The Lee-Harvard Shopping Center is re-opening with a changed focus. When developers started the renovation project early last year they had the community in mind. And as 90.3's Tarice Sims reports, Lee-Harvard neighbors are welcoming this concept of a community-oriented shopping center.
Tarice Sims- For nearly 40 years Tverne Collier has lived in the same house on East 176th Street on Cleveland's southeast side. Collier's well-maintained single family home is just a few blocks from the Lee-Harvard Plaza. When Collier moved in, Lee Harvard was a neighborhood of middle class African Americans who weren't welcome in some of the surrounding suburbs. He says he hopes the plaza will help to recapture the sense of community he found when he moved to Lee- Harvard in 1962.
Tverne Collier- We all knew each other. We didn't have that coffee call or whatever. We knew each other by name because we worked outside in our yards and most all of us had small children. And so I say it was the best neighborhood that you ever wanted to have because if there was a need for you to have some help or assistance or you needed some help, they would step forward and help you.
TS- But that started to change in the 70's, and the area continued to go downhill through the 80s and 90's. Crime increased in residential and retail areas, and neighbors started shopping at places like Southgate shopping center and Randall Park Mall. But a few stores managed to survive. In the late 90s the shopping center went up for sale. And, Russell Berusch saw it still had some life in it and wanted to completely revive the area. Berucsh is vice president of Real Estate Neighborhood Progress incorporated, a non profit organization that stabilizes and revitalizes communities. He says it wasn't that hard to sell developers on investing in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood.
Russell Berusch- We and board felt that the Lee-Harvard neighborhood had a rich history and much potential for recovery and that the Lee-Harvard shopping center as the sort of front door to much of the residential neighborhood was in a state of disrepair and that the market would support additional tenants and a remodel of the shopping center to make it more competitive with suburban shopping centers.
TS- Along with Neighborhood Progress, the development team included New Village, Forest City Management, Amistad, National City Bank, Key Bank and Fannie Mae out of Washington D.C. Ward 1 Councilman Joe Jones was also apart of the planning process. Forest City Management oversees the Plaza. Tommy Farmer is the General Manager. He says the developers took the needs of the community into consideration when they started the $27 million renovation project.
Tommy Farmer- We took portions of the shopping center - it was one strip center, actually -- located in the middle of the existing centers, we tore that center out completely. The rest of the shopping center we redeveloped by putting a new face lift on (it). Adding (a) police mini-station, brung new tenants in such as Metro Health, Ashley Stewart, Kidspot, TNT Fashions, on board to give a better flavor to the shopping customer.
TS- There's also a Social security office, a post office and a library making Lee-Harvard a central place where residents can take care of business.
The new plaza doesn't look anything like the old strip mall. The L-shaped plaza is a yellow contemporary style building that is home to 36 different businesses and community services. Maintenance workers are staffed to help keep the parking lot clean. Townes Shoes is near the clock which stands right in the center of the building. Inside everything looks brand new. Darrell Townes has owned Townes Shoes for 14 years. He says before the renovation began and his store was rebuilt the developers consulted with him and took his concerns to heart.
Darrell Townes- I was able to pick it and pretty much plan what I wanted to set it up with this dividing wall and cleaning area and location. They came to me and asked me what I did I want and pretty much catered to my needs.
TS- Townes says that the community oriented focus can only be good for his business. And Residents say it can only be good for them. Juanita Potts has lived on Judson for 35 years. She is just down the street from the Lee-Harvard Plaza. She says the plaza is so convenient and she's glad to see that money will be staying in the neighborhood.
Juanita Potts- I was thrilled to think that this was not going to be one of those areas that's just going to deteriorate and nobody cares.
TS- But having a renovated community oriented shopping plaza won't change things overnight. Developers say bringing something new like this to a community usually has a positive ripple effect but it takes time. And, even with construction work still being done consumers are taking advantage of this shopping center. Developers say Phase 1 of the project is expected to be completed this spring and a Walgreens drugstore will be added in the fall. In Cleveland, I'm Tarice Sims for 90.3 FM.