Coventry P.E.A.C.E. tenants work toward ownership and independence
March 29, 2019, marks the one-year anniversary of Heights Libraries’ acquisition of the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus (CPC) property from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District for the cost of $1.
The sale came after months of debate over the fate of the property, beginning in May 2017, when the school district announced its plans to sell the campus to the city of Cleveland Heights for redevelopment. At the time, the building, the former Coventry Elementary School, housed several civic and arts-related nonprofits.
Heights Libraries stepped in to preserve the green space, playground, and parking lot, and to provide a supportive bridge for the tenants that will eventually lead to their ownership and independent operation of the building, slated for July 2020.
“The tenants have made great progress over the past year toward that goal,” said Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin. “They’re creating governing and operating structures, their rents are covering expenses, and they’re growing a reserve for future improvements.”
The tenants’ governing board—Brady Dindia of ARTFUL, Deanna Bremer Fisher of FutureHeights, and Ian Hinz of Ensemble Theatre—plans to adapt the mission of the existing Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Playground 501(c)3 organization, to focus on the building and its relationship to the campus. The group is working with graduate students from Case Western Reserve University to identify new revenue streams, and has applied for planning grants.
The group already has received one grant, from IFF (formerly Illinois Finance Fund), a Chicago-based, mission-driven organization that offers leadership, capital, and real estate support to nonprofits. The $21,500 grant—made available through the Fifth Third Foundation—will cover 80 percent of the cost of a facilities planning study, and CPC has applied for a grant from a regional foundation to cover the other 20 percent. (This is IFF’s first foray into Ohio, and CPC was the only organization in Northeast Ohio chosen to be part of a pilot program and to receive the grant.)
“With a stable home, the organizations of Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus are thriving,” said Levin. Ensemble Theatre sold out several performances of "A Raisin in the Sun;" ARTFUL has added a ceramics studio and five new artist studios, and is at full occupancy. These two groups are also collaborating on joint opening night/open studio/happy hour events. Lake Erie Ink recently hosted more than 150 kids at its annual Kids’ Comic Con, and Family Connections will extend its lease for another year. In March, the tenants jointly hosted a Chili Cook-off fundraiser and community meeting.
Heights Libraries’ primary involvement in the project has been as landlord of the building and steward of the park. The library has made necessary repairs to the roof, HVAC, elevator, doors and windows, all of which have made the building safer and more user friendly.
Heights Libraries maintains the outdoor property as well, providing for regular trash pickup and removal, lawn mowing, and hedge trimming. It has asphalted the parking lot and installed a number of new benches and garbage cans. Plans are in the works for improved safety lighting, and the twice-annual volunteer cleanups will continue.
Heights Libraries' finance office has set up a special account to keep CPC property expenses separate from library expenses.
In 2018, the library received $94,232.94 in revenue from the tenants and spent $151,000 on expenses, including $44,587.69 on the parking lot and repairs to the playground.
Levin said she expects some expenses to go down, as she attributes a significant proportion to startup costs. “The electric bill in the summer was pretty high as well,” she added. Expenses so far in 2019 are $17,141.60.
Some expenses will continue, even after building tenants establish their independence from the library, as Heights Libraries will continue to be the sole steward of the park.
Heights Libraries will continue to sponsor events in the park in partnership with Coventry Village Special Improvement District. The schedule for summer events is being finalized, and will include several that have become summertime staples, including Star Wars Day, Movies in the Park, and Pekar Park Comic Book Day.
Sheryl Banks is the communications manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.