Cleveland’s New Downtown Part Of An Urban Revival
Filed by KOSU News in US News.
June 11, 2012
Almost eleven years ago, Phil Alexander opened his company, BrandMuscle, in the affluent Cleveland suburb of Beachwood.
The company sells marketing software to corporate clients around the world and its offices have a lean, energetic vibe with 20-somethings tossing around ideas in multi-screened meeting rooms or a comfortable coffee bar.
The place is young, hip and it’s leaving town. A few years ago, you might chalk that up as another economic blow to Northeast Ohio. But BrandMuscle isn’t moving to a major metro area like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, but instead about 20 miles away to downtown Cleveland.
“Downtown has a new energy, a new vitality; things that we really didn’t see a few years ago,” Alexander says.
It sure doesn’t sound like the place that was long the butt of jokes by late-night comedians, and there are similar stories coming out of Detroit, St. Louis and Buffalo. Blue collar towns seem to be attracting a new generation of residents looking for an affordable, urban lifestyle.
One of the wake-up calls for Alexander came when two of his employees asked him if he knew anyone in downtown Cleveland because they were on a waiting list for an apartment.
“We were actually on a waiting list for four months before we got in,” says Veronica Tarasco, who now shares one of the hippest addresses in the city – East 4th Street – with BrandMuscle co-working Kristen Babjack.
One most nights the area in downtown Cleveland is bustling with restaurants and live music venues.
“We can leave our apartment and walk five feet to a restaurant to get something to eat or to go shopping,” Babjack says.
A brand new casino, just a couple blocks away, has brought even more people into the neighborhood. And Tarasco, who used to live on the east coast, says there are plenty of other entertainment options.
“We have all of our arenas and sporting areas and concerts all in one, pretty much, walkable area,” she says. “If you go to a Giants game out in New York, if you’re going to the game, you’re going to the game. You’re not going to tail gate and then get on the train and go back into the city.”
An Evolving Downtown
Ari Maron, a partner in MRN Ltd. a family owned real estate development, construction and management company based in Cleveland, says his father first started developing properties on East 4th Street 20 years ago. Back then it was better known as a place for wig shops, drug deals and prostitutes.
Maron’s family has bought up most of the old, empty office space above the street and converted it to apartments. Maron says that he and other local developers are having a tough time keeping up with the demand.
“The apartments are all filled [and] there’s new apartments being built every day,” Maron says. “I think what we’re really doing is riding the wave of a national trend of people rediscovering cities.”
Richey Piiparinen, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been tracking that trend in Northeast Ohio and adjacent states.
“A lot of young people in Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh whose parents grew-up in the inner city, and whose parents left during the white flight movement,” Piiparinen says. “They have this attraction to the roots that they never knew.”
Jim Russell writes an economic development blog about Rust Belt refugees who are looking to come home. He confirms that downtown Cleveland is booming. He says recent Census migration data for the area has been positive to the tune of 400 to 500 new residents.
“That’s a pretty significant chunk of people, who tend to be young and college-educated,” Russell says. “That’s a win.”
Richey Piiparinen warns, however, that it is one win in a much larger battle for repopulation.
“This is a very complex problem, but getting an inflow of talent into a city is one way to tackle that,” he says.
Piiparinen says young people like Veronica Tarasco are a blank slate, not burdened with memories of all the old Cleveland jokes.
“My friends on the east coast, they call names to Ohio and Cleveland and stuff, but I think it’s just a bad rep that we get,” she says.
For Cleveland and some other hard-hit Midwestern cities, that “rep” is starting to change. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]