Cleveland is in the process of fixing up the West Side Market, which the mayor wants to turn over to nonprofit management.
Cleveland is in the process of fixing up the West Side Market, which the mayor wants to turn over to nonprofit management. Credit: Erin Woisnet for Signal Cleveland

Cleveland City Council signed off Monday night on $10 million for West Side Market repairs, capping weeks of push-and-pull with Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration over how to spend limited federal stimulus dollars. 

Council members balked at the mayor’s earlier proposals to use $15 million to $20 million fixing up the century-old Ohio City attraction. Their neighborhoods faced too many other needs, from housing to food deserts, to spend so much American Rescue Plan Act money in one place, they argued. 

The city has already slated $10.5 million money for market roof repairs, elevator replacements and other work since 2019. But the Bibb administration said it would take as much as $45 million more to shore up the aging building and set it on a new path with a new business plan. 

“The market is in bad shape, and it needs investment,” Jessica Trivisonno, the mayor’s point person for the market, told council, adding, “Much of the funding that has been invested in the market in recent years has been band-aids on top of band-aids on top of band-aids.”

The administration said it would spend the ARPA dollars upgrading the market’s outdated electrical system, installing modern heating and cooling systems, restoring the building’s roof and replacing coolers in the basement. 

Cleveland owns the market, but the city plans to turn over operations to a new nonprofit. One appeal of nonprofit management is the potential for raising donations for the market, advocates of the move have said. 

But that doesn’t let city government off the hook, nonprofit board president Dave Abbott told council. Abbott, the former head of the George Gund Foundation, said the new nonprofit needs a solid foundation of city investment, and that philanthropies want government to step up with matching funds. 

“Funders simply are not going to be responsive to a request to backfill for the city’s obligations and the city’s lack of investment over many years,” Abbott said. 

Council President Blaine Griffin has said he would like to divert more stimulus dollars to housing programs. Cleveland has committed tens of millions of dollars in ARPA funds to housing, but Griffin said working-class neighborhoods on both sides of the city need more investment. 

“Our biggest issue outside of crime in the city of Cleveland is home insecurity,” he told Signal Cleveland last week, “and we believe as a council that we want to double down as much as possible on home stability.”

The council president downplayed suggestions that the market debate played out across Cleveland’s traditional political fault lines – West Side versus East Side, growing neighborhood versus declining ones, haves versus have-nots. 

But Ward 5 Council Member Richard Starr, who represents the Central neighborhood, embraced the comparison. 

“I am one of the ones who stand up and say it is East versus West,” Starr said, “when you look at my neighborhood, how it’s been redlined, how we have food deserts, how we don’t have nothing to show.” 

Market vendors lobbied council members to invest money in their workplace, and the mayor signaled his support for them. Bibb highlighted the vendors on social media recently and issued a campaign fundraising email that called on council to pass the spending. 

Without mentioning the market specifically, Bibb made his own contribution to Monday’s debate in the form of a tweet listing ARPA projects that reached beyond the market’s Ohio City home. 

Passage of the West Side Market spending checks another ARPA project off the list as the pool of remaining funds dwindles. Some major spending proposals remain to be worked out, including a $20 million contract for citywide broadband and a $50 million for assembling land for development.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.