Radical Student Union protests gentrification of University Circle

Matt Hooke, A&E Editor

Chants of “Cleveland’s not for sale” rang out from the KSL Oval as, on Friday, Nov. 30,  the Radical Student Union (RSU) protested the closing of two neighborhood staples, the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern and Falafel Cafe.

Around 15 RSU members held signs and passed out a list of demands that they want to be addressed by University Circle Inc. (UCI) and Case Western Reserve University. The group felt the closing of the two restaurants is a symptom of what they see as the larger problem of gentrification in the University Circle area.

Gentrification is a process where low-income residents of a neighborhood are displaced by an influx of middle- or upper-class residents that drive up rents and change businesses. The expansion of both Case Western Reserve University, and the influence of UCI are to blame for this process according to the RSU.

“UCI has a lot of control for who gets to be a business here,” said third-year student and member Nicholas Leberer. “The closest place that sells cheap food is Aldi [1.8 miles away]. If you don’t have an RTA pass, you’re shopping at Constantino’s, and that’s expensive. To be more sustainable, you have to look at the least well-off person in University Circle and say, ‘Alright, this place has to be liable for them.’”

University Circle has seen a massive amount of development in recent years, much of it expensive. Two luxury apartment complexes, the 276-unit One University Circle complex and the 272-unit Centric Apartments, have been developed this year. Both apartment buildings are costly, with a studio apartment at One University Circle costing between $1,562 and $2,100 per month and a studio apartment at Centric costing between $1,415 and $1,570 per month, currently. A studio apartment on East 4th Street, one of the premier entertainment districts in downtown Cleveland, costs anywhere from $1,060 to $1,195 a month.

“The people who they are trying to attract are really wealthy people,” said Leberer. “They don’t mind paying higher rents if they live in a hip new part of town. They wouldn’t be able to get away with it if the people living here owned their places of work and owned their homes, but since everyone rents, UCI can do whatever they want.”

RSU officer and third-year student Gillian Prater-Lee believes that UCI needs to court a wider variety of housing and dining options so people of different income levels can afford to live and eat in the area. The demands which RSU distributed cited high storefront rents, expensive parking, police harassment of people of color and a lack of affordable housing as problems which both UCI and CWRU needs to address.

Prater-Lee said RSU has not received a response to their demands, and UCI did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Locally owned restaurant Falafel Cafe was forced out by UCI without an explanation, according to co-owner Mae Elassal. Even when the 18-year-old Middle Eastern restaurant offered the development corporation more money, the non-profit refused to renew their lease.

Falafel Cafe will move to the former Crop Kitchen location near the Cleveland Institute of Art, according to Elassal, wh  o hopes to reopen the restaurant in March. The space is owned by a different landlord, ensuring the situation with UCI does not repeat itself. She said that a main problem with the development in University Circle is a lack of free parking to compensate for the increased number of residents and visitors who come with the new apartment developments.

“It’s just building; nothing has changed,” said Elassal when asked about what has changed during her almost two decades in University Circle. “There are no new things going on except for the ice rink. I don’t feel that something new is coming or that they did something new. They just build buildings.”

Also in University Circle, Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern closed for financial reasons, according to co-owner Sean Watterson.