Euclid Corridor Project Leaves the Station

Featured Audio

There's a concrete bouquet of flowers on display on Cleveland's Public Square. Actually, it's a flower planter shaped like the wrapper you get from a florist. David Goldberg smiles proudly at this latest addition to the Euclid Avenue streetscape.

GOLDBERG: There are 120 of these under construction. They'll be seasonally changed three times a year.

(SOUND of a walking tour UNDER)

DCB: The Chairman of AmTrust Bank and a downtown property owner, Goldberg has seen many changes to Euclid Avenue that have bloomed in the past three years, thanks to the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. The refurbished street now features trees, bricked pathways, even new trash containers and iron sidewalk grates inscribed with whimsical hieroglyphics. But, the Euclid Corridor Project has been more than just a facelift for one of Cleveland's landmark thoroughfares. Every traffic light has been replaced. Beneath the roadway, sewer pipes and utility lines have been repaired and upgraded. In all, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority spent 168 million dollars --- largely from federal and state grants --- on the Euclid Corridor. Some have questioned the use of transit funds to spruce up the street. Economic development expert Ned Hill shrugs his shoulders.

HILL: We had to fix our main street. The infrastructure was broken, the sidewalks were heaved, it looked ugly. And the way I look at it, it was 90% federal money; it was federal money to fix our main street. Is it a transit project? It's the second busiest line in RTA's district, but RTA also knew that if you didn't have activity on the street, that second busiest line was going to slowly wither
and atrophy.

From the beginning, the Euclid Corridor Project was pitched as an economic development tool, and as the streetscape improved, formerly abandoned storefronts began sprouting restaurants, condominiums, a theater, even an upscale bowling alley. Here too, state and federal funding played a role. Joe Marinucci, who heads the Downtown Cleveland Alliance says tax breaks for preserving historic buildings, known as historic tax credits, have been very attractive - and available - to developers.

MARINUCCI: You're literally talking about ways to make about 45% of any project's base economics through those equity sources.

But that government underwriting could be in trouble because of Ohio's economic woes.

MARINUCCI: The challenge right now is that the state is in such dire straits from a budgetary perspective, they've limited the amount of tax credits that are going to be available into the future.

And that, in turn, could affect the construction of additional apartments and condos for the young professionals and empty nesters that the city is trying to lure downtown. Economic development expert Ned Hill says the current credit crunch has already cooled the pace of construction along the Euclid Corridor.

HILL: The real question now is more downtown housing. We're at 95% rental occupancy --- that's the trick. But, you're in a market now that's going to need a lot of upfront commitments, and in the rental market, that's tough.

(SOUND from Euclid Avenue walk with David Goldberg returns)

As we continue our tour of the new and improved Euclid Avenue, AmTrust chairman David Goldberg acknowledges that his colleagues in the banking business are much more conservative about the building projects they back, these days. But that doesn't dampen his faith that development along the Euclid Corridor will pick-up again.

GOLDBERG: No lenders are talking to anybody right now. Everybody's nervous. But, I've seen enough cycles, I've seen enough turnarounds. This too will pass.

Goldberg paraphrases Solomon in urging patience. It may take the wisdom of the biblical king to predict how long the wait will be.

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