2016 was a crazy year for Cleveland. We won championships and came damn close to winning others. We hosted one of the biggest political conventions during an historically intense election year. An all-expenses-paid trip to Cleveland was a grand prize on Wheel of Fortune, for fuck’s sake. We’re just as confused as you are. In an effort to figure out just what the hell is going on in our city, we reached out to various community leaders, local celebrities, and business owners to see if they could make any sense of the current State of Cleveland.
Editor’s note: Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
ARTS & CULTURE
Alan Cox, Alan Cox Show host // WMMS, iHeartRadio
Going from 2016 into 2017, how do you think Cleveland is faring as a whole?
I think Cleveland is being taken more seriously on a national level than it ever has. The overall perception of the city has definitely changed for the better in my seven years here. I’m glad CLE sports finally got some championships. Even for a casual fan like me, I realize how important those are to the die-hard fans who have gone so long without. From an apolitical standpoint, the RNC was a big deal. It’s always good to have civic pride in tangible things, rather than just surviving adversity.
Any trends you’ve noticed? Good or bad?
The culinary scene here is now well-established nationally, but that brings with it a lot of speculation about just how many restaurants the city can sustain. For every OG trailblazer like Jonathon Sawyer, Michael Symon, Rocco Whalen, or Steve Schimoler, our food scene has spawned a lot of operators who see their own efforts go unrewarded. Some of my favorite places have opened and closed in the span of 24 months. Becoming a world-class city is never smooth. I love seeing the continuous stream of amazing performers spawned here. Great bands, new comedians, etc. Great city for artists.
As for bad trends, I hope we’ve hit a lull in getting international coverage for terrible stories. My time in Cleveland has included Michael Madison, Anthony Sowell, Ariel Castro, Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, and Dan Ficker. For a while, it seemed like Cleveland was becoming synonymous with tragedy.
Living/working all over, how does Cleveland currently rank to other cities?
I’m asked this all the time and I always choose to answer diplomatically: it’s apples and oranges. I chuckle when people tell me that Cleveland is “just like Chicago,” BUT it has undergone an amazing transformation in a relatively short period of time. That speaks to the tenacity and creativity of the PEOPLE (because it sure isn’t due to the vision of local leaders). I think it’s time for Clevelanders to cast off their last shreds of low self-esteem and not worry how this city compares to others. If you live here, it’s because you want to—so who cares what they do in Detroit or Pittsburgh?
Ted Sikora, Apama creator and writer
Cleveland has been terrific to us. We’ve had amazing support at the local comic cons. We did a Kickstarter in October that raised over $12,000. Over half of that was Cleveland people. Cleveland is baked into the DNA of Apama. We tell a story that Marvel and DC can’t. We deliver a pure starting point. Cleveland is wonderfully blank canvas for this kind of saga. I’d say if the city had one superpower, it would be super authenticity or super resilience. A good foil or super villain for The Land—really if developers came in and started doing things to the city with generic cost conscious bland or trendy designs—that kind of sweeping change could be dastardly.
William Griswold, Cleveland Museum of Art director
To celebrate our hundredth birthday, we hosted a series of important exhibitions and brought to Cleveland and hung alongside our own collection more than a dozen masterpieces of world art from other major museums. We renovated our Japanese and Korean Galleries, we unveiled a newly restored painting by Caravaggio, and we launched Studio Go—our centennial art truck—which offered hands-on art-making experiences all over town, bringing the joy of art to thousands of children and families throughout Greater Cleveland. As we embark on our second century, our goal will be to build on the momentum that we achieved in our centennial year. We have the incredible opportunity to leverage our world-class collection and spectacular architectural legacy, the expertise of our staff, and the generosity of our donors and community partners in the service of, in the words of our founders, “all the people forever.”
I think Cleveland is doing great. It’s been really fulfilling to see the progress from the early ‘90s when I booked the Euclid Tavern to where we are now. There’s much more cooperation between different groups, neighborhoods, hospitals, the city, the entertainment community, venues, the parks, the lakefront, the restaurants, the developers, the press, etc. than there was twenty years ago. We were on the right direction then, the foundation was set, we just needed to get everyone on board like we do now.
Dave Hill, comedian and Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore author
I love Cleveland. I wish it got maybe 100 days of sunlight a year, but you can’t have everything. As always, I’d love to see people move closer to the city instead of running off to the woods and scaring all the deer. A city can never really thrive with everyone moving as far away as they can and only coming into town for a Cavs game or a Billy Joel concert or some crap—you have to live there. When people come together and actually interact, great things happen. It’s hard to pick just one favorite thing about Cleveland. I love Luchita’s on West 117th Street, Guitar Riot and Superior Pho on Superior, Nemeth’s Bar in Painesville, and a million other things. But the greatest thing about any city is always its people, and Cleveland people are awesome. One thing I always hear in New York is people saying everyone they know from Cleveland is the best. I’m just like, “Yeah, I know.”
Robert Banks, Paper Shadows filmmaker
I think Cleveland as a film town is definitely on the upswing. A lot of my friends were saying that 2016 was a horrible year, and I was just thinking, “Why was it horrible?” There was nothing horrible about it—it was life. People die and things happen. I’m not a big sports fan, but it was nice to see the Cavaliers win a championship and have the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. I think the problem, though, is that people here still keep this low self-esteem, and when something great happens, all of the sudden we get this cocky attitude. That’s kind of the flip side because we still have a ways to go as a city. I mean, we’re definitely moving forward. Things are opening up, people are loosening up—at the same time, there are certain things that still need to be resolved.
Having worked in the Cleveland fashion scene for the past five years, I’ve noticed a significant change in the choices of retail shopping. In my opinion, the launch of Xhibition, located 2068 W. 25th St., has brought awareness to higher-end street brands such as Rick Owens, Alexander Wang, Comme des Garçons, etc., which ultimately gave fashion bloggers a new platform. Unfortunately, Cleveland is not a “fashionable” city. We’re all about sports and great food. However, with the spotlight the city has right now and the small street fashion scene emerging, I do see a significant change happening soon. Hopefully within the next few years, we can bring more fashion shows to the city. I, myself, and the others I know within the city, will make sure of that.
Liz Maugans, Zygote Press co-founder and executive director
I would urge Cleveland visitors to take a drive through Slavic Village. It is an epic journey through revitalization efforts that showcase the best views of industry, and the most pressing issues of a post-industrial city. This area is slowly rebuilding, re-imagining and thinking about deconstruction of a region that got destroyed by the housing subprime lending scams. It remains beautiful to me: the people, the public art, the resiliency, all seem to be heading into the right direction. The steel mills are like our Grand Canyon, and when I take visitors over to see them they are in awe. This is authentic Cleveland.
Loren Naji, Tremont artist and studio owner
Cleveland doesn’t support its own artists. I feel that very strongly. My large sphere project “Emoh” is a project I spent a year on. I was in USA Today with that piece. I was all over the country with it, and in Cleveland it was ignored. Cleveland artists in general need to think bigger instead of safe and boring and mundane and “so what?” To me I go to the art walks and it’s the same thing every week: the same artists, the same work, the same cliques. The concept of art itself is creativity. I think this city lacks that horribly. The city needs some real big thinkers who don’t follow the status quo. I did enjoy “Rooms to Let” which involved many artists in Slavic Village. Every year they give out condemned houses to artists to do whatever they want to do to it. Each artist gets a room and the houses become walking art installations. It’s a big event. After that one weekend, they tear the houses down.
Cleveland appears to be on the right track moving into a new year. The Republican National Convention went off without a hitch, the redevelopment of The Flats is outstanding, the Cavs and Indians had great seasons, and Rover’s Morning Glory was signed for another five years. What more could you ask for? Cleveland is a tremendously loyal city. They’ve shown me that since moving here 14 years ago. We may not be the fanciest place on earth, but we make up for it with grit and loyalty. I run into people all the time that have been listening every day, from the first day we signed on—you don’t find that everywhere. Now, if only we could divert the billions of dollars it will take to build “the wall” and instead build a giant, climate-controlled dome over the city so we can be 75 degrees year round!
Like many large cities, there’s always work that can be done. In Cleveland, more diversity and inclusion within corporate and nonprofit spaces, improving infant immortality rates, continuing to provide access to abortion clinics and reproductive care, transportation access, and criminal justice reform are just a few examples.
Many of these issues require time, attention, effective policies and funding to see change. Change can’t happen if we aren’t more attentive and intentional about how we as individuals, consumers, and corporations spend our time, resources, and money.
BUSINESS & POLITICS
Zack Reed, Ward 2 councilman
Aside from sports championships, what was Cleveland’s greatest accomplishment of 2016?
The RNC, no doubt. That was bigger than a sports championship. When you look at the sports championships, the saying was we’re “all in,” and we were. When you look at the RNC, everyone was not “all in” to the RNC. You had protestors, democrats, liberals, conservatives—that was one where we knew there would be barriers and opposition and we still came through with flying colors.
What do you think is the greatest lesson that you’ve gained from serving the Clevelanders within your district this past year?
That we talk a good game down here at 601 Lakeside, but when it comes to taking that talk out into the communities, we’re very, very reluctant on doing that. We are representatives of the people. We should be out there in the good times and the bad times to talk to those people. The prime example for that is Public Square. Whether we believe that terrorism is a problem, whether we believe that it won’t harm RTA, whether we believe that it’s, as some people in our communities call it, “a 50 million dollar playground”—there should have at least been a dialogue with our community.
What do you think Cleveland needs to improve upon most in 2017?
We have to find a way to connect the people in our community. There are a lot of damn good things that go on in the city and a lot of great opportunities because of the renaissance and the renovations that we’ve done. I hope we’re going to do something about the violence in Cleveland. Cities where consent decrees have gone in place, you’ve seen a dramatic reduction of crime in those cities. And why is that? Because now you’ve got the trust that you need to have between the citizens and the people that are sworn to protect those citizens. My hope is that we’ll get the consent decree under control. We’ve just gone through a third consecutive year of 100-plus homicides. You can’t keep running a city like this.
What was your fondest memory from 2016?
Got to be the Cavs. No if, ands, or buts about it. To finally get that championship—see a million people come downtown. I was down there when we won and I was down there for the parade.
The recent boom in business didn’t help the local person who wasn’t slinging T-shirts, hot dogs, or beer, but it was a blast to be a part of the RNC and the Cavs run and I’m excited to see how Cleveland will move forward with this momentum.
Sadly, 2016 was big locally for heroin. I would like to see an increase in community outreach to address this crippling addiction. This will hopefully help those who are fighting this addiction get the help they need. Ohio is fucking No. 1 in the country for heroin overdoses and Cuyahoga County is leading the way. This addiction doesn’t care where you grew up, what color your skin is, or what religion you are. Ohio is just starting to take notice, but more needs to be done within our communities. With mental and health outreach programs, I believe this change can save lives and families.
Chris Zitterbart, Agora owner
Short term, business was actually bad [in 2016]. With the RNC, it seemed like a lot of Clevelanders avoided Cleveland. They didn’t want to deal with the traffic or the potential issues and fear the media trumped up. So, I actually had a pretty down week. Same with the championships. A lot of Clevelanders, with good reason, wanted to go out and support instead of going to a concert. Following that, you’re going to have the “hangover” that is going to occur physically and financially. It was a short term slow down for the music industry, but having said that, long-term, I think it’s a great thing. An amazing amount of energy has gravitated downtown. Overall, it’s good for the health of the city. The music industry tends to be the leading indicator of the economy because it’s primarily disposable income.
I’d love to see my city aggressively attack the issue and growing problem of segregation in the city of Cleveland. We almost rank dead last amongst other major U.S. cities when it comes to racial divide according to a report by the Brookings Institution and it’s a real problem.
I’d also like to see the city of Cleveland absorb the city of East Cleveland in 2017. I think it’s imperative for the residents of East Cleveland to ensure their survival and to ensure the quality of life for the families that live in East Cleveland.
Ted Ginn Sr., Glenville High School coach and Ginn Academy director
Being in Cleveland for the last 50 years, I can only talk about my area: Glenville. I see what’s happening in the city, downtown coming up—it’s growing but our communities are still failing. I think that is a concern. I’m an advocate for Cleveland. I’m an advocate for education, young people, and the city of Cleveland, period. But I look at the Glenville community—I’ve been here 47 years—we haven’t done anything. I’ve seen other communities grow, different areas, and I don’t know why not Glenville.
When you’re dealing with education, you’re dealing with humans, you’re dealing with children, families who lose hope because they don’t see any investment in Cleveland. We got lakefront land here, and I don’t understand why there is no investment into it. That is an issue for me. I have different ideas. I’m still here fighting for this community, fighting for the city. When you look around, it’s all these old folks not doing anything to bring the young families back into Cleveland. We need to give those families a good place to stay and a good education.
Peter Elliott, U.S. Marshal
Do you feel Cleveland is safer or more dangerous than it was a year ago? Why?
We have seen more shootings and warrants issued for homicide within this past year. Countless drive-by shootings where innocent bystanders including infants have been killed.
Have you seen your caseload increase or diminish over the past year?
Increase by far—more shootings, more homicides.
What was your fondest memory from 2016?
One of our greatest memories was our men and women being honored by the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives this past December for capturing over 40,000 fugitives since our task force was created in 2003. We now have over 350 men and women and over 125 police agencies as part of our task force. We are growing more and more every year. It was an honor to have many of our partners stand up with us and accept the award.
FOOD & DRINK
Chris Hodgson, Hodge’s Cleveland, Hodge Podge, and Dim and Den Sum president/chef
The food scene grew too fast. A lot of new restaurants opened up recently—40 as of last year. Fantastic for creating diversity, but that can both help and hurt. There isn’t a large enough population to support all of these new openings and old restaurants. Guests are just being divided between more “districts” or neighborhoods. It also has created a “grass is greener” mentality in employees. We watch employees stay two months, leave for something new, come back six months later. Seems like there is a constant rotating door between all the restaurants. Makes it difficult for restaurants to train and produce the level of service they want to when it’s constantly new employees.
Ben Bebenroth, Spice Kitchen+Bar chef, farmer, and founder
The food scene in Cleveland is in a delicate place currently. We seem to be opening more restaurants than a population this size can consistently support. The lack of a skilled and able-bodied workforce in addition to rising costs in every area can be seen in the quality of food being created. Our dedicated independently owned establishments are pushing the creative envelope with quality local ingredients, while corporate dining options are still the majority of what is available and soaking up a majority of the labor pool. If we want to fulfill our recent reputation of being a food city, we need to attract more businesses to headquarter in the greater Cleveland area to fill our dining rooms with guests that care about quality of ingredients and sound culinary technique more than discounts.
Dan Herbst, Cleveland Bagel Company owner and bagelman
The whole food scene is changing with people paying more attention to what they eat and discerning about what they eat. I don’t think people paying attention to what they’re eating and the ingredients that goes into what they’re eating is a fad. I don’t think people are going to go back to processed foods like, “I want to go eat poison again. I’m sick of good food,” so that’s promising. At the same time, it’s created a bubble. There’s a lot of competition out there, and I don’t know if Cleveland necessarily has the population to sustain all of these new restaurants. It’s a very competitive market. We’ll see how that goes, but it is nice to see all of these small businesses opening.
It felt like  was an inflection point where Cleveland went from the comeback city to where our wheels left the ground and we’re airborne now in a very positive way. The RNC was a unique beast in that there was an unusual candidate. There were a lot of predictions of mayhem that thankfully were completely off the mark, and I think since it was such an unknown for the city, these predictions of chaos and rioting were just a lot of fluff. I would bicycle over the bridge and wander around downtown during the RNC, and it was it was just beautiful. I really think it was a kind of a coming out for Cleveland where the world got to have a little sneak peek at what we’ve known all along. This great freedom to live in the quality of life we have here is unmatchable and it was a moment for us to tell that story.
I had breakfast with David Gilbert of Destination Cleveland and he said it best. He said the RNC, Cavs and the Indians—those were all home runs. You can’t plan for a home run, but you can plan for singles, doubles and triples. So let’s make the singles, doubles and triples happen in 2017 and the home runs will come.
Emmett Golden, ESPN Cleveland radio personality // WKNR, 850 AM
How did the success of the Cavs and Indians and the struggles of the Browns affect your view of Cleveland sports?
This year in Cleveland sports has only reinforced my love for all of our teams. The Cavs winning the championship really gave the people of our city something that they can be proud of. As we all know, Clevelanders are proud people, but others around the country never could understand why. With the recent success of the Cavs and the Indians, our city has finally received the respect that it deserves.
What is your favorite person, place, or thing about Cleveland?
My favorite people in Cleveland are ALL OF THE PEOPLE in Cleveland. The reason I love this city so much is because of the people. Everyone is down to earth and very authentic. There aren’t many fake people in the city. Favorite place is downtown. It’s really been on display over the last year. The downtown skyline is breathtaking and seeing it on my drive into work everyday pumps me up.
2016 was a great year for the city, but what still needs to be done?
Well, it would be nice to see the Browns get to .500, but that could be a long shot. As a community, we just need to continue to improve on keeping each other safe. Last year was a tough year as far as crime around our city, and we as Clevelanders need to keep looking out for each other as well as continue raising and teaching our young people the right way.
For the first time in my life, when I wear Cleveland gear in opposing cities, people get to accuse me of being an asshole who only cheers for championship teams! It was totally worth sitting in a half-empty Q for years watching guys like Bimbo Coles, DeSagana Diop, Lamond Murray, Eric Snow, Donald Sloan, Jeremy Pargo, Alonzo Gee, Luke Harangody, Christian “Sky”-enga, and every other fringe NBA player, D-League reclamation project, or washed-up All-Star who rounded out the Cavs roster before and after LeBron. It’s delightful getting hated on by Milwaukee Bucks supporters for being a Cavs fan because I can remember the days when the Cavs’ advertising was built on coach John Lucas saying, “We’re gonna have fun,” and dumb slogans like “Get Close!” (because there’s plenty of open seats in front of you and we don’t care if you sit in them). I’ll trade your anger at me wearing a Kevin Love jersey and a Cavs jacket in the Bradley Center for a title one hundred times out of a hundred. Also, I didn’t even care about how bad the Browns were this season, and I know I’m not alone.
Zach Shafron, Clesportstalk.com founder
 absolutely changed the entire reputation of the City of Cleveland. No longer are we the “mistake on the lake” or supporters of teams that can’t get the job done. What fans outside of Cleveland forget is that our city has had some very, very good teams of the past, despite being in this drought. The Browns in the late ‘80s nearly made the Super Bowl twice, the Indians of the ‘90s were in the World Series twice, and the Cavs made the Finals with LeBron in ’07. The difference is, finally, in 2016, we had a team that actually won it all and they took the toughest road to get there, being the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals. It means everything to those who call Cleveland home that after 52 years of waiting, the drought has ended.
Moving forward, we are confident that our Cavs and Indians will contend for many years to come. The Browns, on the other hand, are our punishment for us having two great teams. Even so, Cleveland will always love its Browns as we are a football town.
Momentum is on my side, on our side, and I look forward to carrying that almost tangible feeling into this new year. Cleveland is experiencing a rebirth and I’m happy to carry her torch with me as I make my way around the world, a pseudo ambassador of the city. Each weekend, somewhere out there, a boisterous voice can be heard announcing me to the ring with the proud cry of, “From Cleveland, Ohio…Matt Cross!”