Updated: Some Answers, No Peace

Still relevant: Coventry PEACE Campus pleads with passers by, via a sign created by Shannon Morris, with installation support by Sarah Curry, using recycled sign letters provided by Dana Depew.

EDIT: This story has been updated with responses from The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library Board.

Advocates for the Coventry PEACE Campus in Cleveland Heights hope once again to rally residents to their cause and persuade the building owner to sell them the controversial, yet thriving, non-profit artist complex. CPC and ARTFUL Cleveland, the tenants CPC represents, have been a bone of contention for Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library since it bought the building from the city for $1.

The library system addressed several of the issues a day afer this article originally posted. Pertinent questions, and the CH-UH Public Library responses, are presented verbatim at the end of this story.

CPC on April 18 offered to buy the building and so release the library board from its obligations as a landlord, but it was told the building is not for sale. The two sides returned to loggerheads in February when the library board reverted to a month-to-month lease arrangement after a 15-month lease had expired.

According to the library board’s website, documents CPC submitted “raised concerns about CPC’s ability to adequately manage the property for the length of a long-term lease.”

It’s not trying to kick out these artists, the board insists. But it concluded that the financial projections CPC submitted to the board as a condition of a long-term lease relied too much on grants and fundraising, and in general, didn’t come up to professional snuff, the library board’s website says. The board has hired Allegro Real Estate Brokers and Advisors to complete a study “of the property to help determine rent rates and the structure of any agreement with a property management company and future tenants.”

A property management company would effectively replace CPC—and cost money. “Management costs will be paid for through the tenants’ rent payments,” the board says, adding it anticipates new leases will be provided to “all interested organizations by the end of May.”

All of which frosts Brady Dindia, board president of ARTFUL. She says CPC is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. To build credit and secure loans—not to mention attract tenants—it needs stability in the form of a long-term lease.

“The goal posts for things have constantly been in flux,” she says. “They tell us what they want us to do. We do it. And then they change what they want us to do.” The library board paints CPC and ARTFUL as irresponsible, Dindia says, “and it’s really disappointing how they are treating us in the public’s eye.”

In a fuming “talking points” draft, Dindia and Shannon Morris, ARTFUL executive director, say that the library board is “making major decisions for businesses that most of them haven’t bothered to learn anything about, whose directors they won’t talk to, and a building most have never even toured. From our perspective, it’s not much different from the building being owned by some out-of-state landlord who only cares about return on investment.”

The two also accuse the board, and in particular director Nancy Levin, of spending money on an unnecessary feasibility study even as it says the building is costing too much. They bristle at the lack of dialogue. They question their own tactics. And they aim to keep fighting for stability, perhaps even harmony.

“We’re going to continue to make our case to the community that CPC purchasing the building is a win-win for everyone, including the library,” their statement says. “We’re going to keep fighting for this vision, because it’s important. We’ll even put all this aside one day and work with the library again, as partners, as we were always supposed to be.”

This Friday evening, April 29, ARTFUL will host a party celebrating five years at CPC. Dindia hopes it won’t be ARTFUL’s last.

Here are the library system’s comments on the standoff:

Coventry PEACE Campus seems to be a thriving, responsible community that pays its rent and covers its expenses. Is there a better use for the building that you and the board prefer?

The Library remains committed to its vision of the building as a nonprofit campus in a manner that makes the best use of Library and tax-payer resources. See FAQ: Coventry PEACE Inc. (CPC) Lease of the Coventry School Building – Heights Libraries(heightslibrary.org)

Are you looking for other nonprofits to take the place of CPC’s artist tenants? If so, what kind and why?

The Library has engaged CRESCO to manage the building and to find new nonprofit tenants for a number of currently vacant spaces. The Library intends for CRESCO to offer leases to existing users/tenants, so long as those users do not engage in activities that would compromise the building’s or the Library’s tax exemptions. The Library intends and desires for these arts-related uses to continue to have a home in the building. See FAQ: Coventry PEACE Inc. (CPC) Lease of the Coventry School Building – Heights Libraries (heightslibrary.org)

According to CPC sources, you were said to mention that CPC would be “alleviated of property management,” a remark some viewed as condescending. As far as I can tell, CPC, which doesn’t charge for it, handles that task willingly. How do you reconcile paying for an outside property management firm with your stated goal of cost-saving?

CPC did not demonstrate a financially viable plan for CPC’s vision of operating and maintaining the building in a manner that would achieve realistic independent economic sustainability. The Library’s goal in hiring professional management is to achieve realistic independent economic sustainability for the building. See FAQ: Coventry PEACE Inc. (CPC) Lease of the Coventry School Building – Heights Libraries (heightslibrary.org)

Have you sat down with CPC-ARTFUL to explore a greater partnership between the organizations?

The Library has encouraged CPC (and its members) to continue community events, fundraisers, and mutual publicity for the individual sub-tenant organizations (including ARTFUL), who add a tremendous amount to the fabric of the Heights community. The Library is committed to next steps that support CPC’s, and the individual nonprofit organizations’, arts activities and continued residence at the Coventry School Building. The Library hopes that adding stability to the project will allow everyone to continue to operate without uncertainty. See FAQ: Coventry PEACE Inc. (CPC) Lease of the Coventry School Building – Heights Libraries (heightslibrary.org)

Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.