Old Brooklyn Chooses Mixed-Use Project for St. Luke's, United Methodist Block

The proposal would include a renovation of St. Luke's with a 70-unit apartment building and retail space

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click to enlarge Charles Kennick, neighborhood development coordinator at the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, talks to 54 residents about the future of their "town center" at a listening session last Thursday at Rhodes High. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Charles Kennick, neighborhood development coordinator at the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, talks to 54 residents about the future of their "town center" at a listening session last Thursday at Rhodes High.

When two dozen Old Brooklynites gathered over Zoom last February to talk about the future of the block that houses the historic Pearl Road United Methodist Church and St. Luke's, the conversation was filled with a lot of What Ifs.

The Old Brooklyn Community Development Corp., which has control over the half-acre site, had long hoped to revitalize the site which had once been bustling but had in recent years sat like an eyesore after St. Luke's closure. Dozens of prospective buyers and developers had toured the site over the years, but nothing solidified.

One proposal from NRP, which would have razed St. Luke's but which lacked financing, was scrapped in early 2022 and OBCDC set upon community listening sessions to find a new developer and project.

On Tuesday, OBCDC settled on a new direction with Desmone, a developer and
click to enlarge Conceptual design renderings of "Memphis & Pearl" - Desmone
Desmone
Conceptual design renderings of "Memphis & Pearl"
 architectural firm based in Pittsburgh. Following the lessons learned from NRP's failure—namely, failing to merge the two churches—Desmone proposed a fix for Old Brooklyn's town center deficit: a 74-unit apartment mid-rise with a combined 19,200 square feet of community and retail/restaurant space.

The decision, made by OBCDC board members last night, followed a survey of 270 residents, conducted both online and in-person, and which asked what the priorities should be for the site — new housing, historic preservation, a mix?

"It's the same as it was in the beginning," Lucas Reeve, executive director of Old Brooklyn CDC, said at a community event last Thursday on the topic. "Choosing what creates vibrancy on the corner of Memphis and Pearl."

Desmone and OBCDC will now work on finalizing a design plan by the middle of 2023, Reeve said.

click to enlarge Councilman Kris Harsh, of Ward 13, sits at a listening session last Thursday in Old Brooklyn. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Councilman Kris Harsh, of Ward 13, sits at a listening session last Thursday in Old Brooklyn.

Reeve and others, including Cleveland city councilman Kris Harsh, hosted a town hall last week ahead of a final decision.

"I know we're all excited by that particular element that allows a denser and perhaps more impactful project to take hold on that corner," Reeve said to the crowd. "But keep this in mind: Your feedback this evening is critical."

Marlon Brown, a local barbershop owner and member of the 13-person board, said that an anchor might not be a panacea, but, as he told people at his table, it could shift the neighborhood in a more "walkable direction."

Others agreed.

"You know, everybody from the neighborhood used to be down there," Tom Hites, a retired human resources director and longtime resident, said. "At one time it was a vibrant area."

"If you got that draw," Brown said, "it makes the neighborhood that much more walkable."

Some wondered about parking requirements, and what it would do to the area around the block.

"Let me ask you guys—What do you think is the most desired neighborhood in Cleveland?" Harsh said to the table. "Where do people go? Where do they hang out?"

"Tremont," a few responded.

"Exactly," Harsh said. "And there's nowhere to park in Tremont."

"Hey, if it's a nice day, it's a ten-minute walk" to Pearl and Memphis, Brown said. "If there's a lot to see between here and there, you know what? You won't have to drive."

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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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