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University Circle wants to refashion town-gown fit

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/06/09 @ 11:42am

Collaboration was hailed by University Circle leadership at the Urban Land Institute panel, "Emerging University Circle community: A collaborative initiative" last week. Panelists see their work as a full-fledged refashioning of Cleveland and Case's ivied town-gown relationship.

"It's very new, but the collaborative has the ability to impact not only the big institutions like Case, University Hospital and the Clinic, but also the poorest and underserved populations in the city," said panelist Lillian Kuri, a program coordinator focusing on urban design and sustainability at the Cleveland Foundation.

With $4 billion in bricks and mortar projects underway in the Circle, the rise of the Evergreen Cooperative, a green business incubator funded in part by the foundation and Shorebank with big University Circle institutions buying into businesses owned and operated by Clevelanders is getting a mite overshadowed. The first operation, a green laundry facility, launches this fall and will offer a toxic-free linen service for the 1,100-bed Clinic main campus among others. The goal is to leverage the $3 billion in procurement from the big fish in University Circle to create $65,000 in wealth for each employee/owner. A solar PV cooperative that will lease the panels and a commercial greenhouse are also in the pipeline. Kuri envisions at least one hundred start ups creating thousands of green collar jobs right in the backyard of the region's second largest employment center.

Would this have been possible within the private sector alone? While critics knock Cleveland for not having the entrepreneurial step in this area, the fact is, the private sector hasn't moved strongly into the triple-bottom line business arena, not in this fashion. Sure, Cleveland businesses are seeking out green building and are creating social responsibility checklists. Network efforts like Entrepreneurs for Sustainability and WIRE-Net, which is working to retool the auto supply chain into a wind supply chain, are doing a lot of show and tell it from the mountain what it means to be a sustainable business.

But, it's the new intermediaries, moderator Ken McGovern, director of Neighborhood Development under Mayor Carl Stokes and a development manager for University Circle, Inc., who have come to the table together to push a new public-private agenda (with a little more bias toward the public side here in University Circle).

The Clinic-occupying 166 acres and 16.4 million sq. ft. on the eastern edge of University Circle into Midtown-was long the white elephant in the room, admits Oliver "Pudge" Henkel, The Clinic's Chief Government Relations Officer. The global nonprofit is trying to turn things around. A collaboration with neighboring Fairfax Renaissance community development corporation led to Ohio's largest ever Third Frontier grant: $60 million for the Global Cardiovascular Center located in and employing 100+ residents from the oft-neglected Cedar Road corridor behind the main campus.

More illustrative perhaps of how collaboration is being touted as a game changer is in development plans for Euclid and Mayfield, Case's main drag. Today, it's "the DMZ" between the historic Case and Western Reserve campuses, says E. 4th Street's whiz kid developer Ari Maron. Maron's MRN has an option to develop this stretch of Euclid in the heart of the campus with mixed-use retail and residential. It's been a black eye for the region that Euclid and Mayfield have provided very little campus life let alone a viable draw for the tens of thousands who come to the Circle to work and play here every day. Maron announced that MRN has, after years of planning, finally stitched together 80% of the financing for the project.

Again, having dynamic leaders like UCI's Chris Ronayne and Kuri, from the public side and the Clinic's new sustainability agenda are attracting real dollars (Remember not long ago when Case was following Peter Lewis around like a pauper for the same cause?). Today, MRN is working traditional sources of financing, but it's the critical mass of Museum of Contemporary Art garnering the largest Program Related Investment from Gund Foundation for their new building and their intermediary, UCI, having corralled investment from nonprofit developer Village Capital Corp. and the city of Cleveland kicking in its largest vacant properties loan in its history, says Maron, that are driving this urban infill (it's a big surface parking lot) project known as Uptown.

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