Fred Bidwell and his wife Laura, contemporary art collectors and leaders in the regional arts community, opened the Transformer Station Gallery on W. 29th St. back in 2013. At the time, Hingetown was still in its nascency. This weekend, they purchased the Van Roy Building, a block away on Detroit Ave., where they intend to live and rent out space to young, creative professionals. Fred Bidwell arrived by bicycle to the Transformer Station, where he sat down with Scene to chat about moving to the neighborhood.
This is huge move for you guys.
Well I work here [at Transformer Station], so being able to live a block away will be convenient. I've been commuting up from Peninsula, which isn't a terrible commute but it's a lot of time in the car. After 18 years of living in the middle of the national park, we thought this would be a really interesting change.
Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum,
Oh, it's a complete 180, but we like change.
You'll be living on the top floor and renting out the bottom two floors, yes?
Yes. We don't have any tenants yet, so the plans will form once we do. But the first floor would be perfect for a retail tenant. My wife and I are partners with Graham Veysey and the Striebinger Block Building, and he's done a marvelous job of getting great, young creative retailers there. It's been a big success and we'd love to continue that. I think the second floor would be ideal for offices if there were a cultural organization that's interested in officing there.
With Transformer Station and the Music Settlement (in the former Bop Stop location), Hingetown is beginning to feel like University Circle West.
I think it's kind of interesting that after decades of people thinking the river was this impermeable barrier and no one would ever cross those bridges, now the East Side wants what the West Side's got and the East Side wants to be on the West Side. I think that's incredibly good news for the city. People are starting to explore a little bit.
Not to mention move back downtown. Are you seeing empty nesters flock back to the city?
I think the numbers support that. And I think it makes a lot of sense. A lot of the spaces are a good fit for empty nesters, not having to worry about school systems or that sort of thing. But what's working even more is the fact that young professionals are also interested in being in the same areas. I think empty nesters are not very interested in going to a community where it's nothing but a bunch of blue-hairs just like themselves. Being in a more diverse community I think is attractive today in a way that it wasn't 30 years ago.
Last year, Ronald Berkman became the first CSU president to move downtown. Maybe it's symbolic, but it's a notable development that leaders and philanthropists are emerging from Shaker Heights (or Peninsula, as it were) to live in the city.
New York and Chicago have always had people of means, civic and cultural leaders, living in the middle of the city. That hasn't been true of Cleveland for a long, long time so the fact that it's coming back is overdue.
When do you think you'll be able to move in?
I'm hoping not more than a year, but it'll probably be at least that.
Are you currently entertaining offers for tenants?
It's interesting because we got a little bit of ink, yes there are people interested. But there's a lot of real estate activity in this part of town. I think it's a matter less of finding a tenant than finding the right tenant.
You certainly got in at the right time. You're no doubt keeping tabs on neighborhood development.
Of course. One of the reasons we were especially interested is that this is a visible location on Detroit, and if you think of the development potential of the West Side, it's really all about connecting the dots along Detroit Avenue. Right now, there's kind of some missing teeth which makes Gordon Square seem farther away than it actually is. I think people will begin to see it as a cohesive whole once we start making the connections. Normalizing biking is a big piece of this. And of course one of the things we're excited about is the work that's happening on the Shoreway.
Any upcoming shows at the Transformer Station you can tease?
We've been very involved in Akron, and still are. And in fact, the next show that's coming to Transformer Station will be masterpieces from the Akron Art Museum. It has an internationally famous collection of contemporary art, collected strategically and opportunistically all through the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. A lot of people in Cleveland will be amazed at what they see.
Do you find that your visitors are coming from all over town?
Of course a lot are from the West Side, but we're seeing a lot from the East Side as well. Significant numbers come from out of town and that's really cool. Part of the Transformer Station's reason to be is to break the usual mold of museums. The average museum goer at the Cleveland Museum of Art -- and let me tell you, I love the Cleveland Museum of Art. I'm not saying this critically -- but the average museum goer is 55 or older, likely to be a woman, college-educated. And that's true at museums all over the world. The Transformer Station is a lot about younger audiences who don't want to spend four hours at a museum and get a heavy educational experience. They want a 20-minute experience with a cup of coffee in their hand. And that's what we've got.
CMA certainly is doing an excellent job marketing to the young urban professional crowd.
Yeah, and our partnership with them is a piece of that. It's cool to see that change, and it's cool to see a younger generation thinking that it is cool. Solstice is unique in the United States, that 6,000 beautiful people would be scalping tickets to a museum event. That doesn't happen anywhere else. It's kind of insane.
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