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Jackson administration mum on details of plan to put asphalt and concrete plants on Opportunity Corridor

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 4/29/2021 Eric Heisig, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration has refused to answer questions about its push to build a construction school that includes asphalt and concrete plants along a prime section of Opportunity Corridor.

The revelation that the administration wants to sell land in the city’s Kinsman neighborhood off East 79th Street, which would sit off a near-completed roadway that will connect Interstates 490 and 77 to University Circle, to a group tied to close Jackson ally Norm Edwards caught off-guard the organizations that worked with the city to buy land for future development.

Leaders at the organizations – Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. and The Fund for Our Economic Future – have questioned whether placing operations for the “Construction Opportunity Institute of Cleveland” could present possible environmental issues for nearby businesses and residents, and whether it’s is the best use of a site that stakeholders repeatedly spoke about as part of a potential hub for food distribution companies. Leaders at both groups also wondered why city administration officials didn’t keep them in the loop about the use of the site, sources told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.

But while Burten, Bell, Carr met last week with administration officials, Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland and the project’s developers, the administration has yet to talk at length publicly about why a plan involving asphalt and concrete plants is a good fit for Opportunity Corridor, and how it could affect future development along the road.

Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer sent an inquiry before publishing a story last week requesting to speak with an administration official about the project. The reporter also sent an email this week with questions about interest in the site, how the proposed construction school fits into the original vision for Opportunity Corridor, potential environmental concerns and the administration’s relationship with outside groups that worked on economic development projects along the under-construction roadway.

The administration has refused to make any official available to talk about the site and did not answer the questions. Instead, spokeswoman Latoya Hunter Hayes sent a statement Wednesday evening that said the following:

“The Construction Opportunity Institute of Cleveland is one of many steps in a path that allows the City to assist in eliminating systemic inequities, disparities and racism. We have been engaged with the leadership behind the Institute for some time and have been working with them as they have refined their proposal from an idea into a project that will include first-class education facilities.

“The curriculum is focused on training residents – in particular, city young adults in and around the Opportunity Corridor – the skills that are needed to get into the construction industry. It is our belief that the project’s vision to build a more inclusive workforce in Cleveland is entirely (in) keeping with the vision for Opportunity Corridor. There will be an upcoming hearing of the legislation authorizing a lease/sale of the site before the Planning Commission and we encourage the public to follow along.”

When a reporter asked whether the administration would answer the emailed questions, the spokeswoman wrote that “we are providing a statement.”

The nonprofit construction school project, spearheaded by Edwards and longtime contractor Fred Perkins, aims to provide skilled trade opportunities for Northeast Ohioans, especially women and people of color.

The school would do that by running training programs on the proposed campus, including a 47,800 square-foot education center and a 5,000 square-foot service center. Also included in the plans are a 0.7-acre concrete facility, a 1.4-acre concrete plant and a 1.5-acre asphalt plant “for hands-on learning,” according to a presentation submitted to the Cleveland City Planning Commission.

Several City Council members introduced legislation this month to first lease and then sell the more than eight-acre site to a company tied to Edwards and Perkins. The city and state would have to sign off on several aspects of the project before moving forward. Cleveland Economic Development Director David Ebersole said in a previous statement that “we anticipate the project moving through the design process and the beginning of site preparation and remediation work this summer.”

Betsy Figgie, a consultant on the project, said in text messages that the nonprofit and Burton, Bell, Carr plan to hold several public meetings to discuss the plans for the site, though dates for the meetings are not yet scheduled.

As of now, the questions about whether the site was marketable to companies that fit with the stated goals of economic development along Opportunity Corridor – light industry, logistics and warehouses – remain open.

Deb Janik, senior vice president of real estate and business development for the Greater Cleveland Partnership, who serves as the chamber’s point person for the Opportunity Corridor project, declined comment through a spokeswoman.

Real estate broker Terry Coyne, who is vice chairman in the Cleveland office of the Newmark firm, said a problem he’s had with Opportunity Corridor were that many of the lots are too small. The bigger a property is, the more interesting it is for warehouses and manufacturing, he said.

“Nine acres is good, 15 would be interesting,” Coyne said. “Twenty is very interesting.”

Coyne was hired to represent the Greater Cleveland Food Bank as it sought for a site for its new warehouse and distribution center, which recently broke ground at an 18-acre site off Coit Road on the edges of the Collinwood and Glenville neighborhoods. He said he looked at a site along Opportunity Corridor, near East 105th Street and Cedar Avenue. The problem with the site was that it wasn’t big enough.

He also noted that while companies with asphalt and concrete plants can win jobs because they are close to construction projects, the odor an asphalt plant emits can be unattractive and could lead potential buyers for neighboring sites to walk away.

“From a marketing perspective, it would be difficult for me,” Coyne said. “(Businesses) don’t like it because they’re dusty and they smell.”

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