Why Cedar Fairmount grocery space merits $1 million city subsidy

The Cedar-Fairmount community and neighborhood blogs have been abuzz with discussions surrounding the proposed $1 million [city] subsidy to secure a Grocery Outlet in our neighborhood. The information outlined here is intended to address some misconceptions and shed light on the critical need for this subsidy.

Modernization is imperative: The Cedar-Grandview Building is 100 years old. Times have changed, and so have the requirements of businesses, especially grocery stores. The time-honored business model for grocery stores across the U.S. is to make major capital re-investments every 15–20 years in order to be competitive. When the grocery store was Russo’s, we did major renovations in 1951, 1961, 1969, 1985 and 1992. After Giant Eagle acquired the store, they did a modest remodel in 2001, followed by the mostly cosmetic changes made by Dave’s. Thirty years of incremental updates by our tenants to the grocery space—and the current three-level infrastructure, designed a century ago—plain and simply isn’t conducive to modern grocery operations. 

With Heinen’s and Trader Joe’s at the top of our list, we aggressively pursued 18 grocery stores and 5 retail operations. Twenty-two said no. Now, with Grocery Outlet's willingness to invest $5 million, we have an opportunity to bring this grocery store space up to contemporary standards. 

The $1 million we are requesting will be used entirely for capital improvements, including 100% new electric, back to the existing transformers; 100% new HVAC units, wiring, ductwork, diffusers and controls; 100% new plumbing; 100% demolition of the mezzanine and some internal walls, mothballing the basement and totally reconfiguring the space for one-floor deliveries, prep, storage and sales.

Previous and future investments by the Russo family: Over the decades, we haven’t simply maintained our buildings. Rather, we have continually invested profits to demonstrate our commitment to the neighborhood’s continued revitalization—and because it’s just the right thing to do. We have invested substantial dollars to modernize the offices on the upper floors of the Cedar-Grandview and Heights Medical Building—improvements that generally go unseen by the public but have been very much welcomed by our tenants.

Perhaps the most visible improvement is the new parking lot we built for $1.65 million behind the Firestone store—a parking lot that has become unexpectedly critical to the success of many store owners on Cedar Road whose employees and customers can no longer use the now-closed-for-the-foreseeable-future parking garage between Lenox and Surrey roads.

It's essential to recognize the financial realities faced by the Russo family. As a small family-owned real estate company, we lack the deep pockets of larger property developers, which includes not being able to keep 22,500 square feet empty until a Trader Joe’s-style grocery store suddenly appears. Regretfully, we must seek external support.

Community benefit: Securing a full-service grocery store is about preserving the character, vibrancy and walkability of our neighborhood, enhancing  property values, attracting visitors and fostering community cohesion. The $1 million subsidy isn't just an investment in a single business; it's an investment in the entire Cedar-Fairmount community's future.

By facilitating the transformation of an outdated building into a modern grocery store, we're preserving a legacy and laying the foundation for continued growth, sustainability and vitality in one of Cleveland Heights’ most beloved neighborhoods. I hope the city will seize this opportunity to revitalize our neighborhood and ensure its prosperity for generations to come.

For more information and details, go to https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.heightsobserver.org/media/docs_1714054739.pdf.

Sal V. Russo

Sal V. Russo is the general manager of a small privately owned real estate company.

Read More on Opinion
Volume 17, Issue 5, Posted 10:26 AM, 04.29.2024