Cleveland leaders look to boost region's image among residents

CLEVELAND - Extensive projects are under way to rebuild the city's image and market it nationwide after two generations of decline made the city one of the nation's poorest.

But it's not just the rest of the country that needs convincing. Expectations are low and cynicism is high among residents.

"Nothing has happened here that hasn't happened in many other cities," said Mel Maurer of Westlake, a suburb. "The difference is they got over it and went on to better days. Too many here dwell on the past, even when the past was not that bad and when the future could look so bright.

"We are our own worst enemies."

Despite an affordable housing stock, good cultural attractions and plans to make over its lakefront, Cleveland cannot seem to shake the negative attitude.

There is a basis for the sour feelings.

More than 13,000 factory jobs disappeared between 2003 and 2005, poverty is starting to affect some of the older suburbs and many residents see flaws that include deep racial divides and fragmented, turf-conscious systems of local government. Weather and the fact that none of Cleveland's major sports teams have won a championship since the Browns in 1964 also get some credit.

Polling by the Gallup Organization shows that 11 percent of those surveyed in northeast Ohio feel "very loyal" to their cities of Cleveland and Akron compared with 17 percent who feel that way across the nation.

The strength of the negative attitude surprises some newcomers.

Jim Bowman, vice president of Catlin Properties, a Sacramento, Calif., company that plans to build housing and shops in South Euclid, said he instantly felt at home when he visited northeast Ohio, but the negative vibe made him wary.

"When I said I was from California, people would say, 'What are you doing here?'" he said. "It makes you cautious. It's like if you ask a girl out on a date and she says, 'Why would you want to go out with me?' It gives one reason to pause."

Bob Fisher said local residents asked why he would move from central Virginia to open a Toyota dealership in a region with a declining economy.

He said the economy is not declining. It's changing from heavy manufacturing to specialty manufacturing or research.

"It's unfortunate because there is so much to offer," Fisher said. "It is the 15th-largest market in the United States -- I don't know if it sees itself that way."

Margy Judd, who heads a business that introduces newly arrived executives to the area, often chooses to have them meet other transplanted families.

"They want more-positive people," she said. "When you get together with a lot of natives, they have all the baggage."

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