FutureHeights takes on new grassroots economic development effort as official program
The FutureHeights Board of Directors voted in October to make a newly formed Cleveland Heights community and economic development group one of its official programs.
The group, the Heights Community Development Alliance (HCDA), was formed out of an effort to gather merchants, institutions and residents in the Cedar Lee area to discuss ways to strengthen relationships to promote economic vitality and quality of life in the business district. HCDA plans to operate with a citywide focus, but is initally concentrating in the Cedar Lee Business District to develop successful programs that can then be rolled out to other areas.
HCDA will initially focus on three core areas: cross-promoting Cleveland Heights events; marketing Cleveland Heights to outsiders and residents; and economic development, primarily around commercial vacancies.
The organizational priorities of HCDA fall right in line with the mission of FutureHeights and its reason for being, making the decision to designate HCDA an official program of FutureHeights an easy one, said Richard Stewart, FutureHeights board president.
“The more engaged citizens working toward a common goal, the brighter future Cleveland Heights and University Heights have, so we see this new program as a strong step in that direction and toward fulfilling our mission,” Stewart said.
“Everything we do is for Cleveland Heights and University Heights," noted Stewart, "but Cleveland Heights is the larger suburb and where (the most) business districts are located. It makes sense to initially focus efforts on areas that attract residents and sustain business owners.”
The third area of concentration—commercial vacancies—is of particular interest to FutureHeights, said Executive Director Deanna Bremer Fisher. A recent FutureHeights study reported 15 commercial vacancies in Cleveland Heights's Cedar Lee Business District alone.
“FutureHeights has long had programs targeted at supporting our local economy—a shop local program, Best of the Heights, the Heights Observer—and has conducted two storefront vacancy studies in Cleveland Heights,” she said. “Our mission is to promote a vibrant and sustainable future for the Heights, and we see the vitality of our business districts as a key part of achieving this goal. The goals of HCDA are in alignment with these strategic goals.”
The group was born out of an initial gathering that took place at Cleveland Heights eatery New Heights Grill in May, which was initiated by Cleveland Heights resident Julius C. Dorsey Jr., president of Dorsey & Company, Strategic Consultants to Management.
After that, a working steering committee formed to develop a vision and mission, set organizational priorities and areas of concentration, and decide what the group would stand for. The steering committee has been meeting weekly since the spring, and the group has presented updates to the community twice since.
Aside from Bremer Fisher and Dorsey, other subcommittee members are: Charley Bach, owner of PC Handyman and a Dorsey & Company associate; Sheryl Banks, marketing director for Heights Libraries; Sruti Basu, director of community-building programs for FutureHeights; Rachel Bernstein, executive director of Heights Arts; Tanisha Briley, city manager for the City of Cleveland Heights; Jeff Coryell, a member of Cleveland Heights City Council; David Dale of Dorsey & Company; Jinida Doba of Dorsey & Company; Lisa Dunn, owner of Revive; Adam Faller, owner of New Heights Grill; Karen Grealis of Sanctuary by Joyce; Karen Kearney, an intern with FutureHeights; Deanna Nechitilo of HERBCO; Joy Roller of WCPN; Zoraba Ross, principal of Cleveland Heights High School; and John Zagara, owner of Zagara’s Marketplace and president of the Cedar Lee Special Improvement District.
As he looks back on what prompted him to call the initial gathering last spring, Dorsey credits his professional inclination to exploit competitive advantage in order to win—as he counsels his clients.
“As I walk my Cedar Lee neighborhood," Dorsey said, "it occurred to me that we have a lot to be proud of just along the Lee Road corridor alone—not to mention all of the assets in the city, like Cain Park, Coventry, Cedar Lee Theatre, Heights High, and so much more.
“There’s no reason why the residents, business owners and anchor institutions can’t use their collective voice to sing the praises of Cedar Lee and the city, and tell others to shop, visit or plant roots here, all the while improving the quality of life in our community.”
HCDA program leadership has not yet been named, but Stewart sees great things for the city to come from the program in the long run.
“Robust economic development is critical to the long-term viability of any suburb,” Stewart said. “It’s our goal to partner with the city’s efforts to fill storefronts, attract business and build a tax base.”
The next communitywide HCDA meeting is planned for Jan. 20 at New Heights Grill. For more information and updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/HeightsCDA.
Jinida Doba is an associate with Dorsey & Company Strategic Consultants to Management, a Cleveland Heights competitive and marketing strategy firm founded in 1987. Originally from Akron, Doba has called Cleveland Heights home since 2010.