By Marie Yesenia Summers
The smells of plantains, empanadillas and other treats welcome you while strolling past El Mercado. Sounds good, but how long before the community who has heard this before, starts seeing meaningful results? The Clark, Fulton area, is situated in the largest enclave of Hispanics in Ohio, the Hispanic community in Cleveland has what takes to make this happen.
Imagine a blue sky and warm temperatures soothe you as you enter La Placita. Salsa music plays softly in the La Plaza while people laugh and eat. This is just a taste of what you might see in the future.
The idea of El Mercado and La Plaza, could provide Clevelanders with an authentic, Hispanic cultural experience. These places have not yet been realized but have been talked about for over 20 years. Now it looks like it can come to life through community engagement and if those involved follow through with a realistic strong plan. I spoke with Ward 14 councilman, Brian Cummings, to get his views about this exciting dream for the redevelopment in his ward.
“How committed are the business and community that live in Ward 14?”
“The project has been a long time in the making. In the last five years, we have worked very closely with key partners. (Can you name some of the key community partners?) Sure, the main ones would be my office, Metro West, Community Development organization, Hispanic Business center, Metro Health Hospital, Hispanic Alliance and Cleveland Neighborhood Development.
The even a larger partnership that La Villa is connected to is the West 25th corridor. The Clark, Fulton area is the largest, densest area of Hispanics living in the entire state in all of Ohio…When I took this area over in 2010, I didn’t give my opinion on Hispanic Village for approximately 2 years. We cleaned up the area, we did a lot of demos, a lot rehab of properties and a lot of commercial business. We helped a lot of business to stabilize the area. We basically listened to people as to what their ideas and opinions about trying to do a Hispanic Village were…We have a dense area of Hispanics on the near west side. If you want to see traditional, Hispanic culture, we’re the place to go. Why aren’t we celebrating that culture more? That is how the project began and re-started five years ago”.
“What is your plan to bring business into your ward?”
“It isn’t so much bringing businesses into the ward that is important. An economic development plan entails first and foremost, cleaning up and strengthening what you have.
A point on that, there are a lot of existing commercial property owners who do not invest in their properties. They do not have conditions for the outside of their properties that could entice a new business to open up.
(Why do you think that is?) I think it’s because of the economy. Probably from 2000-2013, the economy was horrible so that’s part of the reason. Originally, from 2010 from 2013, the majority, of our work was focused on cleaning things up and getting to know a person. Subsequently, we’ve had several owners who have been able to sell their properties for better uses, other projects.
There’s several projects we’ve announced, there’s an, 11 million -dollar affordable housing project on W. 25th street and there’s a new dialysis center that will be opening up within the next month or two.
First and foremost, we’re concerned with working with local owners…To that point, look at the efforts we’ve done with La Placita, a little plaza. La Placita, that’s an event, that’s been in planning in for the last 3 years. La Placita is like a festival. The next La Placita, is going to be held on Saturday, August 14th. La Placita, was of the first things we did to promote the idea, hey, look at us, this is where Hispanic people live.
Cleaning up and working with local businesses is our first, priority. The second thing that comes from that, how do you strengthen and grow the local business? For example, Nestle in 2013, invested 45 million dollars. It strengthened their operation facility on West 25th. We had a little to do with that, we helped them with new parking lots.
The first thing you do when you get to know businesses and owners in the community, you try to find out from them, what do you need to potentially improve and grow? Growing local businesses is the second issue. Giving them assistance, for example, we have a five thousand matching grant for exterior repairs and signage. It’s a very small amount of money but because of the economy, people don’t have a lot of money to spend on our store front program. It provides them as much as $25, 000 but a lot of people don’t have the 65.000 it would take to get that $25,000 grant. So, we put together 3 or 4 years ago, a small grant program, $5,000 match.
We’ve been able to do about 9 business, who have been able to use it. They buy new signs, fix up their windows; small incremental improvements. That is a really an important concept, small incremental improvements. So, helping locals, cleaning things up, using code enforcement and getting people to fix their businesses because they’re not in code. Helping businesses to grow due to a small business program. A part, from that, there is a point of business attraction but it doesn’t happen on its own. Generally, the local development corporations, the way it works in Cleveland, in a weak market area, where there is not a lot of investments; often the local development corporation is the organization that can step up and get some subsidies and kick start the development.
A really good example of that is $11 million-dollar loft at Lyon’s Mill Project that their doing right now. There’s a ribbon cutting in September for that. It’s 36-unit housing apartment complex. They took an old building, a 30 year-old building and they’re rehabbing it. They received subsidies from the state to do that project. That’s a great example of a private sector…”
“How big is the commitment from the Mayor’s office on this project?”
“That’s a great question, a timely question. We’ve been courting the Mayor and the administration for about 18 months. In the last 5 years things became more formalized. In the last 2 years, we finished the strategic plan for La Villa and got it approved by the planning commission because it’s important in terms of a credible project. Once, we did that, we had a strategic plan done, we developed a funding plan for the initiative overall. Also, supporting the primary project which is called El Mercado.
It’s basically a building that would have an incubator/micro small businesses located within side of it, along with some non-profits that would rent the space and keep the space up. The administration approved 25 million dollars in bond funding to be used in the neighborhood; that was approved by council two years ago. Since that was announced, we aggressively have had five meetings with the administration, two meetings with the council president and the council leadership. Over the last eighteen months, we’ve been pitching our plan. It started out with 9 million ask to the administration.
Now, two months ago the Plain Dealer reported, the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative as it’s called. The Mayor has chosen the Clark, Fulton area; in this area of West 25th is only one of three neighborhoods or quarters that are going to receive some of that bond funding. It’s complicated in the sense that we estimate that we could potentially compete to get 4 million dollars, worth of assistance…3 to 4 million is estimated what we can get but we still have work to do to secure the funds. The mayor and administration has announced that we are being targeted for investment…Everybody believes that with the proper work investment and strategy, we can really help to turn around that West 25th corridor section”.
La Villa Hispana, is a wonderful endeavor or is it just a great dream that has been talked about for a long time? This project could be an important part of Cleveland’s continued growth, one of the best examples as a comeback, big city in the US. The Cleveland Hispanic community could be a great story for Cleveland to take pride in and show how much value their unique diversity.
Everyone is watching but the Mayor, council people, and residents must work together. Now let’s see how committed are those who really make things happen in this city. It’s time to show results and not just plans. The success of La Villa Hispana is in the hands of all those who say they are committed to the re-development project. Now, it’s time to hold all of us countable to see it happen.