What is the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus?
Informally, the “campus” is the nearly 6-acre site that includes the former Coventry School building (now occupied by several tenants, most of them nonprofits), the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park and Playground, and the Coventry branch of the Heights Library. The site is bounded by Coventry Road and Euclid Heights and Washington boulevards.
Formally, the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus project is a redevelopment proposal that honors and builds on the 100-year history of this unique site as a center for arts, education and community gatherings. The plan improves the Coventry School building, which already houses a strong mix of arts, education and community-service nonprofits; ensures the long-term viability of the beloved playground; expands the greenspace and parking; and, potentially, adds single-family homes that would complement the neighborhood but also bring innovative housing and new residents to Cleveland Heights.
When the playground was built, P.E.A.C.E. stood for People Enhancing A Child’s Environment. The acronym has been adapted for the Campus proposal — People Enhancing A Community’s Environment. The proposal aligns with best practices in Creative Placemaking and the goals stated in the “Vibrant Neighborhoods” section of the City of Cleveland Heights’ Master Plan.
Who came up with this proposal?
The Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus plan is being developed by a team made up of leaders of the tenant organizations and Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Inc., the nonprofit that maintains the park and playground. Combined, these organizations have more than a century’s worth of history of serving Cleveland Heights and beyond.
They are aided by outside experts who have been lending their time to the cause: architect Paul Volpe and real estate attorney Lee Chilcote. This group has been working since May, when the CHUH School District suddenly put the tenants on month-to-month leases, to make way for the School District’s plan to transfer ownership of the property to the City of Cleveland Heights. (Read more about the recent history here.)
What exactly would the redevelopment entail?
This requires a two-part answer, distinguishing between priorities and possibilities. First, the priorities of the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus proponents:
- Preserve and improve the Coventry School building, which is structurally sound and better suited for use as an arts and community center than it was for an elementary school. (The design, inspired by the “Open Education” movement in the 1970s, includes unusually large open spaces and very high ceilings.)
- Expand both greenspace and parking.
- Preserve, expand and improve the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Playground, which was built in 1993.
Now, some possibilities:
- Provide more space in the building for tenants who want to stay and expand, and for possible new tenants who could add to the mix of offerings.
- Redesign the area of the building near the main entrance into an inviting lobby where artists could display their work.
- Landscape the east side of the property — the underused and currently unmaintained “back yard” — and open access to the ravine along Euclid Heights Boulevard.
- Add a walking trail around the entire property.
- Upgrade the playground and “shift” its footprint to fill in the oddly shaped and largely unused blacktopped area between the current playground and the school, on the north side, surrounding the building with usable playground and park areas, and adding to environmental sustainability.
- Expand the main parking lot and the tiny one on the north side. With careful planning, it’s possible to roughly double the amount of parking while also expanding the amount of greenspace.
- Build homes inspired by the concepts of co-housing and pocket neighborhoods, which balance privacy and community by sharing some space — for parking, for example. Such homes could fit into underutilized areas of the property, like the slope between the fence and sidewalk on the north side, along Euclid Heights Boulevard. There would be a limited number of homes; the park and playground would remain the centerpiece, and open to all.
At the time of the announcement that the CHUH School District intended to transfer the property to the city, the city’s plan was to issue Requests for Proposals/Qualifications (RFP/RFQ) to private developers interested in building housing on the site. The designers of the Coventry P.E.A.C.E
. Campus want to work with city officials, not against them, so they thought about housing options that would suit the larger vision. After surveying area residents, and extensive research regarding progressive housing that suits underserved markets, like Millennials and Baby Boomers, they concluded that some form of co-housing/pocket neighborhood is a preferred and viable option.
The sale of these homes also could generate revenue for the Campus project. But to be clear, the tenants’ plan does not rely on the housing component. In fact the houses would not be built unless pre-sales proved that there is a demand. And the presence of privately owned homes on the site would have no impact on public access to the playground and green space.
Where would the houses go?
Paul Volpe has identified areas of the site that could accommodate 20 or so moderately sized homes (which would not have attached garages or private driveways). These areas include the slope on the north side, between the fence and sidewalk along Euclid Heights Boulevard; and on the south side, the westbound lane of the adjacent block of Washington Boulevard.
Visit the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus YouTube channel for excerpts from the Sept. 27 community presentation dealing specifically with housing.
How do the people behind this redevelopment plan intend to pay for it?
The tenants and their collaborators have begun to identify a wide variety of funding sources — public and private; local, state and national. Most members of the steering committee are veterans of nonprofit management or large-scale development projects, and they have a wealth of fundraising experience and relationships. Still, the fundraising portion of the project will take time, and is well served by establishing a strong partnership with the City. As this progresses, further details will be made available, but the tenants’ goal is for the Campus to contribute to the city’s tax revenue, not to rely on it.
Who would own the site?
The tenants are proposing that the city transfer ownership of the site to a cooperative operated by the tenants. The cooperative would be a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. This organization would be overseen by a board made up of representatives of the stakeholders.
How would the city earn revenue from nonprofits?
The arts are powerful economic drivers. Arts and culture organizations create jobs, incubate new businesses and make communities more desirable places to live. All of these things generate tax revenues. (You can read a lot more about all of this here.) This is part of the reason why Coventry merchants Steve Presser (Big Fun) and Tommy Fello (Tommy’s Restaurant) are strong supporters of the plan.
Why not let the city release the RFP and see what comes back?
The RFP process would take at least eight months, probably more (like the Top of The Hill project). As of now the tenants have been assured only that they can stay through June 2018. Nonprofits are businesses, and businesses must act to address uncertainty. Already some tenants have decided that they can’t wait, and plan to relocate. The tenants behind the Campus proposal don’t want to reach that point. Without an assurance that the tenants can stay for a significantly longer period of time, they will be left no choice but to seek new accommodations, and not necessarily within Cleveland Heights. This would be a significant and avoidable loss to a city whose residents pride themselves on being progressive and forward thinking, and would have lasting, rippling effects on the community.
There’s also the matter of priorities. The city’s RFP makes no mention of working with the current tenants or preserving the building, park or playground. From this, the tenants believe it’s reasonable to surmise that the city’s goal is high-end, high-density housing. The parking needs alone would consume most, perhaps all of the green space, not to mention the traffic and other impacts on the surrounding community. As Dr. Erick Kauffman, president of Coventry PEACE, Inc. wrote in the Heights Observer, “Green space is vital to our well-being as individuals and as a community. Once we lose it, we don’t get green space back, ever.”
So what do they want?
After presenting an overview of the Campus proposal to City Council on Sept. 11, the tenants asked Council to shelve the RFP and engage with them to refine and realize the Campus vision. As of this writing, they are waiting for an answer.
Does this plan have community support?
Since June, dozens of residents have spoken in support of the tenants generally, or this project specifically, at City Council meetings. Hundreds more have signed an online petition. When the tenants’ group presented its vision to City Council on Sept. 11, Nancy Levin, executive director of Heights Library, said, “We’re looking for leadership from City Council so the library board can respond.”
On Sept. 27, more than 100 people attended the tenants’ community presentation, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. You can watch video of the entire meetings, or brief cuts on specific topics, at the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus YouTube channel.
At the Oct. 2 City Council meeting, Councilmembers Ungar, Yasinow, Seren and Stein expressed support for meetings between the tenants’ group and the city’s professional staff to discuss the future of this proposal. Councilman Stein mentioned the outpouring of support for the idea when he asked his Facebook followers for feedback on the tenants’ proposal and two other options for the Coventry site.
What can I do to help?
If you support this proposal, please be sure to tell members of City Council (contact information here) and add your name to the growing list of supporters. Follow the Campus on Facebook and Instagram, join the email list, show up to important events, and spread the word to friends and neighbors.
This is a rare opportunity, and time is running short.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.