Rick Semersky grew up in South Euclid and Mentor before graduating high school in Toledo, but much of his focus these days is on the once-thriving Slovenian-Croatian enclave around East 55th Street and St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland.
That’s where his Croatian paternal grandmother grew up and where his father lived as a little boy, and it’s where Semersky moved his construction company from Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood in 2003.
Semersky upped his interest in the neighborhood in 2012 when he bought Sterle’s Country House, the landmark Slovenian restaurant at the corner of East 55th and Bonna Avenue that features schnitzel and sausage — and polka music Friday and Saturday nights.
He has even bolder plans for the area, including a cafe, market and Eastern European-style brewery that will bring back some of the Old World charm lost years ago to urban decay.
Semersky’s willingness to invest private dollars in a section of Cleveland hard-hit by the recession and foreclosure should inspire other developers to consider similar possibilities in light of the changing urban landscape.
Semersky said his plan may not have made economic sense five or ten years ago but that prospects have improved with the growing interest in urban living and an appreciation for Cleveland’s “rust-belt chic” lifestyle.
He’s also hoping for some spillover from the steady growth in downtown Cleveland and University Circle, each a short distance from the East 55th Street corridor where Semersky also plans to build office and retail space.
What makes Semersky’s efforts all the more appealing is the blending of new growth with the preservation of neighborhood heritage, which plays to one of Cleveland’s great strengths. Semersky’s planned Goldhorn Brewery, which will ply Sterle’s with craft beer and include a taproom for the general public, is named for a mythical wild goat from Slovenian folklore.
Semersky’s not alone in his passion for the neighborhood. St. Vitus Church, serving Slovenians of the Roman Catholic faith for more than 80 years, is still going strong.
And the St. Clair Superior Economic Development Corp. initiated a Slovenian festival called Kurentovanje in 2013 that is held in March and features a parade, cultural performances and fuzzy creatures called Kurents.
The mission of the Kurents is to chase away winter and welcome spring, which, economically and metaphorically speaking, is exactly what we need more of in Cleveland. Perhaps Semersky can help show the way.