University Circle to Become a 'Special Improvement District' in Effort to Bolster Security

A $4.3 million fund would take contributions from all of Wade Oval's major institutions to add staffing

click to enlarge UCI Chief Place Management Officer Elise Yablonsky, UCPD Chief Tom Wetzel, and UCI President Kate Borders at Monday's Council meeting. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
UCI Chief Place Management Officer Elise Yablonsky, UCPD Chief Tom Wetzel, and UCI President Kate Borders at Monday's Council meeting.
In a move to bolster safety efforts in University Circle, Cleveland City Council approved legislation on Monday that will form a special improvement district inside the East Side neighborhood.

Such a district would be used to evenly raise money—some $4.3 million—to better financially back police patrolling and transportation in about a 1.2-square-mile area, Kate Borders, the director of University Circle, Inc. hired last summer, told Council's Finance, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Framed as the most pressing issue, Borders and team explained that their police force, made up of five dispatchers and seven frontline cruisers, are mostly funded by Wade Oval legacy institutions—think CMA and the Natural History Museum—ordered by property size and employee count.

The issue with bolstering a busy police force, one that trekked 56,000 miles of patrol coverage in 2023, in a kind of a lá carte method carries issues: yearly inflation, vagaries based on worker turnover, of museum expansion costs.

Making the Circle a special improvement district, or SID, would, Borders told Council, level the playing field, in a way.

That money was originally "coming partially from voluntary payments, but there was a substantial deficit in that," Borders said. "But this [district] is really necessary to maintain and support our safety services in the Circle, and fund them sustainably."

Pushed by Cuyahoga County as a communal way for a neighborhood to fund collective services— bike lanes, police staffing—a SID, like the one coming to the Circle, will require most, if not all, properties in that district to pay into a set-up fund. Money could be used to make improvements along Euclid Ave. or to add seasonal staffing.

Public safety remains a priority for those living and working in the neighborhood.

On April 2, a vehicle explosion in front of the Museum of Natural History led to Cleveland's bomb squad being called in, and the road closed, Fox 8 reported. A week later, on April 8, four teenagers attempted to steal a Kia Forte at the nearby Centric Apartments, a theft that ended with two UCI officers chasing the teenagers down the tracks of the Red Line. (And breaking a hand and a knee.)

Though UCPD Chief Tom Wetzel said that the SID will help the department fund a crisis intervention specialist, and lead to "bias-free police training," that four million dollar fund isn't built without some notion of controversy. In 2020, ProPublica found that 90 percent of all drivers ticketed in that area, since 2015, were Black.

Borders and Wetzel, both less than a year into their position, repeatedly framed the SID creation as a move to relieve pressure on Cleveland Police and nearby officers and security at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic.

Council President Blaine Griffin saw Borders' pitch as necessary to keep locals and visitors' perceiving Uptown as a safe area to be.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have approximately 50,000 people that come into this area every single day to come to work and play," Griffin said. "That's why we need that support. I just want to make sure that everybody understands why this is a critical piece of legislation."
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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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