By Bruce Checefsky

The City of Cleveland, Urban Land Institute Cleveland (ULI), and Assembly for the Arts recently hosted the Art in Place Program: Connecting Art + Real Estate, at the Dunham Tavern Museum & Gardens. Dozens of residents, cultural dignitaries, philanthropy administrators, artists, real estate developers, and city officials were there to discuss artists and real estate in the Hough neighborhood. Instead, the conversation focused on real estate development along the Euclid Ave corridor, from Cedar Ave to Chester Ave, E. 30 Street to University Circle, and excluded the central tract of land in the Hough neighborhood. There was almost no discussion on the area north of Chester Ave or within AsiaTown.

Adam Saurwein, Partner at Benesch Law and ULI Cleveland Outreach Committee Co-Chair, showed several examples of real estate development and artist collaboration projects. He cited HingeTown, including Church + State, and the Collinwood and Hough neighborhoods, where murals decorate public spaces. Art in Place grants bring artists together with real estate developers to “amplify community voices in creative placemaking”, according to Saurwein.

The Urban Land Institute, originally incorporated under the name of the National Real Estate Foundation, is described as a global non-profit research and education organization to help its members and their partners build equitable, sustainable, healthy, and resilient communities. ULI Cleveland is one of eight cities in the world to receive Art in Place, which will be collected and used as a case study for future programs. Community listening sessions will culminate in a technical assistant panel scheduled for October.

“I used to live in the Tremont neighborhood twenty years ago, and when I moved in, it was full of artists and galleries,” said Saurwein. “Restaurants and real estate developers moved in and, unfortunately, artists and galleries have moved out, a victim of real estate success. We want to use this grant to understand lessons to learn.”

Lauren Murray, Executive Director for Dunham Tavern Museum & Gardens, was introduced and followed by Joyce Pan Huang, Director of City Planning for the City of Cleveland, who said art making and real estate development have parallels. Rhonda Brown, the City of Cleveland senior strategist for arts, culture, and the creative economy, read from a prepared statement thanking the city for the opportunity to return home. “In many ways, real estate developers, at the beginning of their process, have to consider the same thing artists do,” said Brown.

MidTown Cleveland presented their neighborhood vision with an overview of developing artists housing along Euclid Avenue. There was no mention of using existing housing and warehouse stock, which is plentiful in AsiaTown and Hough neighborhoods, or references to the dozens of artists that live and work there.

“Whether it is more murals or beautifying public crosswalks, we focus on the arts,” said Sophie Mueller, Economic Development Manager at MidTown. “We want to elevate the cultural patchwork of the neighborhood and amplify local artists, giving them a platform for their work.”

Maybe Someone Should Ask Them?

As introductions concluded, the breakout sessions began. Saurwein was the moderator at one table, and with a clipboard and pen in hand he asked, “What are some of the considerations artists and developers consider when creating or planning?” J. Shorey said when his project is complete (The Foundry Project Arts and Tech Incubator, located on E. 71st and Platt Ave), artists will manage the building. He recently received $670,000 from the state of Ohio’s brownfield remediation program. Shorey purchased the building from the Cuyahoga Land Bank in 2015 and plans to rent space to art school graduates and emerging tech professionals. Sean Watterson wants to see a broader policy position that includes more grant money from the current cigarette tax. Artists currently receive only 2% of a multimillion-dollar Cuyahoga Arts and Culture program; universal basic income for artists was also mentioned.

Kim Scott, Planner at the City of Cleveland Planning, asked about critical mass and if there were enough artists regionally to absorb the new living spaces. No one had the answer. Real estate investors are betting on artists to move to MidTown. Cleveland is among the fastest-shrinking cities in America. In 2020, the population was the lowest since 1890. It has declined by over 3% since 2020. Saurwein was optimistic but cautious. “Artists are not necessarily the type of people that will sign a ten-year lease with three five-year renewals,” he said. He suggested traditional lease agreements might need to be revised.

Hough may be the next artistic hot spot, with wide streets, plenty of empty warehouse space, and proximity between downtown and University Circle. When MoCA relocated uptown, and SPACES moved deeper into Ohio City, they left behind an opportunity to grow Midtown into a thriving artists’ community.

Real estate developers did not build for artists in neighborhoods that have grown organically like Tremont, Gordon Square, and Collinwood. Artists renovated, and repaired old structures, built new ones and made them their own. Investors and developers could be disappointed. Build it, and they might not come.