DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And now to another city. Cleveland has experienced its share of financial troubles over the years. Lately, though, the city has been getting some positive reviews, for everything from its arts and culinary scene to redevelopment plans. But now Cleveland's in the shadow of some high-profile crimes. This is all giving Clevelanders a feeling of news whiplash, as they try to figure out what these diverging storylines say about their hometown. From member station WCPN, Nick Castele reports.
NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: It's a warm summer night in downtown Cleveland, and athletes in town for the National Senior Games are waiting to catch rides back to their hotels. There are estimated to be 30,000 people here for these games. It's a big plum for the city - the games are being held in Cleveland's brand-new convention center. But many of those people woke up on Monday to news of multiple murders in a nearby suburb.
That came just a few months after three kidnapped women emerged from a home on Cleveland's west side after nearly a decade. Carol Sand is from Cincinnati, and her husband is competing in the games. She says in light of the news, her 86-year-old mother worried about her coming here.
CAROL SAND: And so she said, well, whatever you do, don't go up there and get killed.
CASTELE: An extreme and troubling comment, for sure. But that fear isn't one that visitor Winnie Montgomery shares. She says she was at a store in a suburb with her friend, without a car and realized they'd have to walk half a mile back to her hotel.
WINNIE MONTGOMERY: And some guy is just sitting there on a bench, heard us talking. And he said, Y'all need a ride? Well, yes. My car is right here, right around the corner. I just tell her, let's take a chance. The guy was super nice. He took us right to the hotel. And...
CASTELE: It's Colette Jones's job to promote tourist events in the area. She heads marketing for Positively Cleveland, and says the city is widely misunderstood.
COLETTE JONES: I think most people have outdated perceptions of Cleveland. Most people don't really know much about the city. I think the things that they see typically relate back to what they see on television, whether it has to do with our sports teams or something else like that.
CASTELE: She says many people still think of Cleveland as a blue-collar manufacturing town. While there is still some manufacturing here, it's trying to become more of a creative town, with top-notch cultural institutions, tons of recreational facilities, and world-renowned medical care.
JONES: I mean we have an amazing arts and cultural community. We have a great, thriving music scene. Our culinary scene gets some good national coverage. We have some great celebrity chefs who are great at partnering with us.
CASTELE: Cleveland has received national attention for its free art museum, which just underwent a big expansion. There's also been a wave of people moving back into the city's downtown, where a hip street of outdoor cafes is just a short walk from the city's new casino.
But that's just one side of Cleveland, says Angie Schmitt, who runs a blog about the industrial Midwest. Schmitt thinks Cleveland boosters aren't acknowledging the city's many difficulties.
ANGIE SCHMITT: They think the national image of Cleveland is wrong, it's a mistake, and that if the image could be repaired, Cleveland would recover.
CASTELE: But she says like most big cities, that ignores endemic problems like dwindling population, abandoned homes and high infant mortality rates in some low-income neighborhoods.
TRAVELLE HARP: I'm happy to see everyone here...
CASTELE: Community organizer Travelle Harp is familiar with many of these problems. He held a meeting in nearby East Cleveland just days after three bodies were found there. He says although some parts of this two-million-person metro area are booming, places like this one are still largely left out of the recovery.
HARP: We see a community with a lot of value. It's human capital that's overlooked, that's disrespected constantly by the lack of investment in our community.
CASTELE: The discovery of the three women who say they were held captive drove that point home for urban policy researcher Richey Piiparinen. He says the story and the problems it shed light on just about broke his heart.
RICHEY PIIPARINEN: It was a reality that you can't hide from. Concentrated poverty, vacancy, what happens when there's no people in the houses to look after your neighbor.
CASTELE: But Piiparinen worries that the country is teed up only to hear about decline in the industrial Midwest and takes any bad news as more evidence that the region is troubled. At the same time, though, he says he's amazed at the attention Cleveland has been receiving lately, not just for its obvious challenges but for its rebirth.
PIIPARINEN: It's mind-blowing to me. So, you know, I think what that says is there's something going on, no one knows what it is, it's a mix of good and bad, but that's life, you know. And that's Cleveland - Cleveland's life, Cleveland's reality.
CASTELE: And whether Cleveland wanted to or not, it's given the country a glimpse of both realities; the promise and the troubles, side by side.
For NPR news, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.