No peace on Coventry campus over building pending management contract, rent hike

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CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Lacking a quorum for last week’s meeting, the Heights Library Board was unable to vote as scheduled on a contract with Cresco Real Estate and Playhouse Square Management to oversee the old library building. school in Coventry, including hire.

This has given representatives of the Coventry PEACE Campus (CPC) another chance to make their case against outside management – ​​at a cost of up to $36,000 a year – as well as the prospect of higher rents which they say could hurt them. force out of the building.

Nonprofit tenants were already on the agenda for the Cleveland Heights City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on June 21, the same time the Heights Library Board met for discussion uniquely. No action was taken at the library board meeting due to lack of quorum; a special meeting is now scheduled for early July.

“We have heard that attorneys are making progress in reaching agreements for our parties to enter into mediation,” CPC Board Chair and Reaching Heights Executive Director Krista Hawthorne said at the board meeting. administration of the library.

Hawthorne added that the nine current tenants have yet to receive copies of invoices for the 2020-21 term of what was a monthly rental agreement since December, when library administrators voted against extending the previous lease. of 15 months. another nine years.

In October 2020, during the worst part of the pandemic, Heights Libraries as landlord set rent for nonprofit tenants at $500 per month, with a separate fund set up for utilities and maintenance. , averaging $11,000 to $13,000 per month.

This rental rate continued until the end of 2021, when it would have been increased to between $625 and $1,000 per month, while the library board sought a property manager and rental agent.

The library administration now wants to implement a rent formula based on the area rented by tenants of the 65,000 square foot former elementary school which closed in 2006. About 42,000 square feet are considered “rentable”. “.

According to proposed “letters of intent” with individual tenants rather than dealing with the entire CPC organization, this works out to $8 per square foot for traditional offices and $3 per square foot for basements , mezzanines and gym levels.

The library also plans to build operating expenses into the rent formula, at a rate of an additional $3.93 per square foot, rather than keeping a separate account.

While tenants say this has the effect of “doubled” some of their rents, Heights Library Board Director Nancy Levin said the purpose of the individual letters of intent is to “put all tenants on the same wavelength” and provide a better check-in. keeping.

“You could say the rent doubles — from $3 a square foot, which the whole campus paid,” Levy said, adding that she thinks such a characterization could “turn it to their advantage.”

As for the CPC tenants who manage the property themselves, Levin said that since the library board acquired the 6-acre property – including Coventry PEACE Park and the playground – for $1 from the schools of the City of Cleveland Heights-University Heights in April 2018, “they did their best, but the library board deemed it insufficient to remain financially viable.”

In response to Hawthorne’s request for recent utility bills, Levin said she expected them to be sent this week.

“However, the statements in our monthly board package are accurate, so they know where they stand,” Levin said.

At the June 21 meeting, Levin released a separate summary of HVAC upgrades and repairs totaling $84,600 since October 2020.

“Only CPC knows if there’s money for HVAC repairs in their account,” Levin said. “They refused to pay the first $10,000 of any HVAC bill as per the October 2020 lease.”

There were also two pending quotes for additional repairs to two rooftop air conditioning units, totaling about $47,000, that still needed attention as of June 22, the library board heard.

With the signing of the individual “letters of intent,” offered for terms of three or five years at 3% annual increases, this CVC financial liability would be only $1,000 from the tenant. All of the above would be covered by the landlord, with the library also responsible for repairs to the structure, roof, foundation, and exterior walls.

Amy Rosenbluth, executive director of Lake Erie Ink, a youth writing space and longtime CPC tenant, asked how the values ​​of these individual spaces would be assessed and how the building’s common spaces could be used.

Levin said some of these issues would be for Cresco, although for special events the fee schedules may be set by the owner, “not as a revenue generator, but more in line with the meeting room rentals of the city ​​park and library”.

Hawthorne also requested reports showing total income and expenditure for the Coventry PEACE building only since the library acquired it.

municipal Council

Meanwhile, back at Cleveland Heights City Hall on June 21, another CPC delegation met with council, including former Future Heights executive director Deanna Bremer Fisher and council chair of ARTFUL administration, Brady Dindia, who earlier repeated CPC’s assertions that from the library’s perspective, tearing down the old school is not out of the question.

To this, Levin replied, “We are not considering demolishing the building at this time. The property is part of a larger plot which includes PEACE Park and the Library. We want to maintain this public property for educational and public use for all citizens of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

Heights Library Board Chairman Gabe Crenshaw said earlier that “there are no plans to build condos on the site.”

Also recorded in recent Heights Library Board Minutes, Administrator Annette M. Iwamoto said, “There are no plans to demolish the building, no condos will go onto the property and the library (along with its adjacent Coventry branch) is investing in the playground and park.

For all intents and purposes, including possible mediation, Levin reiterated that the Coventry building is not for sale, a proposal that has invariably been put forward by CPC officials on previous calls to City Council during public comment. in recent meetings.

And that goes beyond the $1 offer the CPC has made in the past, with Levin pointing out that when the library took the deed from the school district, it was a “government-to-government transfer.” of the property, which the library has currently insured for $5 million.

Also present at the June 21 board meeting were “Parade the Circle” and ARTFUL board member Robin VanLear, who earlier said Cresco had “no experience or expertise in economic development.”

Levin said that “Cresco was hired to be the property manager. Economic development is not in their field of action, nor in that of the library.

As for the Playhouse Square Management integration, Levin pointed out that the Coventry PEACE building had an occupancy rate of 41% at the end of last year.

The goal remains to increase that occupancy with nonprofit tenants, Levin said. She pointed out that the introduction of for-profit businesses would jeopardize the property’s tax-exempt status.

Regarding the $36,000 management fee, Levin noted that the CPC had made a similar offer to run the campus, in the form of a proposed credit to their account with the library.

Hawthorne also asked for a copy of an earlier report from Allegro Real Estate that discussed potential rental terms on the PEACE campus, at a cost of $15,000 from taxpayers. She questioned the legal reasoning for not making those findings public.

According to a published library FAQs — the first of two parts — the copies were due to arrive in April. CCP officials have also conducted an extensive public information campaign, most of which is available on their website.

Although the city council took no official action after the CPC presentation, Cleveland Heights Mayor Kahlil Seren said the issue could be raised at this week’s joint meeting of Heights library trustees. , the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools Board of Education, and the two city councils. .

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