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Exclusive first look: the Aragon Ballroom renovation

It started as a roller rink in 1905 before transforming into a dance palace and amusement garden. Then in 1937, the nearly 20,000-square-foot space at 3179 West 25th Street was dubbed the Aragon Ballroom. For more than 50 years, its maple floor accommodated countless rumbas, waltzes and cha chas.

Then in 1991, the foxes stopped trotting; the quicksteps sunk into quicksand; and the site's fascinating history came to an inauspicious end. Even worse, the beloved building lay fallow and eventually succumbed to disrepair and decay. In 2011, the City condemned it.

But this is Cleveland, where ever-afters have a fighting chance long after the carriage has turned into a rotted pumpkin and the glass slipper has shattered upon the stone step.

Enter local businessman Ali Faraj, who purchased the Aragon at auction just six months prior to its condemnation for the bargain price of $19,800 (he also shelled out more than $29,000 in back taxes).

"I worked as a salesman for almost 12 years and when I used to pass by here," says Faraj, referring to his ongoing wholesale business, "people would say they loved this place and would love to have it back."
Faraj's plans are to restore the space as closely as possible to its original splendor and then transform it into a conference and banquet center with a capacity of 800, although he foresees most events won't have more than 400 or 500 attendees.
"I want to bring it back to the way it was," vows Faraj. Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins, who has been instrumental in the project from the beginning, adds that the team has done extensive historical research on the structure.
Area residents have expressed concern over operations, having had negative experiences in the past with alcohol and firearm trouble at other businesses. Faraj and Cummins are quick to assert that the Aragon will be different, with no bar open to the public and a clientele similar to Faraj's Brookpark operation, the La Villa Conference and Banquet Center, which opened in 2011.
"What he does is akin to Landerhaven," says Cummins, evoking the upscale venue of Executive Caterers. He adds that the area's large Hispanic population is excited at the prospect of such a sizable event venue.
"A lot of the Hispanic people in this community come to our Brooklyn location to have events," notes Faraj's daughter Abbei. "We've had several quinceañeras."
Parking is another major concern for area residents. To assuage those worries, Faraj has worked with the Cleveland Municipal School District to use the parking lot of Lincoln West High School for events after 6 p.m., with a dedicated valet service shuttling guests. He and Cummins are also at work trying to secure additional parking on 25th for daytime events. More information regarding operations is available online.
An ambitious schedule has the venue open for business by the end of the year. Thus far, Faraj has completed a number of emergency repairs including window replacement, graffiti removal and roofing/rotted wood repairs. A to Z Builders is the contractor on the $1.5 million build-out. CARLETON Moore is the architect. The next municipal review of the project is a May 11 hearing at the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The ongoing rebirth of the Aragon has its naysayers, but they might reconsider when they step inside the space, which is still breathtaking despite its rough condition, or when they hear Faraj's story.
He immigrated to Cleveland from Palestine in 1976 and worked with his family for a few years before taking a chance on California. "I didn't have 50 cents in my pocket to buy a cup of coffee," says Faraj of his stint in the Golden State, so he came back to Cleveland. "I started with nothing." He found whatever work he could in resale and wholesale. "I worked my butt off 20 hours a day."
The father of six is now an established Northeast Ohio businessman. While his wholesale business remains core, Faraj is humble about his 58,000-square-foot Brookpark event venue, which hosts more than 150 events a year. "It's just a hobby," he says.
Understatements notwithstanding, the Aragon project also has larger implications for the surrounding Clark-Fulton neighborhood.
"It's the catalyst on West  25th," says Adam Stalder, economic development director for the Stockyard, Clark-Fulton and Brookleyn Centre Community Development Office. The Aragon, along with the tentative $9.5 million Lofts at Lion Mills project and ongoing expansions at Nestle and MetroHealth, all add up to a staggering economic impact.
"That's almost a billion dollars coming into this corridor."

superelectric coming to Gordon Square with more opportunities for pinball wizards, kids

It's difficult to describe the art of Ben Haehn, David Spasic and Nathan Murray. Call it one part retro, one part funk and two parts pinball with a splash of video and music to bring it all together. They also throw in a few motorcycles for style.

“We brought one of these motorcycles up those stairs," says Murray referring to the three flights leading up to their space at 78th Street Studios. "That was the shadiest thing we’ve ever done.” Shady? Perhaps, but not surprising; superelectric is decidedly alt. Just dig the group's most recent online commercial (you'll want to review all 57 sublime seconds).
Courtesy of their popular free-play Third Friday events, the trio has delivered more replays, hi scores and orbits than even Barracora can tally. (And yes, superelectric has a Barracora, and a Quick Draw and a Fun Land and a Majorettes.) The pinball palace boasts nearly 50 machines, but over 100 have been through the shop over the past three years as the gents also service and refurbish machines for an array of customers.
In a triple bonus development last week, a sign appeared in the window of the 1,700-square-foot space at the corner of West 65th Street and Detroit Avenue that formerly housed Yellowcake: superelectric is bringing their talents to Gordon Square.
Stand down, fans of Eight Ball and Scuba. The Gordon Arts storefront will be an expansion, not a move. The 78th Street Space will go on, with resident cat (Tom Waits) keeping guard over the games, rental events and Third Fridays. The group tentatively plans to pull the plunger on the new location this summer.
"The earliest would be June. The latest would be July," says Spasik. "We want to bring a lot of our older games."
Food, potables, seating and between 20 and 25 machines will all be in the mix, as will a couple of vintage jukeboxes that play 45s. The new space needs electrical and plumbing work, which they hope to start as early as this week with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
The new location will be open six days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and denizens of the Gordon Square neighborhood couldn't be more delighted, starting with one happy dog.
"It's going to be one of the coolest businesses in the country," says Happy Dog owner Sean Watterson. "Maybe there's one in LA. Maybe there's one in NY, but I've got a feeling this is going to be cooler than anything on either of those coasts or anything in the middle."
"They really wowed us with their commitment to the neighborhood and their vision and how it aligns with everything else going on in the Gordon Square Arts District," adds Jenny Spencer, managing director at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.
Aside from pinball wizards and curious passers-by, all those bumpers, flippers and tilts will be aimed at an unexpected kickout: kids and education. The group intends to expand its educational efforts, which heretofore included work with Progressive Arts Alliance and area high schools showing kids that a pinball machine's cool factor is really a confluence of electronics, physics and art: what Spasic calls, "things they'd never conceive of going on in there."
He explains: "We'll open up the machines, go through the history, how they work, how the angle of playfield and gravity effects the ball and the action taking place." One group of kids even made their own machines, which superelectric showcased during a Third Friday event.
Before the learning can begin, however, some kids have to take a certain leap.
"We get little kids up here," notes Murray. "They play pinball as an app or on Xbox. They didn't realize there was an actual physical object." And when they see a real live machine with all those lights and bells? "They freak out sometimes."
So whether it's an old-timer revisiting Corvette or a tot blinking in awe before the likes of Black Jack for the first time, Murray offers up a spot-on observation regarding our collective digital existence.
"The world is ready for something tangible."

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress announces finalists for Vibrant City Awards

On April 28, 2015, Cleveland’s community development industry will gather at the Victory Center, 7012 Euclid Avenue, to recognize the accomplishments of its colleagues and organizations with seven awards during the first annual Vibrant City Awards luncheon.
Event host Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will present the inaugural Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award along with six other awards recognizing an array of community development efforts.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for our organization to convene the community development industry alongside city stakeholders and recognize successful neighborhood revitalization efforts," says Joel Ratner, president and CEO of CNP. "The Vibrant City Awards lunch continues a tradition of celebrating our collective accomplishments and enlisting new city advocates and champions."
"This is a celebration of the city—a celebration of the neighborhoods—and all are welcome," adds CNP's director of neighborhood marketing Jeff Kipp. "Obviously, community development stakeholders will be there, but this is part of our efforts to build up the core base of ambassadors and advocates and champions of city living. So anyone who has any role in that, from a resident to a store owner to a corporate executive, we want them to feel welcome to attend."
Response to the event has been brisk.
"We are very pleased that over 400 people have registered so far," says Kipp, adding that the capacity of the venue is 500.
While the recipient of the Morton L. Mandel award, which recognizes an individual who has had a profound impact in the community development field, will be announced at the ceremony, here is a synopsis of the six other community development awards and the associated finalists.
The three finalists for the Neighborhood Branding and Marketing Award include the Downtown Cleveland Alliance for its “You and Downtown” video, the Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation for the Take a Hike Tour offering and Tremont West Development Corporation for its Gay Games 9 Neighborhood Marketing campaign.
Finalists for the Community Collaboration Award include Kamm’s Corners Development Corporation and Bellaire Puritas Development Corporation for their efforts on the One West Park Visioning Study; the Ohio City, Inc., Tremont West Development Corporation and Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization; for their collaboration on the Near West Recreation effort; the Campus District Inc. for its Banner Up! project; and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization/Gordon Square Arts District for its innovative collaboration with Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre and an associated capital campaign.
The Burten Bell Carr Development for the Market Café and Community Kitchen, the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation for its Small Box Retail campaign, the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation for its Intergenerational Housing initiative and Slavic Village Development for its Slavic Village Recovery project are all finalists for the Community Development Corporation Catalytic Project/Program Award. 
Those vying for the Corporate Partner Award include Fairview Hospital for its sustained commitment to the West Park neighborhood, Heinen’s Grocery Store for its successful efforts to realize a full service grocery Downtown at The 9 and Third Federal Savings for its continued partnership and investment in Slavic Village.
For his work in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, Mike DeCesare of Case Development is a finalist for the Developer Award, as are Keith Sutton and Dave Territo of Sutton Builders for their efforts to revitalize Tremont, Mark Jablonski of CenterMark Development for his work at Lakeview Road and Superior Avenue and Sustainable Communities Associates partners Ben Ezinga, Josh Rosen and Naomi Sabel for completing the Fairmont Creamery development.
Finalists for the Urban Realtor Award include co-owners Keith Brown and Dave Sharkey of Progressive Urban Real Estate for their continued committed to Cleveland neighborhoods and Mark Lastition of the Howard Hanna Ohio City branch for his willingness to partner with developers on new construction and community events.
The Vibrant City Awards Lunch is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased via this link. For questions and comments, contact Jeff Kipp at 216.453.1453, or via email.

West Creek Conservancy battles unsustainable development, nurtures our water

Between the ominous headlines detailing the California drought and the algae bloom that shut off Toledo's water last August, virtually every northeast Ohioan has wondered about our own water source. Sure, Lake Erie is plentiful, but is it clean and well managed?
The West Creek Conservancy (WCC) is a little-known organization that perhaps ironically, measures its progress in tiny steps backwards with the goal of reclaiming and restoring our water ecosystem.
"We took 100 years to develop over them, fill them, move them and trench them," says WCC's executive director Derek Schafer of our waterways, "It's going to take a while to reclaim them. And be a bit more expensive."
Founded 15 years ago with the intent of establishing an 80-acre greenspace around the West Creek in Parma, WCC handily achieved that goal and has since been expanding the project, which now covers some 350 acres. In 2006, the Metroparks took over the West Creek Reservation, but WCC continues the expansion with the aim of connecting it to the towpath at two locations, in Valley View and in Cuyahoga Heights.
Looking at a map of the burgeoning greenspace, the project may seem unevenly developed, but each intricate parcel is realized when time, planning and funds free it up to become a link in the thoughtful West Creek Stream Restoration and Greenway plan.
"We piece it all together," says Schafer, "parcel by parcel, acre by acre: back yards, side yards, right of ways, consolidations … "
The latest achievement consists of 10 acres that had been unsustainably developed years ago. Just east of the intersection of East Schaaf and Granger Roads in Independence, what is now a free flowing section of West Creek and its confluence with the Cuyahoga River, which holds up to 100 million gallons of water during flood conditions, formerly housed four acres of parking lot, a giant warehouse, a bank and tavern.
"This is such a cool point on the Cuyahoga," says Schafer of the unique riparian feature. "This was a landscape changing project. We removed 84,000 yards of fill to provide the stream access to flood plane and wetlands. We put in 12,000 plants."
Partners on the project, which started in 2007 and has just wrapped up, included the City of Independence and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. While the space is not currently connected to any other greenspace, plans to eventually link it to the Towpath in neighboring Cuyahoga Heights and to the West Creek Reservation are in the works.
Meanwhile, the WCC has set its sites on a project further south that is inching closer and closer to a Towpath connection.
The Hemlock Creek Trail will eventually link Normandy High School in Parma all the way to the Towpath in Valley View. It's also a bit-by-bit long-range project, but later this year, WCC hopes to break ground on the section between the Towpath and Route 21 in Independence. The organization has raised $2 million of the $2.5 million price tag. Schafer estimates the work will take 18 months.
"This is a daunting trail plan," says Schafer of the Hemlock project, "but we're so close to making it happen. We've got about 80 percent of it bought up."
Future parts of the trail will include a section along Interstate 77 and an on-road section on Hillside Road. Other links are already in place.
While the WCC's primary focus is on the expansion of the West Creek Reservation, the organization has gained a reputation as a can-do behind-the-scenes entity that gets results when it comes to complex urban land acquisition and usage rights. To that end, the WCC has also acted as a landholder for projects years in the making and Schafer has lent his expertise to an array of area organizations.
For instance, Land Studio enlisted Schafer several years ago to acquire a tricky acre surrounding industrial railroad for the Lake Link Trail, as well as aerial rights for an associated pedestrian bridge that's slated for installation at the press time of this article.
"Trail plans are great, but you have to have the acquisition, the restoration, the connection and the management," says Schafer. "You have to have awesome community partners," of which WCC has had too many to list, but they include area municipalities, the Metroparks, the NEORSD and a host of state and federal entities as well as private donors.
Other diverse projects on which WCC has partnered include the Kinsman Farm, which is an innovative urban agricultural endeavor, the historic Henninger House Restoration and the Treadway Creek Trail project, which connected Old Brooklyn to Cuyahoga Hts.
Tagging the West Creek along with the Rocky River, Mill Creek, Big Creek, Tinker's Creek and others, Schafer says, "We're impacting all these tributaries. Suburban and urban waterways all drain to the Cuyahoga and the Cuyahoga drains to Lake Erie." In the end, Mother Nature's original design is the best for this delicate ecosystem, despite our well-meaning (and often disastrous) efforts to alter it.
"Flooding is natural," notes Schafer. "We've made it unnatural. We've put our developments in the way of the waterways. We've really got to look at removing unsustainable development and letting our streams and rivers breathe.
"They need to breathe."


A new face for 128-year-old house in Jones Home Historic District

Tucked away at 3105 Woodbridge Avenue in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood sits a little house with a long history. Built in 1887 by Lewis Herman, the three-bedroom, 1,375-square-foot home remained in the Herman family for nearly 120 years.
120 years!
The last Herman, Lois Herman-Mitrovich, moved from the property in 2005 to an assisted living facility. After that, hard times fell on 3105.
"The house became vacant," says Anthony Bango, housing development coordinator for the Stockyard, Clark-Fulton & Brooklyn Centre (SCFBC) Community Development Office. "It got vandalized. There were a lot of people going in there doing illegal activities."
The residents of the surrounding Jones Home Historic District weren't having it. A grassroots effort ensued courtesy of those highly engaged residents, the SCFBC Office and Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins.
"We got together and cleaned out the house," says Bango, adding that they also secured the property and added it to the Single Family Rehabilitation Program (SFRP), which, save for the efforts of community development employees like Bango, is privately funded.
Then came the process of untangling the legal and financial trouble surrounding 3105.
"A big part of what I do is work with banks to get them to release liens on properties," says Bango. "I essentially make an appeal to the bank that holding onto this property is damaging to the community and that they'll never get the mortgage back." After he convinces the bank, the property owner can donate it to the land bank. "The land bank works with the county to make sure it's lien free." When the property is financially clean, he goes to work vetting potential buyers and contractors.
So it went with 3105 and in October 2014, John Pasternak and Audrey Schnell, whom Bango describes as community-minded people that enjoy historic rehabilitation projects, took ownership of the property and began the arduous task of bringing it back to life.
"This property was missing its windows. There was a giant hole in the foundation. There wasn’t a scrap of paint left on the thing," says Bango. "Today, there is a new garage. The foundation's been repaired and the house is painted with a historically accurate color palate. John made a point to keep all of the historic woodwork on the exterior of the property. He's done a tremendous amount of work."
Completed in February, the restoration was funded by private dollars and a Heritage Home Loan from the Cleveland Restoration Society, which is made possible via a partnership with Key Bank and First Federal of Lakewood. Pasternak and Schnell plan to sell the home, but may lease it first.
But does one loving restoration make a difference?
Since 2011, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (of which SCFBC is a division) has assisted in the rehabilitation of 176 formerly vacant and abandoned homes as part of the SFRP. The total estimated investment stands at $6.8 million—about $68,500 per home. Considering an average demolition costs $10,000; that adds up to an estimated $1.7 million in savings to the City of Cleveland.
"Rehabbed homes stabilize the community," notes Bango, "Last year alone, our office did 27 rehabs and 11 went to owner occupants.
"We would like to do more of these homes—as many as possible."
On Friday, April 10 at 12 p.m., the Stockyard, Clark-Fulton & Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office will host a ribbon cutting at 3105 Woodbridge Avenue to introduce the newly renovated home to the community. This free event is open to the public and will feature speakers, refreshments and property tours.

New $26.5 million high school set for St. Clair Superior neighborhood

In 2003, the founders of the Saint Martin De Porres High School took a risk on a beloved and beleaguered Cleveland neighborhood and established their fledgling school in the old St. Vitus' Elementary School, 6111 Lausche Avenue, which was built in 1912.
"We weren’t all that sure it would work," says St. Martin's president Rich Clark, adding that student employment is part of the school model. "Would area businesses hire students? We didn't want to build anything or get ourselves into anything long term."
Part of the Cristo Rey Network, the mission of which is to offer underserved urban youths a rigorous college preparatory education, St. Martin opened its doors in 2004 and forged onward. Fifteen years later, with the Great Recession still a bruising memory for the area, St. Martin boasts more than 420 students and partnerships with some 130 companies. That rousing success has resulted in some growing pains.
"We knew if we were going to grow past 375 students, we would eventually have to add on to this or buy out the lease or do something," says Clark.
That "something" has translated into a staggering project for the East 61st Street/St. Clair neighborhood. The school has purchased approximately 1.5 acres of land at the corner of Norwood Road and St. Clair Avenue on which it will build a new 65,000-square-foot building that will reflect old and new. Freed from the rigid space of narrow hallways and square classrooms in the old building, the new learning spaces will include common areas, study spaces and malleable classrooms that will accommodate 30, 60 or even 150 kids.
"Everything is usable space," Clark says. "It's very flexible." He estimates the total project cost, which is being funded by private donations, foundations and (hopefully) a federal new market tax credit, at $26.5 million.
The new entrance to the school will, ironically, be even older than the existing school. The architectural team of studioTECHNE and Fielding Nair International have incorporated the gorgeous frontage of the 1909 Kausek Brothers Building, which features two copper domes and ornate brickwork.
"The neighbors are proud of it," says Clark. "It’s a cool building. We're going to keep about a third of it and incorporate that into our design."
Groundbreaking will be this June or July with a tentative opening date for the new school, which Clark aims to fill with as many as 525 students, slated for the start of the 2016/2017 school year. However, St. Martin is in the first year of a five-year lease for the existing building, allowing for some flexibility in the construction schedule.
"We're not compelled to have everything done on first day of school," says Clark. "There's a certain leeway in how this gets built." The Albert M. Higley Company is the construction manager on the project.
Perhaps most inspiring is the underlying ideology of the project. Clark notes that a Cristo Rey school should be woven in a neighborhood and "not a fortress with a moat." To that end, the school values other longtime St. Clair inhabitants such as Sterle's Country House, St. Vitus Church, Sheliga Drug/True Value the Slovenian National Home.
"We worked together with those groups," says Clark of the planning and design process. "They use our space. The hope is that this will bring hope to the neighborhood--not gentrification, but a vibrancy that has kind of died away a little bit. It's really an investment in this neighborhood. That's kind of our principle. We want to just blend in here."
Above all, the project is about area students and families, many of which are struggling, but still find a way to get their kids to school despite the challenge of working more than one job.
"We are not here because we are going to 'help these people,'" says Clark. "We've got to partner here. That's our mission: to help kids that wouldn't have an opportunity. To give them an opportunity, enable them, and let them run with it all the way to college and succeed.
"Some have already come back and are working at the school, which is fantastic.
We're hiring our alum."


Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomes African penguins

Next Friday, April 3, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will be introducing some visitors, the likes of which it hasn't had for 13 years.
Penguin Shores will feature six African penguins, which average two feet in height and weigh about eight pounds. The tuxedoed guests will jet up from Florida a few days early to prep for their big reveal.

"They're coming up like the snowbirds to enjoy a beautiful Ohio summer," says zoo executive director Chris Kuhar.

Also known at the black-footed penguin or jackass penguin (not on account of the birds' unfortunate party antics, but because of it's braying call), the birds will be hanging out near the grizzly bears in a special habitat created just for them in the Northern Trek section of the zoo around the former Grin ‘n’ Bear Eats concession stand. Their exclusive space will be decked out with all the amenities a proper penguin could want.

"There's water for them to swim in and land for them to get up on," says Kuhar, adding that the motif is fashioned after the rugged and rocky coastline the birds would normally populate in South Africa. As for getting too hot, African penguins are inclined to more temperate climates than the Antarctic birds normally seen chillin' in the documentaries, but these visitors will have A.C. just the same.
"The temperature will be in the 60- to 70-degree range," says Kuhar.
Presented by Cleveland Clinic Children's, Penguin Shores is included in a regular admission and will be available during regular Zoo hours. The exhibit will run through mid-September. Those interested in getting better access to the waddling visitors (which have been described as curious, nosy and loud) might want to look into one of the Zoo's Night Track programs, which include an overnight stay at either the Wolf Wilderness Cabin, Reinberger Homestead or Waterfowl Lake Tent. In the morning, guests can visit the penguins (or other animals) before the zoo opens.
"You kind of get your own personal penguin experience without the crowds," says Kuhar.
The Zoo has not hosted penguins since the old bird building was dismantled in 2002. Hence, Penguin Shores is not only a great opportunity for Zoo visitors to see the exotic birds, it's also offers a chance to learn about them. To that end, the exhibit will illustrate how pollution and climate change affect them.
"We know people love penguins," notes Kuhar. "This is a great opportunity to use that connection to talk about water quality issues and climate issues that are so important to our wildlife." He emphasized how the Penguin Shores exhibit is a perfect compliment to the Cleveland Office of Sustainability's Year of Clean Water, putting a real feathered face on the impact of water pollution.
"The penguins are sort of our ambassadors."

L.L.Bean launches national campaign with Northeast Ohio announcement

Apparently, the predictions that our collective online shopping habits would soon render brick and mortar retail outlets obsolete were a bit premature.
"Today's traditional customer is evolving," says L.L.Bean senior public relations representative Mac McKeever. Just a few years ago that sort of statement implied people wanted to shop more and more online. McKeever notes that L.L.Bean's customers want just the opposite: to get closer to the merchandise before they buy. Hence, the 103-year-old catalog company is expanding into the physical retail market with an ambitious plan to have 100 stores across the country by 2020. Last week, L.L.Bean kicked off that campaign with the announcement of a new store slated to open later this year in Legacy Village in Lyndhurst.
"This is the first store we announced since we announced the expansion," says McKeever of what will also be the company's first Ohio location.
L.L.Bean chose Northeast Ohio for a number of reasons. Although McKeever would not disclose specifics, it seems we're pretty reliable customers for the company. Having an array of outdoor recreational resources as well as a population that regularly engages in them were significant factors as well.
"While it is a more urban setting, there's several places in that area where we're going to be offering outdoor programming," said McKeever, noting area parks and waterways.
The programming will be part of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery School, which will feature free in-store clinics and on-site classes. While the Northeast Ohio line-up won't be available for months, a $79 sea kayaking class at Nockamixon State Park sponsored by the company's Center Valley, Pennsylvania store sold out months in advance, as did a $190 junior Olympic archery course at the Freeport, Maine location. Free in-store fly fishing clinics regularly fill up. Kids and teen camps, wildlife tours, first aid clinics, snowshoe adventures, biking tours and an array of overnight and fishing outings round out the myriad Discovery School offerings
"We know it's going to be a great home for us," says McKeever of the new 16,000-square-foot Legacy Village location, which will be built to LEED certified standards and will employ 100. The space currently houses clothier Talbots, which will relocate within Legacy Village.
While the build-out will be happening here in our backyard, it's tightly tethered to the great state of Maine.
"Maine is part of our history, part of our heritage. It's part of our DNA," says McKeever, adding that the company's retail facilities reflect that legacy. "We're kind of bringing a little bit of Maine to Ohio."
The grand opening is scheduled for November. McKeever promises an event to remember, noting that inaugural L.L.Bean events include giveaways, demonstrations, a possible Bootmobile sighting (think part operational pick-up truck, part boot that would fit a 143-foot-tall human) and family-friendly activities. Attendees often queue up before dawn and number in the hundreds.
"We throw a heck of a party."


Restore Cold Pressed organic juice and superfood smoothie bar coming to Gateway District

In as little at five weeks, the Gateway District will be home to Restore Cold Press, a fresh juice and Wi-Fi bar that will also feature small bites catering to vegans, paleos and just about anyone wanting a fresh and nutritious pick-me-up.
Christie Pritt and Adam Wright are the force behind the effort. Both Northeast Ohio natives have boomeranged back to the 216 after relocated to New York City for professional reasons in 2008.
"In Manhattan there's a juice bar on just about every corner," says Wright. "That's where it really started to grow on us."
While in the Big Apple, the couple kept Cleveland on their radar by watching our renaissance from afar. Earlier this year, they decided to fulfill the long-standing desire to launch their own venture.
"We decided to take the leap and start a business of our own," says Pritt.
Located at 1001 Huron Road, the 1,500-square-foot facility previously housed the American Institute of Architects Cleveland Division.
"We opted for a much larger space than the typical juice bar would have because we want to incorporate that community feel into our place," says Wright, noting the 18-foot ceilings and copious windows. He hopes the inviting space will attract book clubs, running clubs and even yoga events.
"We'll have comfortable seating, communal tables and some local art work," adds Pritt. "Definitely a welcoming atmosphere is what we want to project—somewhere you feel comfortable staying a while." Monarch Construction is at work on the build out and Vocon Partners are the lead architects. The space will seat approximately 23.
In addition to cold pressed juices and smoothies, Restore will also offer salads and build-your-own bowls of oatmeal and açaí.
"They're actually Brazilian," says Pritt of the exotic berries' origin. "Basically, they do really well when you mush them up, which sounds weird, but it creates a really nice texture, with almost a chocolatey taste. From there, you can add grains, coconut flakes … whatever toppings you want."
Tentative hours will be Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The couple expects to announce a grand opening date within a month; dependent on how quickly Monarch can finish up.
The privately funded project has been in the works for almost a year. The couple signed the lease late last fall and construction started earlier this month.
So why Cleveland? Why now?
"Just seeing how much growth potential there is in the area, it seemed like the perfect fit for us," says Pritt. "The momentum is in the right direction and we decided now is the time to jump on that trend."
"There is so much going on in downtown Cleveland right now," adds Wright. "There's a great vibe and a good energy. It was kind of a no-brainer to come back."
Restore Cold Pressed is hiring all positions, full- and part-time, with flexible hours. Interested parties are encouraged to contact Adam Wright, restorecoldpressed@gmail.com, 330-806-3893.


Odeon Concert Club to reopen in May after nine year hiatus

Before it closed its doors in 2006, the Odeon Concert Club was a famous Flats entertainment venue that once hosted such eclectic acts as Nine Inch Nails, Björk and the Ramones. This spring, the sound of rock music will be shaking the walls of the East Bank club once more.

The Odeon is scheduled for a grand reopening on May 1st, in the same 1,100-capacity spot it held in the old Flats. Cleveland-based heavy metal group Mushroomhead will headline the event, kicking off what owner Mike Tricarichi believes can be a new era for the much loved rock landing place. 

"I don't know if people are going to expect a nostalgia trip or whatever," says Tricarichi. "This is going to be a destination compatible with what's forecast to be on the street with the (Flats East Bank) project." 

The Odeon's interior is getting revamped for its new iteration, Tricarichi notes. Though the room's basic design will remain unchanged, a new sound and lighting system will be installed. In addition, inside walls will be painted and the club's infamously grotty bathrooms will get an overhaul.

"Everything's going to be fresh," says Tricarichi. "We're trying to make people more comfortable."

Tricarichi, president of Las Vegas-based real estate company Telecom Acquisition Corp., owns both the Odeon and Roc Bar, a 250-capacity club located nearby on Old River Road. He bought the Odeon building in 2007, one year after it shut its doors. The decision to reopen Odeon came in light of early success Tricarichi has had booking acts at Roc Bar, which itself reopened in December. 

"We opened Roc expecting it to bring people down here, and it did," Tricarichi says.

Along with Mushroomhead, the Odeon has set a date for a Puddle of Mudd show and is working on bringing in horror punk act the Misfits for an appearance. Tricarichi, who spends part of his time in Las Vegas booking hotel shows, also expects to host comic acts at the refurbished Cleveland club.

"I've produced Andrew Dice Clay shows in Vegas, and he wants to play here," he says.

As Tricarichi owns the building, he views re-opening the Odeon as a worthy, low-risk experiment that can be a key component of a revitalized Flats entertainment scene.

"It's a stepping stone," he says. "We can be a piece of what's happening down there."

Skidmark Garage set to burn rubber with May grand opening

Brian Schaffran has been riding motorcycles for 15 years, starting with a 1978 Honda CB750 he found on the side of the road in his hometown of Strongsville. He quickly fell in love, not just with the romantic notion of riding itself, but with the restoration and maintenance required to make his baby street-ready.

"There's a gratifying aspect to fixing something with your own hands," says Schaffran, 43.

A mechanical-minded DIY attitude is something Schaffran aims to impart with Skidmark Garage, a 2,800-square foot space for riders to roll in and work on their choppers, crotch rockets, hogs or other hotrodding euphemism of choice.

The garage, located in the Hildebrandt Building on the corner of Clark Avenue and Fulton Road in downtown Cleveland, will rent out tools, lifts and storage bays to motorcycle enthusiasts. If all goes well, the space will also create a community of folks to share advice, spare parts and perhaps a beer or two while they maintain their rides.

"I'm not a mechanic," says Schaffran, a former history and computer teacher at Saint Martin de Porres High School. "I'm providing a place to hang out and work on your bike."

Although the space is open for business, its owner is preparing for a grand opening celebration scheduled for May 2. Schaffran hopes to draw not just current riders, but people from surrounding city neighborhoods who don't yet own a motorcycle as apartment life leaves them few storage options.

"My average customer will probably be a guy in his 20s who bought some used piece of junk and doesn't have anywhere to put it," says Schaffran.

The bike-loving entrepreneur has been sitting on the idea for a community fix-it clubhouse since he himself was in his 20s. Living in Los Angeles at the time, Schaffran would borrow tools from friendly mechanics and tinker with his vehicles at home.

"Friends would come over and work in my garage, too," he says. "I thought how cool it would be to have a place with a couple of lifts for people to work on their vehicles."

Schaffran has excitedly expanded that picture in his head now that it's becoming closer to reality. "I can see a garage full of 10 or 15 guys helping each other out and fixing their bikes, no matter what time of day, then leaving here feeling like they accomplished something huge," he says.

One magnificent bench to unite Clevelanders east and west on April 4th

So, what are you? East sider or West sider?
Clevelanders have fielded the glib question since, well, anyone can remember. The classic geographical divide in the 216 dates back to the 1830's and a dubious brawl on the first Columbus Road Bridge. Yet even today, the side of the river from which one hails still seems to matter in this town.

"You're asked to self identify," says Michele Kilroy, a native Clevelander who's decided to take on the the embedded split. "I understand that everyone has pride in their respective neighborhoods, but we're all Cleveland."

While she admits the classic Cleveland question isn't going away any time soon, about a year ago, an idea bloomed that would meld our industrial history, art and technology all while aiming to close west/east divide. The concept is about to come to fruition in a way that will make any Clevelander's face split into a toothy grin.

Cleveland Bench is 12-feet long, two-and-a-half-feet high and nearly as deep. It's constructed of 1,000 pounds of reclaimed Rust Belt steel and, perhaps best of all, its permanent home will be smack dab in the middle of the Terminal Tower's main entrance.

"The objective is to get a west sider and east sider on that bench, take a photo and upload it to Instagram or Twitter or Facebook," says Kilroy, noting that the project is part public art, part function and part social experiment. She imagines photos ranging from east/west marriage proposals to east/west college reunions. "Wouldn't it be hilarious to have a West Side grandma and an East Side grandbaby?"

The bench will face Public Square from the center arch of the main Terminal Tower entrance. The door in that arch does not open; a post office blocks it from the inside.

Kilroy commissioned Kevin Busta to create the unique sculpture, which will be constructed from industrial hoppers, angle iron, structural bridge rivets and flat stock steel. A long-time admirer of his industrial aesthetic, she was also compelled to his work because Busta creates it from repurposed metals plucked from our hulking past. That was important to Kilroy, who is a specialist for the Cleveland Climate Action Fund by day.

"I'm a tree hugger," says Kilroy.

Private parties are funding Busta's commission and ongoing maintenance, which Kilroy will manage. Financial details are confidential, but Clevelanders will get a peek beneath the mysterious veil on April 4 at 11 a.m, which is the bench's coming out party, so to speak. At that time, the financial supporters will be revealed via a small plaque.

For the curious, Kilroy, a lifelong Clevelander, has pitched her tent on both sides of the Cuyahoga. She's lived in Lakewood and currently calls North Collinwood home.

"I'm not afraid to cross the river," she quips. That ideology is symbolically represented in one of the bench's more subtle details.

"The way the back is oriented, the W is on the east side of the bench and the E is on the west side," says Kilroy. "We're already asking people to flip their mentality a little bit."

Old Brooklyn is 'poised to pop' with launch of new business plan competition

The Old Brooklyn and St. Clair-Superior communities in Cleveland and the city of Shaker Heights are launching individual programs to help existing businesses and attract new businesses. The programs are funded through the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), which received a $30,000 grant from Huntington Bank at the Ohio Capital Income Corporation.
The three communities were chosen by Huntington. “The grant was given to support these three neighborhoods,” says Eric Diamond, ECDI executive vice president of lending. “We went to these neighborhoods and asked, ‘What would you find most helpful?’” Each community came up with its own idea for encouraging economic development.
Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) is hosting a business competition to receive training and grant money to fill vacant storefronts along the area's main streets, former garage and service facilities, and office and creative space.
All eligible applicants will receive business canvas plan training from ECDI. A canvas plan is essentially a basic business plan. Eight finalists will then be chosen to receive more advanced business training from ECDI before pitching their businesses to a panel of judges in June for the chance to win up to $10,000 in grant money, additional training and financial incentives.
“We could select all of them, or we could select a small batch of them,” says Jason Powers, OBCDC director of marketing and development. "We hope to come out of this with some funded businesses, all of them trained, and considering Old Brooklyn as a place to grow their businesses.”
All types of businesses, from new concepts to existing companies, will be considered, says Powers. The neighborhood is on the rise and its central location in Cleveland makes it a prime draw for new restaurants, bars and retail shops. “Old Brooklyn is just poised to pop,” he says. “Everyone’s just really, really ready. We’re looking for those next things.”
Interested business owners have until April 24th to apply.
Meanwhile, St. Clair-Superior is taking a “business triage” approach with the program, focusing more on assisting existing businesses in the neighborhood. Experts from ECDI and Business Advisers of Cleveland will assess participating companies in everything from their sales to social media to financing. The companies will then get training and support in the area where they need help. The program should launch next week, according to Diamond.
Shaker Heights is also considering a business competition similar to what Old Brooklyn is doing. Diamond says the process in Shaker takes longer than in Old Brooklyn because city officials must first meet with landlords to facilitate new businesses coming in. The Shaker program should launch later this year.

E. 34th Street rapid station slated for a $6.8m makeover

After nearly a year-long campaign by members of the Campus District community, the E. 34th Street rapid station will be renovated to make it more accessible, ADA compliant and less isolated. The RTA Board of Trustees voted on February 17th to move ahead with plans to design and build a new station.

The E. 34th Street station serves all three Rapid lines, but it’s not a popular stop right now. “The only people who use that station now are the people who really need it,” explains Campus District Inc. director Bobbi Reichtell. “It’s kind of secluded, the lighting is poor and you just feel isolated.”
But members of the Campus District community began arguing last May that the station is needed in the neighborhood, with places like Judge Nancy McDonnell Center and Oriana House, the Women's Reintegration Center, CMHA and the main branch of the Cleveland U.S. Post Office all within range of the stop, as well as a high population of residents who depend on public transportation to get to school and work.
“And there is $330 million in investment going into the Campus District and Cleveland State University within a mile of the 34th Street station,” adds Reichtell. “There’s a huge amount of investment underway and planned, and there are people who need access.”

Plans for the new station include better visibility, lighting, parking and an ADA compliant ramp down to the platform. Advocates argued that making the station more accessible and attractive will increase ridership.
Reichtell said they also cited the W. 65th Street and Lorain Avenue rapid station in the EcoVillage community of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood as a success story that could be mirrored at E. 34th. “It used to be even worse than 34th Street,” Reichtell says of the W. 65th station. “The community lobbied that if you can create a better shelter more people would use it. And that’s exactly what happened.”
RTA’s deputy general manager of engineering and project management Mike Schipper said the construction phase of the project will cost $6.8 million. Requests for design proposals will begin in April. The design phase will most likely take a year, says Schipper, with construction bids starting in late 2016 and construction beginning in early 2017. A study phase has already been completed.
“I’m glad we have gotten through the study phase so we can get going,” says Schipper. “Whatever we do there will be an improvement over what’s there now. We got a lot of great input from that neighborhood, and we expect them to provide good input when we get to the design phase.”

Charter school purchases iconic Hugo Boss building, plans expansion

Last week, the Menlo Park Academy (MPA) announced that it has acquired the Joseph & Feiss Cloth Craft Building on West 53rd Street just south of Interstate 90. The nearly seven-acre property houses two structures that were formerly a warehouse and administrative building, approximately 80,000- and 25,000-square-feet respectively. Hugo Boss acquired Joseph & Feiss in 1989, along with the notable site, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

In recent years the warehouse building has attracted numerous graffiti artists, including one whose advice to "READ MORE BOOKS" may soon be taken by MPA students.
Preliminary plans include using the larger building with the iconic water tower for the school and mothballing the smaller building in a way that respects the historical integrity.
"By doing some innovative things for an innovative (student) population, I think we're taking the history of that property to the next step," says Fraser Hamilton, who sits on the school's board and is spearheading the facility expansion committee. Two of his children attend MPA and one is a graduate. "It's not unlike what Joseph and Feiss did when they developed the property originally."
Currently located at 14440 Triskett Road, MPA focuses on gifted children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The charter school has two classes for grades K through seven and one for eighth. Founded in 2007, the MPA has 363 students.
"We're maxed out," says Hamilton of the leased space, adding that the school hopes to expand to three classes in each grade and a student population of more than 600. While that growth is expected to span three to five years, the organization aims to begin the 2016-2017 school year in the new facility. The design team includes Herman Gibans Fodor, Inc. and Robert Maschke Architects. The site's significant green spaces will be transformed into play areas and learning gardens.
"We take a holistic model to the education of our children," says Hamilton. "It's more than just sitting in the classroom and learning from books. We encourage a lot of experiential learning."
During the due diligence process, the MPA team enlisted the services of the Mannik Smith Group to work with state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies and evaluate the site's brownfield status and any required remediation.
"The bulk of the environmental work that has to happen out there is asbestos abatement," says Hamilton. "There's a small area of contaminated soil that we'll cover with asphalt and concrete to make sure no one gets to it." The group is also assessing whether or not there is an indoor air issue. A $250,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (obtained via Cuyahoga County) will fund the remediation work.
Due diligence also included tabulating crime data for the new location as well as the existing Triskett location. Both areas had low overall numbers for 2011 through 2014 and crimes against property in the West 53rd Street neighborhood were 45 percent lower than for the Triskett location.
Funding for the renovation will include traditional bank financing and any awarded federal and state historic tax credits and market tax credits. The organization also hopes to garner support from the community via donations and philanthropic participation.
"We'll be kicking off a capital campaign shortly," says Hamilton. "Those details are still being hammered out."
Of the $275,000 purchase price for the building, he adds, "Let's just say it was a bargain on the Cleveland real estate landscape."
The expansion includes the lofty goal of seeking out a diverse range of gifted children, particularly those who are under-served and low-income in order to "ensure that every child who is gifted gets the opportunity they deserve." says Hamilton, adding that a unique educational facility can also act as welcome community anchor.
"We will be a catalyst for that neighborhood."
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