By Sue Botos
Over the past few years, the city’s economic development seems to have centered on the north side of town, while residents near Center Ridge Road have watched as the once booming Rockport Shopping Center emptied and was partially demolished. Other nearby businesses followed suit as “For Lease” signs sprouted. But as Mayor Pam Bobst noted in her 2014 state of the city address at last week’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon, in 2013, Center Ridge has become the city’s “Genesis of transition.”
“Edwards Communities’ Brighton Chase was the beginning of the transformation,” Bobst told the group of about 150, which included representatives from the offices of Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Jim Renacci and state Sen. Rob Portman. She said the 260-unit “resort style” apartment complex, which is rising from the ashes of Rockport, plus outbuildings, represent a $28 million project.
She added that work is underway to convert 33,000 square feet of the former Target building into a new Fitworks location, and that tenants are being sought for the rest of the building.
Moving down the street, Bobst pointed out the renovations made by the Melino Robenault law firm and the owner of a neighboring building, which transformed outdated, neglected properties. She said that the new conference center in the Plaza West building “offers endless possibilities.”
A $3.85 million face-lift has made the AMC movie theater in Westwood Town Center a state-of-the-art facility, complete with reclining seats, bar service and a newly built IMAX theater. Bobst reported that Marc’s will take over 4,500 square feet of the cinema’s former space for an $840,000 project that will expand the store’s grocery and pharmacy services.
The renovation ball will continue to roll down the street as Giant Eagle, in River Plaza, gets set for a $3.5 million interior and exterior makeover. “This is all such a synergistic mix very consistent with the master plan,” Bobst commented.
Along Detroit Road, Bobst said, anticipation is high for the $4 million Whole Foods Market, which has applied for a demolition permit. Once Fitworks is relocated to the former Target building on Center Ridge from its current River Plaza location, Bobst said the market, with 160 workers, will begin construction of its store in that space.
“They are committed to the city. The project is moving along,” she stated. A firm timeline for the project is not yet available.
In addition, a major renovation is slated for the CVS plaza, and Bobst said that the vacant building on the corner of Linda Street and Detroit will soon house a preventive medicine practice with about 110 employees.
Projects still continue in the recently dubbed Downtown River area, which encompasses Beachcliff Market Square, Linda Street and the historic Old River area. “The Downtown River Association will brand the area and highlight our historic downtown,” she stated, adding, “This has really bolstered our civic pride.”
However, the city building boom is still set against a backdrop of economic austerity. “We have been resilient, adaptable and responsive,” Bobst said.
Bobst said this feat was accomplished by passing a slim $18 million budget. She reported that since the 2007 general fund high of $25 million, the amount has been slashed over the years in response to a $2.7 million loss in state funds, over $80 million in state and federal EPA mandates and flat revenue streams.
A levy that would have increased the city’s income tax from 1.5 percent to 2 percent and was projected to have raised over $2 million was turned down by voters in November by 66 votes. “I do see a groundswell of individuals interested in putting this back on the ballot,” Bobst observed.
Adding that grants and cooperation with other communities and organizations were some of her favorite cost-cutters, Bobst said since 2010, the city has received over $2.5 million in grants. She went on to say that a 2012 agreement with the Cleveland Division of Water saved the city $2.7 million. “Without the agreement, we would have had to pay for the lines,” she stated.
“We’re a better, more efficient government today. Clearly, we ended 2013 in a stronger position,” Bobst concluded.