Cleveland Foundation Is Investing in a New Way and Elevating Being a Good Neighbor

Philanthropy often relies on grants to support nonprofit organizations in improving civic and community health and the wellbeing of people in the U.S. Support from foundations and philanthropies can come in the form of programmatic and unrestricted grants – as well as impact investing, money from issuing bonds, and, as MacKenzie Scott is showing the world, large gifts worth millions of dollars.

In Ohio, the Cleveland Foundation is taking a bold, local step in its philanthropic endeavors to augment its grantmaking: It is working collaboratively with community partners to combine bricks and mortar, public green space, an acknowledgement of racism in the city, and hope for the future as it builds a $22-million headquarters as part of an 11-acre project.

Lillian A. Kuri. Photo by Angelo Merendino and courtesy of the Cleveland Foundation

The building is just one part of a much larger goal to support the development of a new civic and innovation district to connect neighborhoods, people, and institutions, as well as the building of a stronger, healthier metropolitan area for the more than 1.5 million residents who call the Greater Cleveland area home.

The move into a new headquarters also coincides with a new, enterprise-wide strategic direction for the foundation that focuses on “working with” instead of “doing for” – greater transparency, accessibility, and accountability to the community. “We’re investing in a new way by building and sharing power,” says Lillian A. Kuri, the Cleveland Foundation’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We’re trying to think of ourselves as a new anchor institution, but one that is more responsible. We hope to work with the many partners here as a long-term steward of the community’s vision.”

Located in the city’s MidTown neighborhood, just off East 66th Street and Euclid Avenue, the new, three-story foundation headquarters will provide 55,000 square feet next to the Dunham Tavern Museum campus, a historic landmark and former stagecoach stop in the city of Cleveland.

While the new building’s square footage will be roughly the same as the foundation’s current offices downtown, the new headquarters is reducing the footprint of staff office space and expanding the amount of accessible community space that will be available for use by area residents and organizations. This includes a lobby designed to have a warm, inviting feeling, an interactive art space, a public café, a conference center honoring philanthropy leader Steven A. Minter, as well as a multipurpose room and indoor and outdoor meeting areas. The new headquarters also will be home to Neighborhood Connections, an independent organization launched with the foundation’s support in 2002 that is now recognized as a national model in community-building and resident-led grantmaking.

Courtesy of the Cleveland Foundation.

The project is about far more than a new building, though. The foundation and its partners envision this relocation to be part of what they’re calling “a larger movement of equitable growth and placekeeping efforts.” That movement includes the creation of a civic and innovation district that can help connect two current civic and economic hubs of the city – Downtown Cleveland, to the west, and Greater University Circle, to the east. Organizations like MidTown Cleveland Inc. and its partners have been promoting equitable development in the area for years. The foundation hopes this project will accelerate ongoing momentum in the district, complementing other community-led initiatives in the area.

In a city that has historically focused on east to west connections, the re-envisioning of East 66th Street – which has been designed by neighborhood youth and residents – will strengthen connections and spur development north and south into Cleveland neighborhoods that have been working to overcome the effects of redlining and systemic disinvestment for decades. To ensure residents benefit from the new development in their neighborhoods, the foundation supported the creation of a community land trust that will control a number of parcels available for development and capture appreciating value for resident benefit.

The effort to build community trust and invest in architecture for the common good is arriving at an important moment in the 225-year-old city and for the Cleveland Foundation, which opened in 1914 as the world’s first community foundation.

Over the decades, Cleveland built a reputation as a manufacturing hub thanks to its land and sea transportation routes, particularly given its perch off Lake Erie. Also, during those years, racism and exclusion perpetuated against Black residents manifested its way into policies, real estate, and land use – particularly through redlining.

Courtesy of the Cleveland Foundation.

As the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University points out, redlining – the illegal and discriminatory practice of declining a loan or real estate opportunity to someone because of race or ethnicity, for instance – created city neighborhoods that were hurt over the years by a lack of financial investments that other areas received.

Today, Cleveland is home to more than 381,000 people – of which 40% are white and nearly 49% are Black or African American. The city’s per capita income is about $21,000. Three out of every 10 city residents live in poverty.

Concerns about redlining and the need for equity for Black residents and other communities of color continue in conversations. If redlining was used as a process to exclude and harm Black residents and other people of color, then the Cleveland Foundation’s new headquarters and these 11 acres of land are just one way to include more residents in the area’s diverse civic life.

This rendering of the new Cleveland Foundation headquarters is from S9 Architecture and Vocon. It is courtesy of the foundation.

The genesis of the new headquarters came as the lease on its current building in the Playhouse Square district was coming to an end. Foundation staff members, Kuri says, looked at 60 potential office sites in the city. “We kept asking ourselves: ‘Could we play a role in actually changing the mindset about supporting reinvestment in redlined neighborhoods?’” she says.

Kuri gives credit to Cleveland Foundation’s board of directors, its President and CEO Ronald B. Richard, MidTown Cleveland and community partners, S9 Architecture, and architect Pascale Sablan for working with the community to make this project a reality. Kuri, a licensed architect, points to how people interact with physical space, saying she is looking forward to the energy-efficient building which will have floor-to-ceiling glass walls, wooden exterior, and garden space.

As the project continues, there is one date the Cleveland Foundation and its supporters are eyeing – some point in the fall of 2022. That is when the foundation hopes to open its doors to its new home and welcome area residents, as well as nonprofit, philanthropy, government, business, and academic leaders.

After that opening – as foundation supporters, area nonprofit leaders, and residents know – the important work of building healthy and equitable communities in Greater Cleveland will have a new home in which to accelerate. They hope that work will take place for decades to come.

“We’re not moving just to build a building,” Kuri says. “We know we don’t have all the answers. It’s our attempt to empower. It’s an attempt to do something larger.”

The top rendering of the new Cleveland Foundation headquarters is from S9 Architecture and Vocon. It is courtesy of the foundation. As a sponsor of the upcoming Upswell Summit, October 20-22, the Cleveland Foundation is supporting a deep-dive discussion, “A Community Foundation’s Evolving Environmental Strategy,” on October 20 at 5:15-6:15 PM ET, and a Spark Talk, “Centering Community in Cleveland’s New 21st Century Innovation District: Bricks, Sticks, and Social Fabric,” on October 21 at 10-10:20 AM ET. This year’s virtual Upswell Summit is powered by Independent Sector. Register today to participate in these Upswell conversations. Learn more about the Cleveland Foundation’s mission, history, and new headquarters.

Types: All
Global Topics: Arts, Culture, and Humanities, Civil Society, Community, Infrastructure, Innovation, Nonprofit Health, Purpose, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Model Partnerships for Impact, Organizational Relationships
Policy Issues: Civil Society Infrastructure, Nonprofit Operations