Celebration of Save-a-lot opening marred by
funding cut to Clark Metro Development Corporation

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, September 2006) On August 3rd 2006 residents of the Clark Metro neighborhood lined up with shopping carts for the grand opening of a new Save-a-lot grocery store that opened at 3024 Clark Avenue at the site of the former Tops grocery store. Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago, Cleveland City Council President Martin Sweeney, City of Cleveland Community Development Department Neighborhood Planner Nora McNamara, Clark Metro Development Corporation Executive Director Steve Kruger and members of his staff joined store manager Carolyn Conley and Save-A-Lot division and regional managers to celebrate the opening.


NEWS ANALYSIS

At the grand opening ceremony Council President Sweeney acknowledged the importance of having a neighborhood grocery store and praised Save-a-lot for restoring grocery service to the neighborhood. He praised Councilman Santiago’s efforts on behalf of Ward 14. “All he does is lobby for it,” said Sweeney

However, Sweeney had no such praise for Clark Metro Development Corporation, which played a major role in working to bring a grocery to the site when Tops announced it would close last year. Instead, Sweeney defended the City of Cleveland’s recent decision to cut funding for the organization. “I don’t have a full handle on all the criteria for their decision. But I have full faith in the administration doing its job,” said Sweeney. Councilman Santiago said the decision to cut Clark Metro Development Corporation’s funding was made by the Community Development Department based on their ranking and rating system. “It wasn’t my recommendation,” he said.

The setting in which these comments were made is instructive as to how a community development corporation’s responsiveness to a neighborhood crisis counts for little when it is being judged for future funding.

In April of 2005 when Tops announced its closing, residents of the neighborhood made it clear that their number one priority was bringing another grocery store to the neighborhood. Residents without vehicles voiced concerns about the hardship they faced because of the closing of the grocery.

Tops’ April 8th 2005 announcement they would close the Clark Avenue grocery shocked the Clark Metro neighborhood. Clark Metro Development Corporation Executive Director Steve Kruger immediately mobilized his staff to respond to the crisis at hand. A community meeting was organized for April 28th 2005 at the Redeemer Lutheran Church on Walton to discuss the closing. In the May 2005 Plain Press Kruger said that the neighborhood may not be able to stop Tops from moving, but “we are going to fight to have some kind of supermarket there.”

At community meetings that followed the Tops closing, community residents voiced their wishes as to what kind of grocery they would like to see. The overwhelming majority wanted some kind of discount full service grocery. Former Councilman Nelson Cintron, Jr. and Clark Metro Development Corporation worked to respond to their concerns, working hard to find a new tenant for the site. After the community meeting Clark Metro Development Corporation formed a special committee to address the closing of Tops. CMDC Executive Director Kruger reached out to Plain Press readers in a letter to the editor urging them to join the committee.

Approximately a mere 16 months after Tops’ sudden closing announcement, a new grocery store – (notably the kind of grocery store that emerged as the community’s preference during the community meetings) – has not only been secured, but has also opened for business. In the world of community development funding, efforts of the development corporation to assure that the neighborhood has a grocery store appear to count for little.

A review of the city’s evaluation of Clark Metro Development Corporation makes no mention of efforts to bring another grocery store to the neighborhood.

Instead, the focus is on incomplete or improper reporting, and failure to meet promised numbers of new housing starts, housing rehabilitation, successful paint rebate participants and commercial storefront makeovers. The organization received only 8 of a possible 30 points in a measurement of its ability to complete promised quotas in various construction, fix-up and rehab programs.

Clark Metro Development Corporation under the direction of Kruger has worked to keep an open door policy, often responding to concerns of neighbors that walk into the office. This kind of connection to the community, and the organization’s efforts to host community meetings to respond to a neighborhood crisis, are hallmarks of Clark Metro Development’s presence in the community. The organization worked with neighborhood businesses to develop a security plan for the corner of Clark and W. 25, which included security cameras and security patrols. It hosted information fairs in various neighborhood locations, bringing pizza, information, and representatives of available programs and resources. It held Saturday morning home repair and maintenance workshops. These working relationships with the community seem to count for little. There is no mention of Clark Metro’s hosting of an annual Halloween Party for neighborhood children, the organization’s hosting of A Cinco de Mayo celebration, or its enthusiastic participation in the City’s Annual Night Out Against Crime. Clark Metro received only 2 of a possible 5 points in the category of Working Relationships with the Community.

The organization received only 2 of a possible 5 points in the category of “Working relationships with other organizations” although Director Kruger reports that relationships established with other community organizations in the neighborhood are at an all time high.

Therefore, in the areas of “Working relationships with the Community” and “Working Relationships with other organizations”, areas in which Clark Metro seems to excel, the organization received a total of only 4 of a possible 10 points, the lowest score of any development corporation in the city for these two categories. This is crucial because if the organization had received an additional 3 points it would have had a score of 40 instead of 37. Under the city’s point system, Community Development Corporations scoring 40 points received only a 25% cut in their city Community Development funding. The funding of those receiving less than 40 points was cut 100%. Clark Metro received 0 dollars for the next fiscal year from the city. Last year it received $70,000.

When making the decision to cut funding, Community Development staff did not solicit any input from the community. Sue Ann MacKay, a resident of the Ward 15 portion of Clark Metro Development Corporation’s service area, credits Kruger and Clark Metro’s staff for their assistance with “making sure major repair of her sewer line and electrical work on her house was done right.”

Clark Metro Development Corporation Executive Director Kruger and Board President Randy Buchko say there was no effort by the city of Cleveland to evaluate their program and use the evaluation as a tool to improve the organization. The city also did not give them a chance to explain some of the perceived short falls in their performance. Instead the evaluation, a good part of which seems to be quite arbitrary, was used as a tool to eliminate the organization’s funding.

Given this context, one wonders if another agenda is in play. Perhaps the Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago’s visit to the Clark Metro Development Corporation’s August 21 Board of Trustees Meeting provides some insight. In his first visit to the Clark Metro Board of Trustees meeting since taking office in January, Santiago came with two Community Development Department officials, Assistant Director John Wilbur, and Commissioner of Neighborhood Services Terrance Ross. Wendy Satin, Director of Planning and Development for the Cleveland Neighborhood Development Coalition, an umbrella group of local community development corporations (cdc’s) also came to the meeting with the councilman. Asked to comment about the meeting, Santiago would only say there was a “long discussion” with board members and that the decision about the future of the organization is “completely in their hands.”

Santiago would not comment as to what he said to the board. Clark Metro Board of Trustees Vice President George Hohlakis, who chaired the meeting, also would not comment on what was said at the meeting. His only comment was “we need to get together as a board to figure out what we are going to do.”

Plain Press sources indicate that Santiago offered to provide funding to Clark Metro Development Corporation if the organization fires its Executive Director Steve Kruger. Asked about this charge, Councilman Santiago said, “No comment.”

 

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