A Truce: Coventry PEACE Campus and Heights Libraries come to terms
Coventry PEACE Campus and the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library have forged an agreement designed to solidify Coventry PEACE Campus (CPC) as a Cleveland Heights institution by way of a long-term lease for the nonprofit and the tenants it represents. It aims to expand by adding new tenants to its current base.
The pact gives CPC stability. Now, CPC has to figure out how to meet—and finance—the terms of the new agreement. Fund-raising is on the immediate agenda; so is finding new tenants. Brady Dindia, secretary of the CPC board and president of Artful, one of the tenants, said there are vacancies in the complex spanning small studio spaces and large, open floors.
In September 2020, before the current agreement was signed, Family Connections (a nonprofit that “engages families with young children to nurture social connections, enhance child development and improve school readiness”) was the last tenant to move out of the building, according to Ian Hinz, Ensemble Theatre and CPC board treasurer. “The other current vacancies are a result of organizations that moved or left the building shortly after the library took over ownership two years ago, as the current path to the 99-year lease began to emerge and the project began to move into its current phase.”
The new lease, reached Oct. 16, supersedes monthly payments CPC has been paying landlord Heights Libraries on behalf of tenants Ensemble Theatre, Artful, Lake Erie Ink, Future Heights, Reaching Heights, and the CH-UH Teachers Union. The initial term of the new lease dates to Oct. 1 and runs through Dec. 31, 2021. In addition to reimbursing Heights Libraries $10,000 for utilities, the agreement establishes $500 monthly rental payments, increasing to $1,000 a month in 2022 and $2,000 a month in 2023, with subsequent increases of 3 percent a year for nine years starting in 2024.
“The current 15-month lease allows a pathway to a nine-year term that would begin in January 2022, then nine more 10-year renewal options subsequently,” said Ian Hinz. “The total length of all initial conversion and subsequent renewal options is 99 years. This is common practice for an agreement of this length. In order to convert to the initial nine-year term the benchmarks detailed in the lease need to be met.” They include maintaining good standing as a nonprofit 501c3; providing a pro forma financial statement showing vacancy rates, income/expense projections, a fundraising plan that demonstrates positive cash flow for the length of the option term(s), and annual financial reports.
According to a Heights Libraries release, “The lease also requires that (the organization) submit annual financial reports and a fundraising plan to the Library, as well as reserve an ex-officio position on its Board for a member of the Library Board.”
“It’s been a whirlwind since we signed the lease, and we’re just trying to get everything streamlined and sorted out and trying to keep the rents as low as possible,” Hinz said Oct. 27. “We’re starting a fund-raising campaign to try to help supplement the operating costs. We have things in line, and we’ve gone over our pro-formas and numbers for a year-and-a-half now, so we have a pretty good idea of what it takes to operate the building, and we think we can make that work.”
“Our mission is to support the nonprofits and develop the building for the community’s use,” said Dindia,. “The nonprofits pay us, and we pay the library for the utilities, plus $500 a month (through 2021).”
The Covid-19 pandemic (which has virtually shut down CPC since mid-March) makes things “very difficult,” said Hinz. “To be honest, I don’t think it’s the greatest agreement with the library; it was an agreement that we had to sign because we had no other choice at this point. Moving forward, we were told that we either had to take or leave this offer, and we looked at the fact that there was a pandemic and thought that if the project is valuable enough or worthy enough, rather than having all of the tenants try to move out of the building during a pandemic, we’d try to make it work.”
Since June 30, when its original two-year lease ran out, the rental arrangement has been month-to-month—until now. CPC wanted to extend leases for another year but Heights Libraries said no, putting CPC under pressure to propose an alternative. Deanna Bremer Fisher, executive director of Future Heights, and CPC attorney Graig (cq) Kluge “did a great job just getting us a lease that we felt we could even work with.”
“Both organizations have worked very hard to create an agreement that meets the needs of each,” said Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin. “We hope that this new agreement will allow the tenants to stabilize their finances and take care of the building, while continuing to work on their missions. And the Library can now focus on enhancing the park and green space for the community.”
“It’s a business relationship right now is probably the best way to put it,” Dindia said of the CPC-Heights Libraries situation. “There’s not a whole lot of fuzzy feelings going back and forth or a whole lot of humor going around. It’s business.”
As for the pact, “it would be surprising to me if they were not happy with it,” she said of the libraries. “They don’t have to pay a penny for the building, and then they’re also making money.”
“Ultimately, for us, what it came down to is there’s a pathway to a 99-year lease now,” said Hinz, who was operations manager for Cain Park, “a similar public project.”
To further Cain Park, then-Cleveland Heights Mayor Frank C. Cain and Heights High School drama teacher Dina Rees Evans “threw a lot of weight behind it, and we’re hoping that in the coming election, we’ll have one of the mayoral candidates who will see the value in our project, too,” Hinz said. The next mayoral election is next year. The 2021 election signals the city’s transition from a city manager form of government to a strong-mayor, popularly elected form.
The goal is to establish Coventry PEACE Campus among other Cleveland Heights institutions and, as Dindia notes, to cement the city’s brand as “home to the arts.”
“There’s really no large institution (in the city) that puts its weight behind that,” she added, “and we hope to fill that gap.”
“We’re used to people doubting us and we’re going to work hard to prove everyone wrong,” she said. “We know we’ve got a good project that’s of value and we’re going to give it our all.”
That “all” includes the operating fund campaign “100 thousand for 100 years.” Designed to help Coventry PEACE reach the benchmarks set forth in the agreement with Heights Libraries, the $100,000 fund would allow “Coventry PEACE to build necessary capacity as an independent nonprofit steward of the building in a way that keeps rent affordable for our vital non-profit tenants,” says Hinz. “Even if donors don’t itemize on their taxes, the CARES Act allows donors to deduct up to $300 in donations to nonprofits like Coventry PEACE Inc from their adjusted gross income on their taxes. This is a great way for smaller donors to have a big impact on the project.” Donate online at coventrypeacecampus.org or mail checks made out to Coventry PEACE Inc. to Coventry PEACE, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights 44118.