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Lessons from Detroit Shoreway: How the Arts and Culture Led one Neighborhood From Ruin to Revitalization

11.14.2016

Until the 1970s, the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood enjoyed the highest per capita population of people who walked to work, with large industrial businesses like Westinghouse, Otis Elevator and Union Carbide located in the neighborhood. Suburban sprawl moved these businesses out of the city in the 1970s and 1980s and large portions of the population followed. Contrast that with today: the Detroit Shoreway welcomed over six new businesses this summer, including four via the LeBron James-produced Reality TV show “Cleveland Hustles” on CNBC.

So how did a neighborhood like Detroit Shoreway make its journey from ruin to revitalization, and what can it teach us about revitalizing other neighborhoods in Cleveland?

Behind Detroit Shoreway’s success are the collaborative presence of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) and a powerful network of neighborhood Block Clubs. Founded by Judge Raymond Pianka and Father Marino Frascati in 1973, today DSCDO is part economic development committee and part landlord, focused on reinvestment while maintaining the delicate balance of socio-economic diversity in a growing neighborhood. As a landlord, they own over 50,000 square feet of real estate, including apartments on the highly desirable West 65th and Detroit Ave. intersection that are exclusively income-assisted or affordable housing properties. Chad Jones, Director of PR and Marketing for DSCDO described it as “reinvestment, not gentrification.”

Detroit Shoreway - Dyngus DayThe arts have played a vital role in this reinvestment in the Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood. In 2007 Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT), Near West Theatre (NWT) and DSDCO, owner of the Capitol Theatre, formed the The Gordon Square Arts District as a 501 c(3). The partners raised $30 million to build a new community theater, renovate a long-empty historic theater into an independent movie theatre, renovate multiple spaces at an anchor theater organization, build parking capacity and enhance Detroit Avenue with a streetscape. Today, along with Capitol Theater, the neighborhood is anchored by five performing arts institutions: Cleveland Public Theater, Near West Theater, Tailspin, Blank Canvas, and Theater Ninja. The Capitol Theater in particular acts as an anchor institution, serving over 60,000 residents and visitors annually, and preserving the diverse makeup of the neighborhood by offering programming targeted to both English- and Spanish-speaking residents. A steady stream of foot traffic generated by the arts attracts restaurants, retail, services, and residential development, all of which is evident in Detroit Shoreway.

Detroit Shoreway has built a reputation as a smart, innovative, artistic community built on the pillars of access and affordability. The KeyBank Foundation recognized this neighborhood’s potential and its commitment to diversity as far back as 2001, with a $25,000 grant to support the Student Theater Enrichment Program. Since then, KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation have provided over $600,000 in combined sponsorships or foundation grants to Cleveland Public Theater, DSCDO, Gordon Square Arts District, Near West Theater, and the Lesbian Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland.

Detroit Shoreway is living proof that when strong community leadership and the arts intersect and collaborate, neighborhoods thrive. This story has been repeated in Cleveland with the successes and transformations of neighborhoods including University Circle and Collinwood. While there is still a lot of work to do in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, these stories prove that revitalization and the preservation of historical, cultural and socio-economic integrity can coexist and thrive with communication and collaboration.