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Recreating Lake Erie’s Shoreline:  New Waterfront Designs Call For More Public Spaces

Wednesday, October 11, 2000 at 1:46 PM

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In recent years, Cleveland's downtown waterfront has changed. The Flats, North Coast Harbor, and the Cleveland Browns Stadium have all contributed to the transformation of a once-derelict urban landscape. But local planners say that's not enough. Two new proposals to reshape the Lake Erie waterfront are now on the table. Critics say the plans need more public input. They say they want more public access to Ohio's greatest natural resource. 90.3's Karen Schaefer reports.

Karen Schaefer- For decades, Cleveland has turned its back on Lake Erie. From Lakewood to Euclid, the shoreline today is dominated by private homes and power plants, government installations and the detritus of an industrial heyday.

Along that stretch of shoreline - fourteen miles in all - less than two miles of parks and open space offer public access to the water. But that could be changing. At a forum held last week by the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition, planning director Hunter Morrison outlined the city’s proposal to transform a portion of Cleveland’s lakefront.

Hunter Morrison- What you cross over to is a North Coast Harbor that is in a second iteration, an iteration that is more oriented towards families, more oriented towards 12-month-a-year activities, more oriented towards commercial activities as well as just fun things like ferris wheels.

KS- The city’s plan would link a redesigned Convention Center with dramatic changes at the North Coast Harbor on E. 9th Street. Highlights would include commercial development, a transient marina, and a ferry dock. But at last week’s meeting, the city’s proposal drew numerous criticisms from the audience. Some people challenged the removal of the Mather, the harbor’s floating ore boat museum. Others questioned adding more attractions to a lakefront made inhospitable by blustery Cleveland winters. Morrison calls the plan a work in progress. But it’s not the only proposal on the table. Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora says his redevelopment of convention center and lakefront properties would save the city big bucks.

Jimmy Dimora- Trying to restore an existing building is much more expensive than building anew - so I looked at it and said, why not just to take a flat piece of land where you could build on top of the land and then build your convention center more cost-effective or cheaper.

KS- Dimora’s plan calls for building a new convention center and hotel at the end of W. 3rd Street. Retail shops, residential space, and at least ten acres of green space would sit atop underground storage for Cleveland’s $6 million-a-year Lake Erie shipping industry. Dimora claims his development could be funded entirely by public/private partnerships and existing bed tax dollars. The only sticking point might be the project site, 28 acres of land now owned by the Port of Cleveland. Cheryl Davis is director of strategic planning for the joint city/county Port Authority.

Cheryl Davis- Well, one of the plans is certainly outside the boundaries of the Port Authority and the other plan certainly is on property currently owned by the Port Authority and our board has certainly been willing to look at any project that’s brought before it and give it a good review and close examination.

KS- Davis makes it clear that relocating the Port is not an option. She says the Port Authority’s master plan calls for expansion of its facilities as far west as Whiskey Island. Some people, like Cleveland City Council President Mike Polensek, are even questioning whether lakefront development is a high priority. He believes it’s vital to consider all the options before making decisions like those that led to huge cost overruns at the stadium.

Mike Polensek- I mean we need to take our time and we need to look at it, we cannot afford to make the mistakes that have been made in the past as pertains to development in this city. And let’s really think about what type of lakefront do we want to have, so when we decide to move forward it will be something that all of us can buy into.

KS- Many stakeholders say they want a plan that isn’t a carbon copy of similar developments in Chicago, Boston or Seattle. For others like the 23-year-old Cleveland Waterfront Coalition public access to Lake Erie is the key issue. But board member Pat Campbell says public input is just as important.

Pat Campbell- The public was not significantly involved in the generation of either of these plans and as a result, they’re not really as good or as comprehensive as they could be. You really need to invite everybody to the table.

KS- Dozens of other, smaller proposals for lakefront development come from groups as wide-ranging as the Sierra Club and the Sculpture Center. One plan would create a state park from Cuyahoga River dredgings contained offshore at the end of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Another key issue if the future of Burke Lakefront Airport, where the city is spending tens of thousands of dollars as part of its plan to improve Cleveland’s air service. David Beach of EcoCity Cleveland says cities like Chicago are plowing under their lakeside runways to create more green space.

David Beach- No one’s done the alternative study of what we’re giving up by having two miles of our downtown lakefront that’s off-limits to the public. So, if you want to talk about the major opportunity for a wonderful public park along our lakefront downtown, Burke Lakefront Airport is the place we want to talk about.

KS- Beach says that whatever the shape of the final product, planners will probably need a year to make their decisions. City officials say the complexities of funding a multi-jurisdictional project on the lakefront may require enabling state legislation before a bond issue can appear on the ballot. And that should also give Cleveland residents plenty of time to make their voices heard. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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