(Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series covering the State of the City address delivered Thursday by Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks, during a luncheon at the Cleveland Kiwanis …
(Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series covering the State of the City address delivered Thursday by Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks, during a luncheon at the Cleveland Kiwanis Club.)
Kevin Brooks is Cleveland’s evangelist-in-chief. He also happens to be the city’s mayor.
Shortly before delivering his State of the City address Thursday at the Kiwanis Club, Brooks said someone recently told him he was the city’s evangelist.
“A few weeks ago, someone called me the evangelist of the city of Cleveland,” Brook said. “I said, ‘That’s fantastic! That’s exactly what I do! You tell me a time, you invite me to speak and give me the pulpit, and I will talk about how great our city is!’”
And that is exactly what Brooks proceeded to do during his speech.
In short, the city is better than ever.
Brooks opened his State of the City address recalling that conversation from just a few weeks ago.
“I'm honored to be here and to officially mark completion of my first year as mayor,” Brooks said.
Before listing all the achievements Cleveland has accomplished in the last year, Brooks began his speech by thanking members of the Cleveland City Council, Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, Cleveland City Manager Joe Fivas, Assistant City Managers Melinda Carroll and Shawn McKay and Assistant to the City Manager Brian Moran, as well as all city staff for their hard work and accomplishments.
He then listed the results of that hard work in what has been a busy year for city of Cleveland employees.
Improvements in transportation, increasing the quality of life for city residents, infrastructure improvements, downtown revitalization and communication were areas covered in the mayor's annual address.
Brooks lauded the city’s commitment to improving transportation infrastructure.
He noted the $1.1 million Georgetown Road and 25th Street Intersection Improvement Project, as well as the Norman Chapel sidewalks and street reconstruction initiative.
“The city is matching 20% of an $800,000 grant project to complete much needed pedestrian, road widening and safety improvements along Norman Chapel and Adkisson roads,” he said. “This project will facilitate walkability improvements for area residents and Cleveland State Community College students.”
Of the Georgetown Road/25th Street project, Brooks said it was a major investment courtesy of the taxpayers.
“Those are your dollars,” he said. “Your money is being reinvested.”
Brooks said the project had been delayed by unforeseen challenges.
“They did not know there was a very old water line or gas line buried in that intersection,” he said.
He said the second delay was caused by “a very large amount of concrete” that originally anchored a sign for a business that previously occupied the site.
In addition, Brooks said the 20th Street bridge replacement project began last year.
“This is a 100% grant-funded project from TDOT,” he said. “The city will be reimbursed by the state after the project is completed.”
The mayor also discussed the Highway 60/Georgetown Road project.
"I can't give a speech anywhere without talking about the Highway 60/Georgetown Road project,” Brooks said. “I will actually be speaking to my friends at TDOT this week. When I visit Nashville soon, I will be talking with them about some of our road projects and Highway 60 is one of them.”
get major funding
The city continues to invest $1.3 million in its annual paving program for streets within the city, according to Brooks.
The mayor said he had been contacted by residents of a subdivision where the streets had not been repaved in decades.
“They said, ‘We need your help.’ They said their street had not been repaved in 31 years, and I said, ‘I promise you, we're going to fix this and we're going to make this right because there's nothing else that we're here for.’”
The Cleveland City Council, Brooks said, was instrumental in helping to cut down the wait times.
“Thankfully, due to their voting for $1.3 million, we lowered it from a 27.5 percentage to now at a 20-year paving cycle,” he said. “The city's development and engineering services department and the city's public works department are working to develop a pavement evaluation and surface rating system for our city streets to create a quantifiable system on the condition of our roadways and street system.”
The city received a $450,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Health to complete $850,000 sidewalk project to connect Avery Johnson Park to Blythe-Bower Elementary School, plus Blythe Oldfield Park and the Family Resource Center.
Called the Blythe-to-Blythe project, Phase I construction began in December 2019.
“This is an important project in the redevelopment of south Cleveland,” Brooks said.
Brooks also said preliminary construction of the Candies Creek Greenway began in November 2019, which includes a 1.1-mile pathway along Candies Creek from the south side of Candies Lane near Inverness Drive.
“The city received $100,000 to begin construction on this phase,” he said. “The first phase of this greenway segment will terminate before the 1-75 underpass. In the future, the city will utilize this section of the greenway to connect to Fletcher Park, Cleveland Middle School and Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary School.”
Quality of life
now a city focus
Brooks said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department “took on a bold initiative last year to begin amplifying its parks and recreation programming for the community.”
As a result, new recreation programs were launched including pickleball, fly-fishing fundamentals, Movies in the Park and a tennis clinic.
The recent renovation of Deer Park was an example of the city’s commitment to improving the quality of live for its residents.
“I can't say enough about the incredible renovation of our cherished Deer Park,” Brooks said, adding that the cost to revamp the park cost the city $500,000.
“I promise you, it's worth $10 million,” adding that seeing children and their parents enjoy the park has been rewarding.
The city officially reopened the park in November.
“The backyard-themed project called upon many city departments and staff who spent dedicated hours perfecting this facility. The new Deer Park incorporates natural elements such as the creek to create a unique experience,” Brooks said.
The future Avery Johnson Park, named for Cleveland Vice Mayor Avery Johnson for his dedicated years of service to the city, is being funded through the Randy Boyd Foundation, community development block grants, the State of Tennessee Urban Forestry Council and local city dollars, according to Brooks.
“This park will feature a soccer field, shade structures, walking track and a dog park,” he said.
Early last year, Brooks said the city celebrated the grand opening of the Tony Cavett Tennis Complex.
The $1 million facility is named after longtime area tennis coach Tony Cavett.
“This project was funded through a $500,000 grant from the state of Tennessee and matched with city dollars,” Brooks said.
The city also received a $65,000 Tennessee Department of Health grant to fund six pickleball courts at Tinsley park. Construction of the courts began in fall.
“The $200,000 facility will mimic the design of the new Tony Cavett Tennis Complex,” Brooks said.
The mayor said he had never heard of the activity before the city launched plans to open the facility.
“It was something that I had to Google because I'm not an athlete,” he said. “But pickleball has a huge following in town.”
He said a recent pickleball tournament drew many teams from outside Cleveland.
“There were 80 teams from all over,” he said. “Only eight or 10 were from the local area. The rest were from out of state, and it was an incredible amount of income for our city.”
The recent groundbreaking for Tennessee’s fifth veterans home, the Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home, was praised by Brooks.
“Our community celebrated the groundbreaking of Tennessee's fifth veterans home,” he said. “The $47 million facility located on Westland Drive will be a single-story, 108-bed site that will consist of six 18-bedroom pods interconnected by shared spaces,” he said.
The city donated $2 million toward the veterans home.
Intermediate and skilled-care nursing services will also be provided.
“Future residents will have access to an onsite community center, therapeutic spaces, dining areas, activity rooms and resident support offices,” he said.
Construction of the facility began in fall. Brooks said it will be an “incredible addition to our city.”
a big part of the future
Last year, the city released its Downtown Revitalization Master Plan, which seeks to revamp downtown Cleveland to increase tourism, as well as draw residents who desire to live in an urban setting where amenities such as a sports complex, a music venue and green spaces are present.
Brooks said the revitalization and master plan received the 2019 Outstanding Award from the Tennessee Planning Association.
“I can now legally say it's an award-winning downtown renovation plan,” he said.
One major part of the master plan is the revitalization of the former Cherokee Hotel, where Cleveland Summit, a subsidized housing facility, is currently located.
Cleveland Summit will be relocating to a new facility next year.
Brooks said the city has sent out requests for proposals to solicit developers interested in developing the site.
“We’ve had lots of conversations about what are we going to do, so we sent out an RFP request for proposals. We're asking developers to tell us what is the best use for this building,” Brooks said. “As of this week, six have returned a proposal. So, I've got six developers who are saying, ‘Yeah I'll take this. I'll do this. This is exactly what I'm looking for.'”
"The property will be solely owned by the city of Cleveland when Cleveland Summit vacates the structure sometime next year,” according to Brooks.
The city intends to sell the property under a development agreement to a developer who can design and develop the property for a use that is compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods, commercial areas and downtown Cleveland.
He said he is also excited about the new Cleveland Summit facility, which will be located in the Smith Drive area near the intersection of Huff Avenue S.W. in Cleveland.
“They’re getting a multi-million dollar upgrade for their new housing,” he said.
Brooks conceded that it was disappointing the city did not receive a $15 to $17 million U.S. Department of Transportation “Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development Grant,” which would have funded the city’s revitalization of the Inman Street Corridor.
“And that's OK,” he said. “God's got perfect timing. It was a $15 million grant. We were going to do a 50% match to redo downtown. The federal government took a look at it and determined there was going to be a tremendous amount of environmental work that will need to be done: first, they said if they give us the money, it will sit in a bank account for a year before [we start the project], so we're going to go ahead and do all the work and get the National Environmental Policy Act studies done.
When the city reapplies next year, having the NEPA study under its belt will place it in a better position to qualify for the BUILD grant.
He noted that many grants are not awarded the first time a city applies for them.
“In fact, as Councilman [Ken] Webb reminded me: it's almost impossible to get grants the first time around,” Brooks said. “I was told by some other grant writers there are three, four, five and even longer attempts before you get that first one.”
continue for site
Brooks said Cleveland continues to have a strong relationship with Whirlpool and is continuing its talks with the appliance manufacturer to determine the best use for the acreage that was occupied by former Plants 1 and 2.
Last year, Whirlpool began demolishing the abandoned plant buildings to make way for the city's downtown revitalization initiative.
Taylor Spring Park
a major addition
Taylor Spring Park, located downtown, is another project that is central to the history and founding of Cleveland.
“The city committed $250,000 to the development of Taylor Spring Park,” Brook said. “We celebrated groundbreaking in fall of 2019. City public works is working diligently to get this project completed by spring.”
The seeds for Cleveland's growth as a city were planted at the site.
“This is the birthplace of Cleveland before there was a Cleveland or a Bradley County,” Brooks said. “There was a man named Taylor who had a grocery store, and he chose a creek and a spring because water was so important at that time.”
The spring was almost forgotten as the city began to grow and eventually was covered by buildings.
Several years ago, the spring was located in the basement of a building owned by attorney Jim Webb.
“He was very generous and worked out a deal to donate his building, and we bought the building next to it and we're turning it into what's going to be a highlight of downtown. It will truly highlight the birthplace of our city,” Brooks said.
focus of the city
Th city started the redesign of its existing website last year, Brooks said. The updated version will be released in February with upgraded functionalities such as mobile responsiveness for phones and tablets, integration with the city's social media platforms, video and improved end-user experience.
In 2019, the city began the development of its new enterprise resource planning software to modernize city-wide operations. City staff are currently working with Tyler Technologies to implement this new system which will offer innovative solutions for processes involving the city's human resources, finance, accounting, billing, taxes, business license and permits that affect day-to-day operations.
In 2019, the city received 1,348 work-order requests from the city's citizen-request, management-solutionand mobile app, he said.
“Work-order requests reported issues such a flooding, high grass, paving requests for potholes, missed trash pickups and a variety of other non-emergency issues,” Brooks said.
from the past year
Brooks said the city received its 21st consecutive Distinguished Budget Award from the Government Finance Officers Association.
The Distinguished Budget Award recognizes state and local governments that prepare budget documents of the very highest quality and reflect both the guidelines established by the National Advisory Council on state and local budgeting.
In addition, the mayor congratulated Cleveland Utilities for winning the 2019 Award of Excellence in Water Treatment Plant Operations.
He closed his speech by stating that Cleveland "... is truly 'The City With Spirit.'"
“Wherever I go, I am your biggest cheerleader,” Brooks said. "I am your biggest ambassador, your evangelist, and there is no better time than now to live in Cleveland and to be mayor.”
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