Every spring, the corner of Huron and Ontario comes alive: a sign winter is finally giving way to spring as the fans at Progressive Field heat up downtown Cleveland no matter what the weather person calls for. This annual ritual might not have continued in Cleveland if an affiliate of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) had not mobilized the largest corporations in town at the time to prioritize keeping the Indians in Cleveland and bringing the CAVS back downtown.
With a downtown population surpassing 17,000 residents, vibrant corridors such as East 4th Street, and three sports teams all finding success in recent years, it is hard for many Clevelanders to remember what our City looked like in 1989. Cleveland had just come out of bankruptcy, many of the downtown buildings had fallen into disrepair, and the region was struggling collectively to find an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. As the plans for what is now the Gateway Complex were being solidified, Cleveland Tomorrow, a precursor to the GCP comprised of executives from Cleveland’s 50 largest companies, set to work to create what is now Cleveland Development Advisors (CDA). Noting the importance of securing site control for the new downtown sports complexes being proposed, the business leaders established a development fund for consolidation and demolition of the properties where the Kenny Lofton, Robby Alomar, and Albert Bell-led Indians would make their exhilarating October runs and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving would make N.B.A. history with The Block and The Shot. In addition to site control through CDA, the GCP members helped push through the “Sin Tax,” (the principal funding mechanism for Gateway), and advocated its members purchase a significant number of the premium seat boxes in both facilities to support the capital costs of the complex. In fact, the GCP has used its advocacy resources to lead every subsequent tax renewal and new tax in support of these facilities.
From its roots as the first chamber-supported development organization in the country, CDA has grown into a multifaceted real estate and business development financing organization that provides capital and technical assistance to projects across Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. CDA leverages its funds to balance the needs of a thriving downtown and direct resources to neighborhood projects that have been game changers for communities, spurring future growth. As a federally recognized Community Development Entity, CDA manages Federal and State New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Allocations and as a federally recognized Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a portion of its funds are earmarked for investments in low-income Communities. No matter the source of the funds, the mission remains the same, “To build inclusive and thriving neighborhoods in Northeast Ohio by providing innovative financing solutions and technical assistance to catalytic real estate and business development projects.”
Civic legacy projects like the Gateway, investments in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and funds for the construction of Cleveland Browns Stadium stand as iconic monuments of CDA’s work. They are high-profile moments, but CDA’s story is that of the 169 other investments across the city that have transformed neighborhoods and anchored communities. From Collinwood to Westpark, from St. Clair Superior to Buckeye, CDA has put its private capital and NMTC to work stabilizing corners, supporting grand visions for the future, and building neighborhoods in all their forms. “CDA is really lucky to have so many sources of capital to work with,” says CDA’s president, Yvette Ittu, highlighting the flexibility of its funds. “CDA has always identified the most pressing issues and put its money to work where it can be the most impactful.” That means you won’t find a polished products list on their website. Instead, you will find a map of all the projects they have financed and the impacts they have had. The recently released 2019 Investor Report has details on the projects closed in 2018.
CDA’s investment activity impact is apparent on a quick stroll through downtown. Much of the downtown we know today is the result of concerted efforts to create an activated central business district that would make downtown Cleveland a desirable location for companies to locate and thrive and Northeast Ohioans to visit outside of regular business hours. Many of today’s hottest apartment buildings were under-utilized or vacant warehouse or office space when CDA was formed 30 years ago. The restoration of historic buildings into apartments in the Warehouse District such as National Terminal, Bridgeview Apartments, and the Hoyt Block received financing from CDA and created a market for downtown housing where there was none. Working corridor to corridor, the focus was on supporting bustling entertainment areas like East 4th Street. The project was considered risky at the time but strategic investments into apartments, retail, and entertainment brought the street to life and provided a thriving visitor destination a stone’s throw from Gateway.
More recently, the transformational restoration of the Cleveland Trust rotunda into a Heinen’s grocery store, apartments, restaurants, office space and a hotel created a new node that has become a destination connecting Public and Playhouse Square along Euclid, with CDA investments into Euclid Grand and Centennial helping to fill the gaps all these years on. Catalytic may be an overused buzzword these days, but it has proved a useful mantra at CDA. “We have seen repeatedly, that taking big risks on transformational projects has a spillover effect,” Ittu says. “A few key investments can show people the potential in an area and developers and investors take it and run. This has proven true downtown as well as in Ohio City, a neighborhood some in the industry refer to as the overnight success that took 30 years to materialize.”
But make no mistake, CDA has not just invested in big, historic buildings downtown. Over the past 30 years CDA has made over 50% of its investments into 25 neighborhoods and communities that aren’t in the central business district. Of those neighborhood investments, a full 93% were in neighborhoods in the city of Cleveland. CDA financed grocery stores in Slavic Village, Central, Ohio City, Shaker Square and MidTown to ensure fresh and healthy foods are available to residents. It supported the home of Green City Growers Cooperative and has developed tenant improvement and furniture, fixtures, and equipment loans to help small businesses finance necessary build outs for new locations like Cleveland Bagel in Midtown and Ohio City Galley and The Beauty Shoppe in Ohio City. In 2018, CDA began making predevelopment loans to projects that have the potential to provide huge returns to the surrounding communities but need time and money to develop the plans further in anticipation of construction financing such as the Astrup Building in Clark-Fulton.
NMTC projects have also been strongly concentrated in neighborhoods rather than downtown, focusing on education, community services, and adaptive reuse. Loans to Urban Community School, St Martin de Porres and Menlo Park Academy have ensured quality education remains accessible and affordable. The recently completed Lincoln Electric Welding and Technology Center in Euclid is a source of education and training for highly skilled tradespeople and a pipeline for quality jobs at one of the world’s largest industrial technology companies. And organizations such as Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, Boys Hope Girls Hope, and University Hospitals are all able to expand their services to the surrounding communities with new and improved facilities. Even the new Children’s Museum of Cleveland restoration was made possible through a NMTC allocation from CDA.
On to the next 30 years
So where do the GCP and CDA go from here? Over the next 30 years CDA is committed to using the same approach of stabilization, rehabilitation, and ongoing maintenance for neighborhoods across the region. Our sources of funds are more diverse than ever and the strong technical expertise and financial oversight has meant we have minimized losses while maximizing impacts. The organization is constantly looking for ways to use its capital to influence the outcomes of projects to ensure affordable and workforce housing is available in red hot housing markets, encourage green building practices, and provide quality jobs and opportunities for residents of greater Cleveland. CDA and the GCP are currently working with the Fund for Our Economic Future, Cuyahoga County, the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County Land Bank, and the Urban Institute developing an OpportunityCLE website, project portal, and regional impact rating for Opportunity Zone projects. It is a great example of how CDA aims to have a continued impact on the city. “Opportunity Zones have been sold by many as a panacea for low-income areas,” said Ittu. “But the regulations still aren’t out and there simply aren’t any reporting requirements as it stand now. As a region, we need to clearly identify some strategic corridors that qualify, some projects that have more than just an investor return baked-in, and will deliver some meaningful benefits to Northeast Ohio so that investors don’t just cherry pick the easy wins at the expense of a region.”
Next April, when the crowds again build at the corner of Huron and Ontario, remember CDA and look around. Until then, PLAY BALL!