Inner-ring suburbs create community development corporations
Community development corporations (CDCs) first emerged in the 1960s in the most distressed neighborhoods of central cities. They now number in the thousands. In the city of Cleveland, they took hold in the late 1970s in several neighborhoods, and now there are several dozen in Cleveland, all supported by the city.
Cities like Cleveland also have created economic development departments to retain and attract businesses to strengthen their tax bases and gain jobs for residents. Many suburbs, including Cleveland Heights, have followed suit. Currently, though, the Cleveland Heights economic development director’s position is vacant.
Some of the inner-ring suburbs have also created CDCs. These are nonprofit corporations with their own boards which work with their city government but also offer separate advantages. These advantages include more flexibility, the capacity to innovate more freely and the ability to seek grant funding. Three of these suburban CDCs are profiled below.
Established primarily to promote economic development, the Shaker Heights Development Corporation (SHDC, www.shakerdevcorp.com) is perhaps the best model. It was formed in 2012 with the exclusive goal of improving the city's commercial districts. Shaker Heights had previously formed a community improvement corporation but never activated it. SHDC was created when the Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights, which promoted integrated housing, was being phased out. Its assets were transferred to SHDC. The city provides in-kind support, including an office in Shaker Heights City Hall, but no direct funding.
SHDC developed its own strategic plan but also operates within the framework of the city's strategic investment plan. It works with the city's economic development director and can promote the city's existing economic development incentives.
SHDC has a 21-member board, which includes five city administrators and two city council members. It has five committees (executive, real estate, fund development, entrepreneurship and governance). In 2014, it hired Nick Fedor, the former economic development director of Cleveland's Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, as its first executive director. He works full time and is currently the only staffer.
SHDC is concentrating its efforts on the Chagrin-Lee district. It is seeking to supplement existing property uses and also working to replace outmoded and underused structures.
Lakewood Alive (www.lakewoodalive.com) was created in 2004 to foster and sustain vibrant neighborhoods. Its programs include housing programs aimed at assisting residents to maintain the housing stock. For this, it received more than $15,000 in CDBG funding in 2015. It engages in design activities, organizes major events and works with the Downtown Lakewood Business Alliance. In 2014, it engaged 312 volunteers on 32 community projects. The Lakewood Alive board has 25 members, which include citizens and representatives of Lakewood businesses. Lakewood's mayor, a member of Lakewood City Council, and the city's directors of planning, economic development, and building and housing are non-voting members. It has eight committees. Lakewood Alive has five full-time staff members.
One South Euclid (www.onesoutheuclid.org) was created in 2009. Its primary programs are the re-use of vacant land and the rehabilitation of homes, a storefront art initiative and engagement with businesses. It has hosted community events and promoted community gardens and neighborhood pocket parks. One South Euclid has a 13-member citizen board and has six committees. Its priorities are found in its 2015–17 strategic plan. The City of South Euclid provides some staff assistance as its in-kind contribution.
There are already three Special Improvement Districts (SIDs) in Cleveland Heights that promote businesses in Cedar Fairmount, Coventry Village and Cedar Lee. A Cleveland Heights CDC could provide another vehicle for economic development.
W. Dennis Keating
W. Dennis Keating is professor emeritus at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University. He is a longtime Cleveland Heights resident.