Little Italy's Development Chief Steps Down After Three Decades as Neighborhood Debates Future

With longstanding battles between new and old, Council President Griffin said city will consider new tax abatement legislation

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click to enlarge Little Italy, shown here during the Feast of Assumption. - Emanuel Wallace
Little Italy, shown here during the Feast of Assumption.

After 27 years overseeing development in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood, development that in recent years has included modern condos and townhomes and angry phone calls from people who would prefer the neighborhood not change, Ray Kristosik last Wednesday announced his resignation as president of the Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation. He will be moving on to become general manager of Baci Winery, in Madison, on January 1st.

In a statement posted on Little Italy's Facebook page, Kristosik expressed gratitude to the city and the neighborhood for allowing him to act as a mediator between Little Italy's Old World charm and its evolution.

The latter tended to lead to heated emails from old-time residents and comments at monthly neighborhood meetings ever since LIRC's founding in 1994.

Kristosik's job shift comes as the neighborhood aims to release a new feasibility plan to take up where Kristosik left off.

"Maybe we didn't get everything correct for all, but I believe LIRC did a good job in effecting change," Kristosik wrote in a letter November 30th, "bringing in new neighbors, stakeholders, and making our neighborhood the vibrant place it is to live."
click to enlarge Ray Kristosik, the head of the Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation, at Thursday's Block Club meeting in the basement of the Holy Rosary Church. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Ray Kristosik, the head of the Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation, at Thursday's Block Club meeting in the basement of the Holy Rosary Church.

Little Italy 2000, LIRC's predecessor, was created in 1994 to monitor the design review process, and to communicate with the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, as new construction permits began to pick up in the mid to late 1990s.

As Kristosik explained to the Plain Dealer that year, "We want to make sure that what they build is going to enhance the area."

The enhancement turned out to be relative. As Case students and University Circle doctors relocated to Murray Hill and Mayfield, developers grew hip to the residential change. In 2003, the 20-unit Villa Carabelli townhomes project was built on Murray Hill, followed by 15 hyper-modern lofts on Random Road in 2005.

As the NIMBYisms hit his inbox, or showed up to design review meetings, Kristosik hired a consulant to draft a master plan in June 2004, hoping to please the neighborhood's two sides, architecturally speaking. Kristosik said the change was healthy.

"Some of the people yelling at the meetings have been yelling for 40 years," he told the Plain Dealer in 2004. "If we don't do this stuff, we fizzle."

Angela Spitalieri Ianiro, director of the Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation, who will hire a consultant team to help decide LIRC's next chief, said she agrees with Kristosik's eye for evolution, which includes Panzica's low-rise building on Cornell.

"It's a neighborhood with a lot of old blood and some new blood, and we try to do the best we can to make sure everyone's happy," Spitalieri said. "Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't, but we do try to make everybody in the neighborhood happy."

Pamela Dorazio, the curator of IAMCLE, a Little Italy-themed museum that Kristosik helped bring to the space next to Presti's Bakery on Mayfield in 2019, said Kristosik always kept the neighborhood's century-old history in mind.

"He tried to find a compromise between the new developers who want to go completely to the nth degree with their developments and taking up a whole block," she said. "So he's really worked to try to keep it within the guidelines."

click to enlarge Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin, whose Ward 6 includes Little Italy, spoke at the first meeting of the Little Italy Block Club on Thursday. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin, whose Ward 6 includes Little Italy, spoke at the first meeting of the Little Italy Block Club on Thursday.

Roughly 170 Little Italy residents, past and present, convened last Thursday in the basement of the Holy Rosary Church to honor Kristosik and talk openly about future preservation.

Along with praising Kristosik for "the credit that he is due," Council President Blaine Griffin, whose Ward 6 includes Little Italy, spoke about what's to come after Kristosik officially departs.

In a speech, Griffin proposed a new community benefit agreement, which riffed heavily  on tax abatement language. He also suggested pursuing LOOP legislation—a Longtime Owner Occupants Program—that, Griffin said, could "freeze taxes for longtime homeowners as new development comes in."

After the speeches concluded, participants who recalled the old "STOP BULLDOZING LITTLE ITALY" sentiment said Griffin's assessment is long overdue.

"Changing the tax abatement program?" Celeste DeSapri, whose family spent decades in Little Italy, said. "That should have happened a long time ago."

"Oh absolutely—like five years ago!" her friend, Joyce Baratucci, said.

Kristosik, who spent most of the ceremonial block club meeting standing near the church kitchen, said it's been difficult over the past three decades.

His parents still live in a single-family house off Fairview and Murray Hill, but he sees the necessity for evolution.

"Sure, there are those that are exhausted from the construction," Kristosik said after Thursday's meeting. "But you live in a dense area, and not all density is bad. It's not all bad—in fact, most of it is good."

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About The Author

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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