Statements regarding current state of CPC project.

Jan. 06, 2022

Project Status Update

The Heights Libraries Board’s abrupt rejection of the Coventry PEACE Campus agreement that it previously embraced caught us off guard, and left us little time to respond before the holidays. Please be assured, we have not given up. Here is what we can tell you at this point:

The tenants have not made any decisions regarding their future in the building. We are now on month-to-month leases. We are consulting with attorneys about the way the Heights Libraries Board conducted its recent meetings and our legal options. We are considering the Library’s request to meet and will be asking for a detailed agenda.

Nancy Levin’s comments to the press have contributed to misunderstandings about CPC’s lease. CPC is not “taxpayer subsidized.” The tenants pay for all of the utilities and building maintenance. In 2021 that was over 100,000.00 dollars. In addition to that we also pay “rent”  while putting aside funds for repairs and upgrades. CPC pays 100% of the building costs; the rent we pay to the Library is in addition to those costs and is an unrestricted source of funds for the Library.

Under the long-term lease that should have begun on Jan. 1, the Library would have collected $225,000 in “rent” as well as having ALL expenses covered, In the first nine years. These outstanding numbers and the fact that we met all requirements for the automatic conversion prove that CPC is thriving! New long- and short-term tenants joined us in 2021, and more were interested in coming aboard in 2022. Three existing tenants have been planning significant expansions. All of that is now in jeopardy for no clear reason.

We plan to hold a public meeting to talk about all of this. The date will be determined soon.

We are disappointed, but as far as we’re concerned, this is not over. We encourage you to continue to contact Library board members to express your support for the Coventry PEACE Campus tenants and for the vision that they once shared. Thank you.

Dec. 23, 2021

It’s Time to Choose PEACE

We’re shocked and saddened by Heights Library’s sudden, 11th-hour turn against the Coventry PEACE Campus project, but we’re not giving up

They say that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. In recent days, as the Heights Libraries board appears poised to flush years of work and community support down the toilet, we have realized that Heights Libraries Executive Director Nancy Levin showed us who she is in July 2020, and we were stunned but chose to treat it as an aberration. That was a mistake.

At that time, Coventry PEACE Inc. was still in the early stages of negotiating the terms of a long-term lease for the tenants of the Coventry building, a transition that was planned from the day Heights Libraries took ownership of the entire property. In comments to Cleveland Heights Patch, Levin mischaracterized the status of the negotiations, implied that the tenants owed the library money and raised the possibility of just tearing the building down.

It felt like an attempt to sabotage the negotiations. Last night we got the same feeling, reading about new attacks from Levin in Patch.

This is not how we imagined spending the last few weeks of an extremely challenging year. We thought we’d get a brief respite to recharge before diving into the exciting, long-planned work of taking CPC to the next level. Instead, here we are again, forced to correct misinformation, chase moving goal posts, prove the value of organizations that serve thousands of people, and justify a plan the library once embraced.

Rebuttal

The following quotes are from the Patch article cited above.

1) Levin: “After all these years they still don’t have the funds to safely and responsibly manage the building.” 

This is false. First of all, it hasn’t been “years” — we took limited control of building management in late 2020. Only the full control that comes with the long-term lease will properly position us to raise more substantial funds.

Secondly, the numbers speak for themselves. Coventry PEACE Inc. enters 2022 with $43,041 in the bank. Our conservative projections show net positive cash flow in each of the next nine years and an accumulated reserve of $1,023,357. The library has never specified the financial benchmarks it expects to see before we take full control of the building in a long-term lease.

As of November 30, the tenants had paid $133,022 in rent to CPC in 2021. Current tenants alone will pay nearly $145,000 in 2022. These funds cover building expenses, utilities and rent to the library.

2) “Levin detailed several ways the library system aided Coventry PEACE Inc. since its formation and different financial burdens the Heights Libraries have assumed for the campus… This includes helping save $800,000 on HVAC repairs.”

This is bizarre. Everyone agrees that the HVAC system needs refurbishment or replacement, and that the latter would be much more expensive. At the library’s urging, CPC has spent considerable time exploring the options with vendors, and were happy to work together to find the most cost-effective solution. The library has opted for refurbishment. We agree, but were never in a position to make a different decision anyway because we don’t own or control the building. So how this “saved” us money is not at all clear.

According to the terms of our current lease, we are responsible to pay for the first $10,000 of any project upfront, the Library pays the rest and we pay them back over time. As of today, $10,000 of our surplus is earmarked for this project, and we have budgeted over $9,000 a year over the next six years to settle the debt. Under the planned long-term lease, CPC would be responsible for all costs.

3) “Levin detailed several ways the library system aided Coventry PEACE Inc. since its formation and different financial burdens the Heights Libraries have assumed for the campus… paying for an engineering study” of the HVAC system. 

This is false. We were told that our $10,000 (see above) would cover the cost of the engineering study that would kick-off the project.

4) “Levin detailed several ways the library system aided Coventry PEACE Inc. since its formation and different financial burdens the Heights Libraries have assumed for the campus…. leasing clause that would make the group responsible for the grounds around the building.”

This is another purely hypothetical savings. The negotiations have included discussions of responsibility for outdoor space. In an October meeting, we asked not to be responsible for any outdoor areas in the first nine years of the lease (because it increases our liability insurance costs), and the library readily agreed. This makes sense — the library’s new plans for the park and playground extend all the way up to the exterior of the building.

5) “Levin countered that the library system had to evict a daycare that wasn’t paying rent and noted that two major tenants — Ensemble Theatre and Family Connections” have left.

This is wildly misleading. The daycare center was brought in by then-owner CH-UH school district, and was evicted by the library long before the Coventry PEACE Inc. was involved in managing the building. Also before that time, Family Connections informed the library that its board had decided to relocate to Cleveland, where the organization could secure more funding and an immediate long-term lease.

Ensemble was the most recent to leave. When they left, library leadership expressed to us that they understood that Ensemble’s departure would affect our financials in the short term. But the vast majority of the lost rent will be covered in 2022 by current tenants’ planned expansions and new tenants moving in, if the conversion to a long-term lease goes forward.

6) “The Heights Libraries questioned whether the group’s business plan is actually sound, arguing they’re relying on short-term leases from small customers.”

This is false and, frankly, bizarre. We have shown that our finances will not rely on short-term rentals for solvency. Short-term rentals are just additional streams of revenue. And two of the short-term renters we are working with have already begun the paperwork to apply for non-profit status so that they can become permanent tenants. Another is already a non-profit that the library sent to us!

7) “The library now has the opportunity to revisit many other options for the building’s use. We have not set a date for the tenants to depart the building, we are not ‘kicking them out,’ but their experiment with managing the building may now be over.”

Let’s take this one line at a time.

What “other options for the building’s use” is Levin referring to? Excellent question. If she has some other plan, it’s a very well kept secret — and a strange one to keep from the party with which you’re ostensibly negotiating a long-term lease. More to the point, however, it’s a very unusual building with an open floor plan inspired by a short-lived, 1970s educational philosophy. The options for its reuse are limited, but it has proven perfect for the current tenants and those eager to join them.

Levin’s claim that the library is not “kicking [us] out” would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high. If the current lease does not convert to a long-term lease in January, as long planned, then all tenants will be month-to-month. What business, non-profit or for profit, can operate, much less grow, with that kind of instability? This suggests a desire to compel us to leave, and then to claim that it was our choice, to protect the library from negative public reactions. 

And finally we come to what may be the most offensive part of Levin’s latest attack, her demeaning use of the word “experiment.” Collectively, CPC leaders have poured thousands of professional hours into building a unique, invaluable asset for the library, the cities it serves, and Greater Cleveland. We have met every requirement in the agreement to move forward with the long-term lease, which was always the plan from the moment the library took ownership of the property. To recast and dismiss this all now as an “experiment” is an affront to everyone who has worked for and supports the mission.

Why are we even in this position?

The most mind-boggling aspect of this mess is how completely unnecessary it is. The current agreement under which we’ve been negotiating for 15 months does not require a board vote for conversion to the long-term lease. In fact the conversion is supposed to be automatic. We first learned that the matter would go to a board vote in late November. Then in December, we were informed that a board subcommittee had recommended against the conversion. That’s why we’re forced to appeal for your support so close to the holidays. This is a manufactured crisis.

Why the secrecy?

We have been told that the board plans to discuss the lease tonight in executive session — in other words, behind closed doors. We’ve asked attorneys to explore whether this violates state open meetings law. As we understand it, the law allows for executive sessions to discuss the “purchase” or “sale” of property. The board clearly isn’t discussing the purchase of a property it already owns. And if it’s for sale, that would be news to us.

For some in Cleveland Heights, this may feel like déjà vu all over again. The CHUH Board of Education stumbled into a protracted PR and legal quagmire when it closed the Coventry School after allegedly violating state open meetings law.

Why is the library risking its own reputation?

In a recent meeting, library officials told us that they preferred to take a PR hit now that could come with failing to convert the lease, rather than risk CPC failing in a year or two and reflecting badly on the library when it begins campaigning for a levy in 2024. We find this strategy misguided and potentially counterproductive, to put it mildly.

Cleveland Heights and University Heights are home to some extremely vocal voters who oppose all levies on principle, and work backward from that position to rationalize it. By walking away from a solid plan that enhances the value of one of its own assets, the library may be handing those opponents a powerful argument against the levy it will seek to pass in 2024. This will be especially effective if the building is empty at that time, generating no revenue, or if the library has incurred the massive expense of tearing it down (which Levin has threatened before).

And then of course there are the thousands of people who have supported the idea of a non-profit arts and community service hub in the Coventry building since the school board closed it. We wonder how they’ll respond to the library board throwing away a viable plan for, what, something to be determined later? When the City of Cleveland Heights considered this, in 2017, residents rose up to support the tenants and to keep the project moving forward. Just as they did again in 2020, and are again this week.

The Coventry PEACE Campus plan aligns with the library’s mission and strategic plan. It reflects the community’s wishes dating back to 2008. It is well on its way to becoming a unique local and regional asset that spurs even more economic growth. It’s time to choose PEACE.

Find out more.

We are updating our Recent News page on a regular basis. To find out more about the most recent developments, to find further pertinent information, or to see how you can help, click on the button below.

What is Coventry PEACE Campus?

When the school district sought to divest itself from the former Coventry Elementary School building in 2017, leaving its future uncertain, the leaders of all the tenant organizations and a broad base of community supporters came together in a grassroots movement to propose ways to preserve and grow the thriving culture and service ecosystem that had organically taken root there. From this effort, the Coventry PEACE Campus came into being. Coventry P.E.A.C.E., Inc. is the non-profit overseeing the maintenance, sustainability, renovation and development of the Coventry PEACE Building, which houses several local nonprofits. It is our goal to provide an accessible, sustainable, more efficient, and affordable home for these nonprofits, and to attract new organizations to the building.