic beverages. There were concerns at first, but the overall response has been positive.

"It doesn't necessarily lead to more drinking. It just leads to a more casual environment where people can walk around and enjoy themselves," Roeder says. 

And as for phase three, that  involves the commercial side of things. Which is already in the works as local officials are working to bring more commercial businesses to the area.

The city of Shaker Heights hopes to continue development in the area, looking at other pockets of the city, that could be modeled after the Van Aken District.

"Using a lot of what we've learned and applying that to a different part of shaker Heights in, in a way that is true to the uniqueness of each area, because it's not, uh, just a rubber stamp," explained Roeder. 

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