Cleveland City Council member wants next year's council to decide on Shaker Square rescue

A sign for the Rapid Transit at Shaker Square in Cleveland
The city had proposed loaning nonprofit community development groups $12 million to extricate Shaker Square from foreclosure. [Tim Harrison / Ideastream Public Media]
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Updated Friday, Nov. 3 at 5:55 p.m.

The fate of Shaker Square will likely be left to next year’s Cleveland City Council to decide.

At a neighborhood meeting Friday, Ward 4 Councilwoman Anita Gardner said she would table a proposed $12 million city loan to pull the property out of foreclosure.

A pair of nonprofits, Burten Bell Carr Development Corporation and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, would have used the loan money to pay off the current owner’s mortgage debt and take possession of the property. They also planned to spend $5.25 million from other sources on capital improvements and additional costs.

Gardner said she did not oppose investing in Shaker Square. But she said many parts of the neighborhood need help, including children who are going hungry.

“When I’m hearing about money to fix up a Square, which, like I said, I love,” she said. “And God knows I want it fixed. I want it fixed. I want to be able to enjoy that, but I’m living in the real world, everybody.”

Gardner, who was appointed to the seat this year after the indictment of former councilman Ken Johnson, said she would leave the plan for her successor, Deborah Gray, who won the Nov. 2 election and takes office in January.

Without support from the local council member, the plan is unlikely to be brought for up for a vote. Council will hold its final meeting Dec. 6.

Late on Friday, Mayor-elect Justin Bibb tweeted his support of the project, calling the Square an "anchor on the southeast side" and the loan package "a step in the right direction."

Supporters of the loan pitched it as a way to ensure local control of an East Side anchor that could fall into the hands of out-of-town bondholders who own the mortgage on the property. The longer they wait, the costlier the deal will become as interest and fees accrue, the proponents argued.

“Do we want an out-of-state bank or real estate investors driving the bus?” Burten Bell Carr Executive Director Joy Johnson asked at the meeting, alluding to other properties in the area now held by investors. “Or we can drive the bus,” she added.

EDWINS restaurant founder Brandon Chrostowski, a vocal opponent of the deal who unsuccessfully tried to buy Shaker Square in March, accused the nonprofits of cutting Gardner out of the loop.

“Why would you go behind the back of Ms. Anita Gardner to push a deal through, when you criticized out-of-state, out-of-country potential owners,” he asked, “when right in our own very back yard we go behind Ms. Anita Gardner’s back and disrespect not just me, my family, our business, but Kinsman, Union, Griffing, Imperial and every other street in this area? Why would you do that?”

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress CEO Tania Menesse acknowledged that the partners didn’t initially clue the councilwoman in on the plans.

“I have apologized profusely to Ms. Gardner, and she knows it. The councilwoman knows,” Menesse said. “And most of you know in this room, I’m a really genuine person. When I step in it, I step in it.”

Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin, the incoming council president, told the room that he had stepped in to work with the nonprofits on the deal after Johnson’s indictment and before Gardner’s appointment to city council.  

With the deal apparently on hold, it will be up to a new city council and Bibb’s administration to decide what to do next.

Former city councilman Zack Reed, a Bibb supporter who serves on the transition team’s safety task force, attended Friday’s meeting and spoke in favor of the deal.

“Justin needs this project to go forward,” Reed said. “We cannot hamstring Justin to create vitality and a catalyst project here on the Southeast Side of the city of Cleveland.”

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