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A Visit to Cleveland, Ohio

Image of Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.

Our niece’s graduation over the Memorial Day weekend was a perfect post-vaccine opportunity to visit family and friends in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first time in more than a year. I always love visiting Cleveland because the city has some great urban renewal projects to see and plenty of vibrant neighborhoods to explore.

During my visit, I drove to the Clark-Fulton neighborhood in the city’s West Side, where the renovation of the old Northern Ohio Blanket Mills complex on West 33rd Street was recently approved by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission. The factory was one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wool horse blankets and carriage robes in the late 19th century. Following the move from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, the factory diversified its production to include tents for camping, materials for yachts, steamer blankets, and blankets for commercial and institutional use until the parent company dissolved in 1932. In the following years, the factory served in several different capacities before permanently closing in 2008. The Northern Ohio Blanket Mills was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 not only for its commercial and industrial significance but also because of its role as an employer of ambitious German and English immigrants to Cleveland who helped bring the industrial age to the city.

The property’s developer, the Leon Group, will renovate the complex while preserving its historical façade. The site will be converted into an apartment building for residents earning at or below 80 percent of the county’s area median income. Many of the one- to three-bedroom units available will have high ceilings and windows, in keeping with the industrial origins of the building. According to the developer, the first floor will house a daycare center and social service outreach program run by a local nonprofit. The developers obtained state and federal historic tax credits, federal New Markets Tax Credits, and financing from additional private and public sources.

During my visit, I noticed that the workers had already removed one of the old towers attached to the building, presumably because it was structurally unsound. The workers were reinforcing parts of the building with cement blocks and starting some other exterior updates. I am looking forward to seeing the final renovations.

Next, we headed to the old Astrup Company building located on West 25th Street. Founded by William Astrup in 1876, the company originally made sails for Great Lakes ships. After those ships changed over to steam power, the company began manufacturing awnings, awning hardware, and tents and distributed awning fabric and canvas. After the company was sold in 2007, the building stood vacant until developer Rick Foran purchased it for $370,000.

Foran is redeveloping the space as the Pivot Center, a $13 million, 80,000-square-foot complex consisting of four interconnected buildings. The Pivot Center will house social services, a Cleveland Museum of Art satellite center, the LatinUs Theater, and other art venues. The center also houses the Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults, a nonprofit whose mission is “to deter abductions, exploitation, and trafficking of all ages and genders; establish a place for families and survivors to come for support and resources; provide prevention training to the community; and raise awareness to create a safe and secure community for all citizens.” The Pivot Center is located near the home of a kidnapper who held three women in captivity for years. From this tragic history, the center hopes to bring hope and renewal to this section of Cleveland.

Cleveland’s population has declined dramatically over the years, from 914,808 at its peak in 1950 to 381,009 in 2019. Industry left the city as its population fell, which resulted in a large number of abandoned commercial and industrial buildings. It was great to see two historic buildings being repurposed and given new life.

 
 
Published Date: 12 July 2021