Jeff Epstein is on a mission to make Cleveland’s midtown neighborhood more than just a pass-through between downtown and University Circle.
“We’re trying to establish midtown as a place in and of itself that is a dynamic, vibrant place that has culture and amenities and people who live here, people who work here and places to eat,” says Epstein, executive director of MidTown Cleveland.
There have been several large steps toward that goal in the past year. UH Rainbow Center for Women and Children opened at East 59th Street and Euclid Avenue to provide both pediatric and prenatal care, as well as a pharmacy, nutritional services, social work services and legal aid. Nearby, on East. 61st Street, Dave’s Market & Eatery opened this spring with a modern food court and a community teaching kitchen.
“If you take aside the splendor of the Heinen’s downtown, I think it’s the nicest grocery store in the city of Cleveland,” Epstein says. “The most exciting part is not just that we’ve brought this grocery store into a food desert to serve the east side of Cleveland. In that one space, we have health care, healthy food and culinary education all within a block of one another in midtown.”
A changing environment
More projects are under way, including a master plan for Carnegie Avenue, more bike racks and a new signage initiative to help people find their way. While it’s exciting, there are plenty of barriers to overcome, Epstein says.
“One of the challenges for any nonprofit organization working in this space in Cleveland is that we’re fighting against a tide of generational poverty in the neighborhoods around us,” Epstein says. “Years and years of structural racism around real estate continue to have a dramatic impact on the dynamics of the city to this day. As we’re looking to create more economic opportunity, to create more development, to bring more people who live and work here, those are things to be overcome.”
Nonprofit work is challenging in terms of the time and effort required to produce results. So Epstein and his team work hard to find people who embrace MidTown Cleveland’s mission.
“We play an important role in trying to market our neighborhood and put the best foot forward in terms of what goes on here,” Epstein says. “We need to be realistic about the challenges that face our community, but we also need to celebrate our successes.”
Neighborhood planning and community engagement are two key elements to MidTown Cleveland’s ongoing work, Epstein says.
“How do people who live in Hough and Central and Fairfax access the jobs, the amenities, the health care, the concerts and the transit line — all the things we have in MidTown?” Epstein says. “Our strategy is to create a more connected community.”