A Floridian is helping Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood bounce back

The Land, February 19, 2021

“I don’t have to tell you the Buckeye area is a tough area, easily the hardest area I’ve ever worked in,” says Adam Lubkin, whose Ibis Development Group has begun renovating Buckeye Plaza at 11301-11501 Buckeye and calling it The Shoppes of Buckeye. But City Hall, the local community development corporation, and several proprietors have begun reviving the historic neighborhood. Said Lubkin, “It’s a very special community.”

Ibis owns shopping centers in the eastern U.S., including the Kennywood Shops outside Pittsburgh. “My goal is to take something that’s been neglected, overlooked, underserviced, and make it great,” said Lubkin. “When I do that, I’ve noticed that the area around it improves.”

The sloping Buckeye Road is near a Rapid line, Shaker Square uphill, and University Circle downhill. It has a great view of downtown a short drive away.

The neighborhood was once a hub of Hungarian Americans, jazz clubs and religious institutions, such as Benedictine High School and St. Andrew Abbey. By 1990, when the plaza opened, the neighborhood was mostly African-American.

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In the past couple decades, the plaza and the neighborhood have had their ups and downs, with many vacancies. But lately things are looking up.

At Buckeye Road’s eastern end, Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute has added a bakery, butcher shop, a cafe, and a chicken coop called Eggwins, all run by ex-felons trained at the institute, plus housing for some of them and a playground for the public. Near the western end, the Opportunity Corridor is due for completion in November. In the middle, Sweet Tee’s Kitchen is set to open April 1.

Ward 6 Councilman Blaine A. Griffin said several other investors have arrived. Meanwhile, the city and Burten, Bell, Carr Development are trying to make many storefronts ready for merchants to “plug and play,” as Griffin puts it.

A transportation study called Buckeye Road Refresh is underway, and the road is due for repaving next year.

“We have some great corporate citizens bringing their investment and love and passion to Buckeye,” said Griffin. “There was a time when Tremont and Ohio City were where Buckeye is now. Now is our time to really make it shine. I think Buckeye has a bright future.”

The plaza was bought in 2011 by Slate Asset Management of Toronto, Canada, for $10 million. Ibis bought last January for a net $4.5 million. It stands at 11301-11501 Buckeye Road, with 116,905 square-feet of stores on about 10 acres.

The biggest store occupies about half the structure. It has been a Tops and a Giant Eagle, serving what had been a food desert. It went vacant in February, 2017, and reopened that October as a Simon’s Supermarket, part of a local full-service chain.

Lubkin has put in about $600,000 worth of improvements to the plaza and plans about $250,000 more.

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He’s repainted the main building from a color like brown mustard to a beige called “linen.” He’s repaving the parking lot. He’s created short-term, dedicated parking spaces near Key Bank and Little Caesars. He’s added wheelchair ramps.

He’s raised powerful lights. He’s hewed trees encroaching on the rear driveway. He’s redone the landscaping.

He’s redone an outbuilding for Ace Cash Express. He’s planning a second outbuilding in front of Simon’s for a fast food outlet. He’s hired Signal 88 security.

He’s created a logo with buckeye leaves. He’s won city approval for a new sign with the new logo and name.

He says traffic has risen, including by at least 30 percent at Simon’s.  “You’re starting to get people back who have not been there in a very, very long time.”

During last summer’s protests of police killings of minorities, Villa footwear was vandalized and looted at the plaza and many other locations around the country. At last report, the Buckeye store was set to reopen this month. Also coming soon is a minority-owned agency deploying home healthcare workers.

Last year, Dollar General left Buckeye, but Lubkin said all the other tenants have signed up again, leaving the plaza 85 percent full, with five vacancies in high demand.

“We’ve received a lot of letters of intent,” he said. “We will be 100 percent occupied by the end of the year.”

Customers have noticed the improvements. During a shopping trip there last week, Darnell Redd said, “It’s real great compared to what it was.”

Ron Fullerton said, “It’s upgraded. It’s nice for the community.”

Joe Ashkar has been running Cajun Joe’s there since the plaza opened. He said of the improvement, “It’s wonderful.” He says of Lubkin, “He’s here all the time. He’s very cordial.”

When Lubkin first considered buying the plaza, he called Griffin, who drove him around the neighborhood. Now the two men sing each other’s praises.

Said the developer, “He is really one of the good guys I’ve ever met in government.”

Saidthe councilman, “Adam has been a breath of fresh air. He’s put in a lot of improvements. He really cares about his property. This investment can really help solidify all the things we’re trying to do in the community.”

To learn more about plans for Buckeye, visit the Burten, Bell, Carr Inc. website or call 216/341-1455.

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning reporter who spent 34 years with The Plain Dealer. He has also published freelance articles, fiction, and “John D. Rockefeller: Anointed With Oil” (Oxford University Press).