Cleveland City Hall sits at the intersection of Lakeside Avenue and East Sixth Street.
Cleveland City Council announced Monday that $33 million worth of medical debt held by 16,000 Cleveland residents was canceled by RIP Medical Debt, the national nonprofit that buys patients’ debt from hospitals at a steep discount. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Cleveland City Council on Wednesday signed off on $25 million in federal stimulus spending for waterfront projects and development in Southeast Side neighborhoods. 

The votes bring council and Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration closer to finishing the task of giving a purpose to the more than $511 million that the city received from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. 

Bibb has made investing in the Southeast Side – where he spent part of his youth – a signature priority of his administration. The long-disinvested neighborhoods have missed out on the glimmers of growth seen in University Circle and parts of the West Side. 

The city will spend $15 million fixing up houses and seeding business development in long-disinvested southeast side neighborhoods that have missed out on the glimmers of growth in other parts of town. 

Of that, $5 million will go toward loans and grants to repair as many as 250 homes and rehabilitate up to 15, according to a presentation given to council. Another $5 million will spruce up storefronts and public spaces along commercial corridors. A third chunk of $5 million will fund larger grants and loans for redevelopment. 

The Southeast Side’s council members – Ward 1’s Joe Jones, Ward 2’s Kevin Bishop and Ward 4’s Deborah Gray – cosponsored the measure. Other council members urged the administration to expand the work to other neighborhoods if it proves successful. 

“I don’t want to see the Southeast Side, the experiment, and then we’re done,” said Ward 8 Council Member Michael Polensek, who represents Northeast Side neighborhoods that include parts of Glenville and Collinwood. “I want to see the Southeast Side experience expanded across the city.”

Council also gave the administration the go-ahead on $10 million in ARPA spending along the Lake Erie shore and Cuyahoga River:

  • $5 million to support the Port of Cleveland’s work stabilizing the Irishtown Bend hillside over the Cuyahoga River in Ohio City
  • $3 million to study a land bridge connecting the grassy downtown malls to the lakefront
  • $1.5 million to support a fishing pier as part of a large-scale redesign of lakefront parks stretching from East 55th Street to East 72nd Street
  • $500,000 for the Euclid Creek Greenway trail project

Including these measures, City Council has appropriated approximately $430 million of Cleveland’s ARPA money. The city is slating millions in federal coronavirus relief dollars for housing support, the West Side Market, utility debt relief and other projects. Legislation to spend the rest of the dollars is pending, although some proposals may not have council support. 

But passing legislation is only one step in the lengthy process of spending city money. City Hall still must draw up contracts before ARPA dollars can hit the streets. Council prodded the administration to spend the money faster. 

“There’s an urgency here for spending,” Ward 16 Council Member Brian Kazy said. “We’re allocating these dollars. I think the administration needs to start showing a little bit of urgency in getting things out the door a little quicker, so that we can get this money spent and we can start seeing the results in the neighborhood.” 

Jeffrey Epstein, the Bibb administration’s chief of integrated development, responded that $511 million is a lot of money to spend fast, but that city officials are working as quickly as they can. 

“If we were a foundation giving away $500 million over a period of two years, we’d have a staff of 100 people,” he said. “We’ve added zero additional staff for this purpose.”

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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.