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More observations from Rust Belt to Artist Belt II

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/28/09 @ 9:43am

Chris Kious of A Piece of Cleveland, which makes furniture out of wood pulled and cleaned from 'deconstructed' homes, isn't worried about finding homes in the area to meticulously take apart. He's more concerned about streamlining the process and finding APOC more customers. Kious didn't form an LLC to fill up warehouses with reusable old-growth lumber. In a few short years, APOC has led a few deconstruction projects in Cleveland, and learned from groups in Buffalo and Seattle how to bring down labor costs.

"Deconstruction does cost more because demolition is one person and we have a six person crew," Kious said at the Rust Belt to Artist Belt II (RBAB2) conference. "When we started it cost 400% more than demolition. You can't take a ten thousand dollar job and have it be fifty thousand, even with adding jobs.

We found someone in Seattle who helped us figure out a way to bring the cost of deconstruction down to seventeen thousand (home demolitions cost roughly ten thousand dollars). And we can tap into Pathways out of Poverty program to train for green jobs."

Kious hopes their experience strengthens their case with Cleveland and Cuyahoga County which are seeking $74 million in a second round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds, of which $35 million will be used to acquire and demolish blighted homes. The city and county have committed to deconstructing at least 25 homes, next year, up from their commitment for ten this year. Kious would like to work on a plan that scales up the deconstruction industry so that ten percent ? or 200 ? of the 2,000 homes the city and county plan to knock down are deconstructed.

"I think the political will is there now for the city, and, I think, the county will come around. In the case of the county, the house is theirs. All the material is theirs. Rather than spend ten thousand to wipe it off face of earth with deconstruction, they own it and they could own the warehouse we'll manage it and (take some of proceeds for sale of materials)."

Jeff Krejci might not be welcome at many trucker convoys or RV expos. The account representative for InterfaceFlor and co-founder of Zerolandfill Cleveland hopes the price of oil shoots back over $100 per barrel. Interface recycles carpet tiles and the company is 60% of the way toward founder Ray Anderson's goal of being 100% waste free, Krejci said at RBAB2.

"Finding more (vinyl-backed carpet) and shipping efficiently is our biggest challenge. Eight billion pounds a year of carpet gets landfilled; We're reclaiming 10 million. We want more places around country to collect, process and produce. Even if it's costing more it's still worth it. We hope landfill tipping fees go up, and that we get regulations for landfills so they don't take certain materials (like construction and demolition waste)."

Meanwhile, Zerolandfill has grown from an all-volunteer effort with Krejci and Mike Dungan filling up their cars with carpet and wall covering samples to take back to Interface into a multi-city, sponsored effort that has repurposed two tons of material (art schools, on the other hand, love Krejci).

The next venture for Krejci and Dungan is BeeDance, a virtual model of zero landfill that will build a database of material they don't want to go to the landfill. "We have a overlaps of wants and needs for materials. This is about how do you connect?" BeeDance will launch sometime this fall. "It's also about how do you take transportation out of the equation by working with trucking companies so that there aren't trucks going back to warehouse empty."

Jeff Ramsey, director of Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Organization still credits their 1993 renovation of the City Savings and Loan Company Building at West 75th Street and Detroit Avenue as an important step in what is known today as the Gordon Square Arts District. The first tenant of the building, which has eight live/work spaces with great views of downtown and the lake (with the Detroit-Shoreway freezing the rent at $450 a month for working artists) was the late Masumi Hayashi, an artist and CSU professor. "Masumi helped us establish what we were doing and, because of who she was, attracted more artists to the area."

The $20 million Gordon Square Arts District has a lot to celebrate. Cleveland Public Theater has expanded from one avant-garde theater in the 80s to an arts complex today with six properties; Near West Theater Company relocated here; the $3 million street improvements are nearly done; the neighborhood building momentum with an estimated $100 million in new condos and townhome and reuse at Battery Park and an influx of young homeowners and independent shops like Room Service and Gypsy Bean; The Capitol Theater has been transformed from a long-abandoned vaudeville house to the Near West Side's movie theater.

Still, the district shouldn't rest on its laurels, said CPT artistic director, Ray Bobgan at RBAB2.

"We haven't reached out strongly enough to others, such as the Vietnamese and Latino community. That's one philosophical change that we have to make. Also, an arts district isn't just two theaters and a movie theater. We need to be land-banking for other arts organizations. We don't need another convenient mart or tax prep place, but we could use a high-end dance group."

It's good to have artists involved in community development, because, to borrow a phrase, artists are not afraid to speak truth to power. That said, the neighborhood has come a long way since the 1970s when it went from the highest concentration of people who walked to work to 40% living in poverty when Everready and Westinghouse closed. The strong social service community who moved in to the area still informs decisions, such as building 500 units of affordable housing in the last decade, and reserving $1 million of the $20 million raised for the streetscape and capital improvements for continued support of affordable housing.

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