Cleveland’s Menlo Park Academy transforms former garment manufacturing plant and West Side September 14, 2017

What do the nation’s oldest garment manufacturer and Ohio’s top-ranked public elementary school have in common? As of September 23, their 78,000-square-foot home on the west side of Cleveland.

Menlo Park Academy (MPA) purchased the abandoned industrial facility in 2015 and has been renovating it into a school building capable of seating 800 students – more than double the number of students in the charter school’s previous leased facility. Increasing the number of high-performing school seats is a goal of The Cleveland Plan, and an IFF research study identified this neighborhood as an area in high need of those quality seats.

MPA is the only tuition-free school focused on “gifted learners” in Ohio and was rated “the number-one elementary school in Ohio” by an education research firm. Due to the school’s strong performance, its charter was renewed for 10 years, instead of the typical 5 years.

“This is exactly the kind of project that IFF seeks to support,” said Alexis Dishman, IFF Director of Lending for Education. “A proven operator in a high-need area serving even more students from throughout the city will benefit the whole community.”

Menlo Park currently serves students from more than 40 different school districts throughout Northeast Ohio.

The $17 million build-out was financed by a combination of New Markets Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, traditional financing, and one of the first facility grants from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission for high-performing community schools. IFF provided a $475,000 loan in 2015 to acquire the property and cover predevelopment expenses. Later, we partnered with fellow-CDFI Reinvestment Fund to provide $7 million in leverage loans to finance the renovations.

The building served as a factory for Joseph & Feiss Company starting in 1841 and continued to be one of Cleveland’s largest employers – more than 2,000 people in its heyday – until closing in the late 1990s. While the factory was razed, the administration and warehouse buildings remained. Several condo developers failed to rehab the site, but MPA has successfully transformed the landmark buildings into what it calls “a dynamic and agile learning environment, including green space, flexible configurations for learning centers, and a community room that will be available for use by neighborhood organizations.”