CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — There was still no olive branch in sight with the Heights Library Board of Trustees’ hiring of a property manager and leasing agent for the Coventry PEACE Campus building last week.
In addition to bringing in Cresco Real Estate and Playhouse Square Management to oversee operations and leasing at the former Coventry Elementary School July 5, the library board also approved “letters of intent” to be signed by current and prospective tenants.
In a joint statement issued by the nine remaining nonprofits in the building one week after the library board’s vote, “we are not aware of any tenant being approached by the management company” and they remain on month-to-month leases that were reinstated at the beginning of the year.
“This continued instability is negatively affecting long-term planning and grant applications for many of the tenant organizations and planned community events and has restricted new tenants from joining the building,” they noted.
Heights Library Director Nancy Levin said late last month that the goal of the new management — hired at $36,000 a year, although existing tenants contend that is a starting figure that could go higher — is to raise building occupancy from the current 41 percent.
The remaining local nonprofit tenants want library officials to meet with them as “community partners.”
“We have repeatedly asked for a meeting structured like the joint board session they just participated in with the (Cleveland Heights-University Heights) school board and both city councils,” the remaining tenants stated.
“They told us that meeting structure was not possible and have denied all of our requests for a work session meeting and any attempts at resetting the relationship.”
At the joint meeting June 27, Heights Library Board President Gabe Crenshaw said the library is “pursuing mediation with the Coventry PEACE Campus (CPC Board) and is offering new leases to existing tenants.”
Crenshaw also reiterated that the building is not for sale. “However, we are anxious to start fundraising for the replacement of the Coventry playground, for which we have completed plans,” he said.
Krista Hawthorne, Reaching Heights executive director and CPC board president, attended the joint meeting and said Tuesday(July 12) that she hoped the library, as landlords of the campus, would want to do everything possible to keep operating expenses low, so that more of the nonprofits’ donated funds can be invested in programming that benefits residents.
“CPC knows exactly what it costs to operate the Coventry PEACE Building, and the library is asking for much more to quickly build a large reserve,” Hawthorne said.
“Why would they choose to do that when they know that it makes it difficult or impossible for current tenants to stay in the building? There are other options that we could be exploring together.”
Levin said last month that only the CPC tenants know how much money they have in their reserve, with various expenses still in dispute.
Hawthorne and the CPC board contend that the library owes them about $38,000 in overages the tenants say they paid as of last November, prior to going on month-to-month leases again, when the rent was $500 and another $9,127 per month in a flat, estimated utility fee.
“The additional fees for tenants to use the center space will increase total costs to double the current rent for many tenants, including Lake Erie Ink, Reaching Heights, Cleveland Heights Teachers Union and Future Heights, while ARTFUL’s rent will increase more than $40,000 per year,” from about $54,000 up to $94,500 annually, the joint statement noted.
Levin said last month that ARTFUL studio “needs to figure out how much space they’re using, because they’re all over the place.”
Concerning the library’s plans to charge library rental fees along the lines of city park shelters or their own branch meeting rooms, tenants pointed out that a great deal of spacing was used for safety reasons due to the coronavirus.
“The tenants have relied on using this additional common area space in order to safely gather larger groups and continue their programming in spite of the pandemic,” their joint statement noted.
“Since the reopening of the building to more regular use after the worst of the COVID crisis, CPC has made that space available to tenants for no additional charges, and to the public for minimal costs or donations.
“This is yet another increase the tenants will have to absorb in addition to the higher rent rates, and will now limit the number of free events we can host for the public,” the CPC added.
As for the $10,000 that Levin said the CPC still owes the library as a one-time-only fee for about $84,600 in HVAC repairs since October 2020 — with another $47,000 pending this summer — the tenants say “this is a matter in which both sides will be entering mediation to sort out fairly.”
They said they went without heat in the building last winter until February and without air conditioning until June, “well after the library denied the conversion to the long-term lease” and placed CPC on month-to-month.
“We have been clear with the library that they did not have permission to take $10,000 from our surplus in the utility account, and CPC has neither agreed, nor refused, to pay the first $10,000,” the CPC statement notes.
Tenants added that temperatures in the upper mezzanine, occupied by ARTFUL, reached 85 degrees at one point.
“We look forward to resolving this matter through mediation as we requested, and we are pleased the library appears to be in agreement to moving forward with mediation in the near future.”
Hawthorne said she has yet to receive many of the bills and records she and the CPC have requested, beyond those that appear on the monthly library board agendas and minutes.
The CPC has made at least three public record requests since June 10 for the Allegro real estate report they say cost taxpayers $15,000.
Library fire minor
In a separate incident, the Coventry library branch closed for the last three hours of the day July 6 after some insulation in the attic started smoldering and falling on beams shortly before 1 p.m. Firefighters deployed water cans to stop the fire from spreading.
At that time, “the manager evacuated the building due to the smoke, but it was not an active fire,” Heights Library Communications Manager Sheryl Banks said
Banks said that after the early closing, the Coventry Branch reopened the next day.
Cleveland Heights firefighters arrived and wet down the insulation, but there were no active flames, Banks added, noting that “we are in the process of renovations there. It was mostly smoke, very little fire and no damages.”
A fire department report was unavailable Monday, due to the minimal damage recorded.
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