Since the turn of the century, the success stories — Tremont, Ohio City and Detroit-Shoreway. Grassroots efforts to revitalize tired neighborhoods from Cleveland’s past have resulted in eye-catching results garnering national attention. Hoping to see a similar rejuvenation take place in his native Slavic Village is Sonny Day Development founder Anthony Trzaska.
Over the past few years, the business, real estate and neighborhood development company helped bring Triple Threat Press, CityWide Security, Redfin Real Estate, Saucisson and newest tenant Steven Mastroianni Photography to the Slavic Village.
Still, Trzaska — owner of Slovenian National Home (The Nash) and law firm Gray Legal representing Cleveland Flea, Chill Pop, Brewnuts, Proper Pig, Campbell’s Popcorn and Cleveland Bagel — is hoping this is just the beginning of something larger for the historic, old world market district.
This weekend is the ideal time to check out the new developments in Slavic Village, during the 4th annual Rooms to Let: CLE, taking place Sat 5/20 & Sun 5/21 @ noon-5pm. Artists transform vacant houses with temporary installations, for an event that includes live music, hands-on activities, an artisan market, local ethnic and a chance to check out the local businesses and the sparkling new Fleet Avenue streetscape, which was completed late last year.
CoolCleveland talked to Trzaska about Sonny Day Development.
First of all, where does the name Sonny Day Development come from?
Sonny Day Development is spelled Sonny because of my grandfather, Joe “Sonny” Fortuna. He’s my inspiration. It’s a tip of the cap to him. He passed away in 2006.
How did you get Sonny Day Development get its start?
I grew up on Fleet Avenue directly across from Fortuna Funeral Home, my family’s business they still own and operate. But it all comes back to this neighborhood of the Slavic Village and the Nash. I have the perspective, but also I kind of looked past that where it was and saw where it could be. And we’re still kind of doing that. So the Nash is a perfect example of my role and involvement here in the neighborhood with Sonny Day. I’m currently trying to add some energy to the fish fries and clambakes and holiday parties at the Nash. Just to stabilize it before we can really figure out. I’m still peeling that onion years later.
How does the Fleet Street streetscape project fit into this puzzle?
In 2013 I bought my first building. I knew the green street was coming. The construction was going to be breaking ground in 2013 and 2014 and the crew needed a field office for their work. For two and a half years of this project they were in my building.
Where did you go from there?
In 2014, this company was born to take title to the second building, which was the first real development project that was all Sonny Day. That’s where butcher shop Saucisson is now open. I left my law firm in 2014 when I launched Sonny Day to be a small-batch developer focusing on relationships with the property owners, families, folks in the neighborhoods. Before that, I knew there was merit here. There was proof of concept and it’s working.
How is Sonny Day Development helping the Slavic Village?
I’m trying to help zombie properties from eventually being torn down. That’s on the real estate side. I’m also trying to work with property owners that just don’t have an exit strategy, but they own a building on Fleet. At the same time, I’m trying to recruit new businesses like Triple Threat Press and Saucisson to add new energy there. I try to make the leases as tenant-friendly as possible so these businesses hit the ground running and focus on their business and not on their rent. It’s not as simple as a building for sale and we can turn it around in four months — all of a sudden, we have a coffee shop on Fleet. That works in some neighborhood. So there’s also recruitment. If they’re looking for square footage and they can’t afford Ohio City, Tremont or now Detroit-Shoreway, I have the square footage and you’re going to be working with the landlord/developer that gets it.
It sounds like you could have easily left the old neighborhood for a beautiful life in the suburbs, but that didn’t seem appealing.
It’s not just me. I’m from here. I lived through the decline and I know what bottoming out was. I know what it meant for everyone here including my family. I got the snapshots of the recovery process, which was all housing-focused for very good reason, but the commercial side is ripe for development. No one knew anything about it. No one is doing anything about it. These are complex problems. No one is banking it and no one is private investing it, so I just wanted to try to put some pieces together. I’m already involved in that community, so I wanted to give a little more voice to what the Slavic Village was already doing. And when I can be actively boots on the ground, that’s only going to help.
What would Grandpa Sonny have to say about your efforts?
It’s hard for me to even answer that…He means a lot. He’d certainly be proud.