CLEVELAND - Waterloo Road in North Collinwood has a gritty past. It was once home to "The Irishman" Danny Greene, bookies and hardworking blue collar residents carrying their lunch pails to one of the largest rail yards in the country. But like a lot of urban communities, flight to the suburbs and lack of investment brought neighborhood blight and crime.
In 2000, local writer and magazine editor Cindy Barber, who had bought a home in Collinwood, wanted to try to do something to turn around the continued decline of Waterloo Road. A desire for career change met opportunity when she saw the old Croatian Liberty Home was for sale. Realizing that the place was a great venue for live music, Barber and her partner Mark Leddy turned it into the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern.
"The vision was to try to create a destination location for North Collinwood, to try to counter some of the street crime that was happening," said Barber. "I naively thought if I created a place where people would come from all over that the prostitution and crime would decline. It did, but slowly."
Barber also believed that others would also see the potential for Waterloo Road and its village-like design as an entertainment district.
"I thought people would come join in, open shops right away. I thought in a couple years we'd be fine, like Coventry in the '70s. But that wasn't the case. Now, thirteen years later, we're just starting to get some traction," said Barber. When it was pointed out that 13 years of sticking it out takes a lot of tenacity, Barber laughed and said "at some point you get in too deep to get out."
She admitted there were times they nearly threw in the towel, and that it is still a very up and down proposition. But the reinforcements she has been hoping for have finally arrived. Through about $8 million of public and private dollars, Waterloo Road is about to undergo a dramatic transformation.
Ward 11 Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek, who grew up in Collinwood, said roughly $5 million in street improvements will begin later this year. Other investment partnerships include former Cleveland ad executive and restaurateur Alan Glazen who is working on "Project Light Switch," a plan to open half a dozen restaurants at the same time. Steve Schimoler of Crop Bistro and Bar at Detroit and W. 25th has partnered with departing Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart for Crop Rocks and the Vinyl Vault, a high concept restaurant with a large vinyl library.
Cindy Barber -- who established a beachhead with Beachland -- and a few others who have opened small businesses on Waterloo Road are hopeful their perseverance will pay off with the growth of a vibrant new entertainment district. Barber said they are gearing up to celebrate their "Lucky 13th" anniversary this weekend, and the prospects for a growth in business. Beachland Ballroom, with 10 or more live acts every week, draws 60-70,000 fans a year. Barber hopes that more music related businesses will not only revitalize the area as a place to live, but give grassroots support to Cleveland's music scene.
"Cleveland should be the same as Nashville or Austin when you talk about music. We should have a music economy here," she said.
You'll find more information about Beachland Ballroom and Tavern's 13th anniversary here: