At its Wednesday, December 22 special meeting, the Heights Libraries Board of Trustees voted against extending the term of its 2020 lease of the former Coventry School building, which the Library owns, to the nonprofit Coventry PEACE, Inc. (CPC). The Board also voted to authorize its executive staff to explore other options for management of the property.
CPC failed to meet the lease requirements that would have allowed it to renew the lease for an additional nine-year term. At a prior Board meeting, held Monday, December 20, 2021, the Board received public comment regarding the extension of its 2020 lease of the building to CPC. The existing term of lease is set to expire December 31, 2021, after which it converts to a month-to-month arrangement.
The Library’s six-acre property includes the PEACE Park, free parking lot, and former school building.
CPC is a consortium of several local nonprofit organizations that had each been renting space in the building since before the Library purchased the Coventry PEACE campus site from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School district in March of 2018. The Library initially entered into leases in 2018 with each organization until the 2020 lease with CPC could be negotiated.
“We are truly saddened by this decision, and it was not an easy one,” said Board President Dana Fluellen. “We appreciate all the effort CPC has made to achieve financial stability, but in the end, it wasn’t enough, and the Library needs to focus its resources on its own needs, and the needs of the broader community.”
CPC’s initial one-year lease term, starting in 2020, was designed to provide CPC with an opportunity to prepare for long-term management. The lease agreement with Heights Libraries, signed by both organizations in October 2020, required that CPC meet several conditions by the end of 2021. The lease conditions were minimum standards that the Library deemed necessary for CPC to successfully operate the building.
Among other things, the conditions required that CPC provide the Library with a financially viable plan for operating and maintaining the building by mid-November, 2021. If met to the Library’s satisfaction, CPC would have been entitled to renew the lease for a nine-year term. The big question before the Board was not whether the underlying nonprofit arts community’s use of the building should continue, but whether CPC had demonstrated the capacity and financial stability to be a responsible manager of the building that houses them.
Over the past month, and leading up to the special Board meeting, Library staff, the Library’s Real Estate Committee, and the Board of Trustees have all reviewed several rounds of submissions and documents from CPC, including a package submitted by CPC late in the evening on Friday, December 17, 2021. At the Board meeting Monday, and in light of the final CPC submissions received on Friday evening, the Board of Trustees decided to take public comment on the project, but postpone its vote to a special meeting on Wednesday, December 22. At that special meeting, the Board of Trustees voted 6-1 that CPC had not met the lease conditions and is therefore not entitled to an extension of the term of the lease.
With CPC’s failure to meet these terms, the Lease will convert to a month-to-month tenancy beginning January 1, to allow CPC and its members to continue occupancy while the Library explores options for viable use of the property.
“We had high hopes that CPC could achieve independent economic sustainability,” said Levin. “We understand that the last two years have been incredibly challenging for small businesses and nonprofits, but we can’t use any more public money to support CPC. The Library has other projects it needs to focus on, including improvements to the PEACE Park and playground that will benefit the whole community. Now our hope is to work together with the important nonprofits that make up the PEACE campus on a proper future for the Coventry School Building and use of Library resources.”