University Circle bills itself as the "Neighborhood without borders."
In most regards, it's a spot-on description of the vibrant area that's currently undergoing unparalleled and unrivaled development.
Last month, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland celebrated the grand opening of its new $32 million home at the corner of Euclid Ave. and Mayfield Rd. It marks the latest addition to or redevelopment of nearly every major institution in the area, from University Hospitals to Case Western Reserve University to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Add in residential projects currently underway in the area, and the staggering bottom line of new development in University Circle easily crosses the billion-dollar mark.
Yet despite the neighborhood's punchy tagline, there are borders: Glenville to the north, Buckeye-Shaker to the south, Hough and Fairfax to the west, and East Cleveland to the east, problematic areas all.
The hope is that those areas will be bettered by the expanding development. University Circle Inc. President Chris Roynane will tell you University Circle wants to keep pushing outward, helping to improve surrounding communities with its influence, cash, and protection.
At the moment, however, the borders between those areas are a dangerous place to be. For visual confirmation, look no further than E. 115th St. near Wade Park, where CWRU erected a guard tower that looks like something out of a prison yard or a war movie. That marks the start of the DMZ zone, tacitly acknowledged by politicians, school employees, students, and residents as the Do Not Cross line.
And if you live in the area, the danger zone is more than visual. It's a disturbing everyday reality.
A good place to start examining the problems of the area is a duplex on E. 118th St. at the corner of Wade Park. In fall 2011, five CWRU guys in the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity decided to rent half of it. The other half was vacant and boarded up, but their side was all set to go, save for working locks on the windows and other matters trivial in the eyes of energetic college students. Chagrin River Realty gave them a good deal on the house, just steps off campus behind the new Case baseball field.
One of the first things the SAM quintuplet did after they moved in was what any college kids in new digs would do: They threw a party. Friends newly arrived back at school attended, along with neighbors, both longtime residents and new. That included two brothers, James and Marcus Anderson, who lived across the street. One over 18, one under. No one took much notice. They were just neighbors.
"[CWRU's] north residential village is on the same street, so it's not like we were far at all," says one of the students (all of them refused to be identified by name). "We saw the boys once in a while, but we really didn't want to talk to them. You just got that bad vibe."
Those vibes would be auspicious.
"[Wade Park] has always been an area where there were muggings and pick-pocketing, more so in recent years, and the school would text and e-mail every time something happened," the student says. "I'm not saying that the second you walk off campus, someone's waiting there with a gun. But there were incidents. We knew there were certain risks."
Early in the semester, the five guys went out to dinner one night. One of their girlfriends stayed behind. Soon after they sat down, one of them got a call from her: Someone was in the house. By the time they got back, the place had been ransacked. Five laptops and a TV were gone.
The doors had been locked, but the abandoned apartment next door provided easy access. The students called the cops. They had suspicions about who was to blame, but no one said a thing.
"In this neighborhood, if you start pointing fingers, you're not doing yourself any good," another of the students says. "Everyone on the block had said to watch out for [the Anderson brothers]. Campus police said they'd had problems with them."
Before the cops arrived, a couple of the guys walked over to confront the brothers. Another carried an unloaded shotgun into the front yard to let it be known the students weren't scared. The cops showed up and, after taking reports, told the students to keep to themselves, not to stir anything up, then chatted with the Anderson kids. But the problems only escalated.
"There was another break-in in January — somebody came through the front door with ski masks and guns," one of the students says. "They wanted a bunch of stuff, but we didn't really have anything."