Severance Action Group works to develop plan

Many of us living in Cleveland Heights have been concerned for years about the steady deterioration of the Severance Town Center, formerly known as the Severance Mall.

We have watched the occupancy rate fall to well below 50%, and feared that we might lose Dave’s, Home Depot, Marshall’s and OfficeMax, the few remaining major occupants. We have seen horrific potholes develop that might cause a pedestrian fall, or damage a vehicle. And we could not see that anything was being done to address these issues. All of this in the very heart of our city and right next to City Hall.

A little over two years ago, under the auspices of the FutureHeights Planning & Development Committee, a small group of people, who felt that transforming Severance was an existential issue for Cleveland Heights over the long term, began to think about how Severance could be transformed.

This group, the Severance Action Group (SAG), considered many potential plans, including simply revitalizing Severance as an updated retail shopping center. But the difficulties of such centers all over the country in this age of online shopping and pandemics, coupled with the collapse of so many of our sister city malls on the east side of Cleveland, convinced us that retail was no longer a viable growth engine for Severance.

We came to a similar conclusion with respect to mixed-use residential development. Although less clearly problematic than retail, it is still fraught. Population decline has created an overabundance of housing of many types on the east side of Cleveland, with an exception being single-level living for the elderly. Thus, we see a definite need for a substantial housing element, including single-floor-living residences and units serving diverse income profiles as part of a financially viable redevelopment concept, but we do not believe housing alone can drive the transformation and future growth.

As we thought about what we could have as a powerful draw to the Severance area, we wanted something that would grow, something that was recession resistant, something hopefully unique, and something that was consistent with the ethos of Cleveland Heights. We determined that capitalizing on the wonderful MetroHealth expansion by incorporating medically oriented higher education would be ideal.

However, we face a real conundrum. We do not control the property. We do not have the funding to purchase the property even if we can persuade the current owners to sell for a reasonable price. That [leaves] SAG with several key tasks going forward to:

  1. Find a way to persuade the current owner to sell at a reasonable price.
  2. Identify one or more development concepts that incorporate the key vision elements, remain financially viable, and that the city government can support.
  3. Assemble a wide-ranging team, including developers, operators, academic institutions, and support services, able to take the concept and run with it as soon as we control the property.
  4. Have one—or a consortium—of the team members willing and able to write the purchase check to the current owners, or to the city should it be the initial buyer of the property.

We have made considerable progress. We have developed an exciting, unique and defensible development concept for a mixed-use village. We have presented the concept to Mayor Seren and CH City Council (see SAG Presentation to Council Committee of the Whole November 14, 2022 - YouTube), all of whom have been highly supportive. Finally, we have taken major steps toward building a strategy for achieving ownership and communicating with the citizens of Cleveland Heights. We plan to address the development concept in depth in a future issue of the Heights Observer.

Larry Nowak

Larry Nowak is the chairman of FutureHeights' Severance Action Group.

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Volume 16, Issue 1, Posted 10:21 AM, 01.02.2023