Forest Hill can be the next Tremont
For Greater Clevelanders, it has been the best and the worst of times depending on the neighborhood you live in. Destination neighborhoods like Cedar Fairmount and Tremont are thriving with increased property values and the buzz of restaurants and retail.
Forest Hill as a neighborhood once enjoyed this status. No more. Now it is lumped into a collection of neighborhoods many call “north of Mayfield.” Instead of buzz, there is the ghost town called Severance Town Center and the only restaurants are fast food. Retail consists of Walgreen’s and The Dollar Store.
Forest Hill is at a crossroads. We can look west and connect to the vibrancy of Little Italy and University Circle. Or continue to plod along and stagnate.
This choice is at the center of a furious debate within the Forest Hill community that erupted five years ago. After the housing crash of 2008, Forest Hill, like other neighborhoods north of Mayfield, saw an alarming rise of vacant homes and foreclosures. This impacted property values and retail development. Cleveland Heights cut back on housing inspections. East Cleveland faced a financial crisis. Suddenly Forest Hill was no longer a “destination” neighborhood.
But Forest Hill had one thing that other struggling neighborhoods did not. It had an actual Home Owners Association (HOA) in the form of Forest Hill Home Owners Inc. (FHHO). It could take action independently to combat housing blight. But would it?
And so the debate began. Would FHHO shift gears and move from a volunteer-based social club to a modern HOA to stem the decline?
This debate has played out in Cleveland Magazine, The Heights Observer and NextDoor.com. It has now finally reached its climax with the upcoming vote for new by-laws by its members (the home owners). Reformers want FHHO to be that agent for change by aligning itself with the Ohio Planned Community Act passed in 2010, which allows FHHO to become a modern HOA. Opponents want the status quo.
Forest Hill faces an existential question: Change and grow or stagnate and decline? This is a decision for the owners, not a dictate by a few. I believe that with a reformed FHHO, Forest Hill can become the “bell cow” for neighborhoods “north of Mayfield.” We can jump-start the restoration.
We have all the ingredients to achieve this:
- Proximity to the energy of University Circle;
- An amazing array of custom homes;
- The Forest Hill Park that could someday be part of the Metroparks System;
- The "Monticello Triangles" and a street grid with no visible cable or power lines;
- The Forest Hill Swim Club;
- The East Cleveland/Forest Hill Neighborhood Group, working with East Cleveland and its own 501 foundation for community improvements;
- An incredible collection of residents, from Cleveland Orchestra members and college educators, to judges and city officials.
And we have our own icon to define our “destination neighborhood.” It’s the Medusa Building at Monticello and Lee boulevards. In its heyday, Medusa was the gateway to Forest Hill with its beautiful fountain glowing at night.
Close your eyes and imagine what Forest Hill can be. A restored Medusa Building of shops, galleries and restaurants. Signage and lighting at the "Monticello Triangles." Forest Hill Park with bike paths to University Circle. And the restoration of vacant homes.
Forest Hill can be that destination neighborhood again. It’s there. All we have to do is move toward it.
A 35-year resident of Forest Hill, Michael Reilly is the founder and owner of Reilly Painting and Contracting in Cleveland Heights.