CLEVELAND — Dozens of Cleveland residents and business owners braved the chilly weather outside on Shaker Square to rally support for proposed legislation intended to stave off foreclosure of the historic shopping district.
"We can just look around and see examples of what happens when buildings aren't in local control," Joy Johnson, executive director of Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc, said.
The non-profit development organization along with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress are backing a measure that would allow the city of Cleveland to front $12-million dollars to pay off the mortgage of the Square's financially-troubled owner, The Coral Co. The property would then be transferred to the local non-profits, which would oversee development and improvements of Shaker Square.
"If [buildings] go into the market and go into sheriff's sale, an out-of-state buyer might come in and think that they can charge high astronomical rents here," Johnson told the crowd. "In the meantime, they just sit and they're empty and they just slowly start to deteriorate, and we can't let that happen to Shaker Square."
The rally was scheduled ahead of the final Cleveland City Council meeting of the year, where debate over the proposal continued during the public comment portion of the meeting. At least one prominent Shaker Square tenant expressed opposition to the legislation.
"While we all agree that new ownership of Shaker Square is necessary; it is not necessary in this way," Brandon Chrostowski, who operates Edwin's and Edwin's Too in the area, said. "[The legislation] is a corporate bailout, an absurd use of public funds in the form of forgivable loans that overpay for a property by nearly double."
Historic Shaker Square was built in 1929 by the Van Sweringen brothers, Cleveland industrialists who developed the shopping area for neighboring Shaker Heights. It's the oldest shopping district in Ohio and the second-oldest in the nation.
Over the years, it's seen its highs and lows — most recently during the pandemic, which saw the closures of longtime restaurants like Balaton and Fire Food and Drink.
The city proposal is a $12-million loan, half of which would be paid back within five years. The other half would be used to invest in improvements to stimulate growth and attract new businesses to the square. If the property appreciates in value, the rest of the loan would be paid back, according to Tania Menesse, CEO and President of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
"So often what starts this is the investment of our city government, and this is no different," Menesee told 3News. "This is the investment and support that the east side so desperately needs and deserves."
Cleveland Mayor-elect Justin Bibb also voiced his support for the proposal in an email to 3News through his spokesperson, writing:
"I support investments to save Shaker Square. It's an anchor on the southeast side and I'm committed to bringing investments to revitalize our neighborhoods and put people first. The proposed deal is a step in the right direction."
The city ordinance had been scheduled for a Monday vote, but has now been tabled until sometime in 2022 to allow for more research and public debate.