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Divided Over Legacy Village

Thursday, October 23, 2003 at 1:45 PM

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This Friday marks the grand opening of a new shopping venue for Greater Clevelanders - not just new in time, but new in concept as well. Legacy Village, located in the eastern suburb of Lyndhurst is among the first so-called "lifestyle centers" to spring up in Northeast Ohio. The complex combines upscale shopping with dining and entertainment, and offers a carefully designed small town ambience that backers hope will become a premier destination in the region. But paving over prime green space on the property formerly occupied by TRW has been controversial. Now that the project is done, Lyndhurst residents are still divided on whether developing the land for retail use was a good idea. ideastream's Bill Rice reports.

Mitchell Schneider beams as he introduces Legacy Village to area media. He’s President of First Interstate, Inc., the local development company that ultimately won the bid to buy and develop 67 acres of land off of Interstate 271. Only half a mile from Beachwood Place, Legacy Village, Mitchell says, was built to compliment the popular indoor mall.

Mitchell Schneider: Our specific goal was to have a very eclectic tenant mix with a lot very unique tenants, to not try to compete directly with Beachwood Place and become a second fashion center.

Rather, Mitchell says, home accessories retailers have a strong presence at Legacy Village. But the complex is intended to be much more than shopping mall. The “lifestyle center,” a relatively new trend in retail venues, is designed to emulate a traditional small-town center - cobblestone streets lined with stores, restaurants, outdoor cafes - where people will feel some sense of community.

Mitchell Schneider: Whether it’s a 10% probability or a 70% probability, they’re going to run into someone they know. Maybe they’ll stop at Starbucks and have a cup of coffee or pick up an ice cream cone. Maybe they’ll have an informal lunch date with someone. What these spaces are intended to do is create an informal public venue for people to be able to communicate with each other.

Schneider’s confidence in the lifestyle center’s viability in the retail market is evident. And he expects Legacy Village to become a boon to the city of Lyndhurst. It’s a much needed one, especially since TRW merged with defense giant Northrop Grumman and closed its corporate headquarters. But many city residents had long opposed developing the property for commercial purposes, and today remain apprehensive. Virginia Aveni was part of the group Citizens for a livable Lyndhurst, which two years ago campaigned strongly against the project. She says a long standing master plan for Lyndhurst called for residential development on the property.

Virginia Aveni: And in fact the city’s position with the county planning commission which did this master plan, actually declared we want no retail on Cedar Road. I mean, that was the position of city fathers.

And so, Aveni says, it was a surprise when TRW proposed rezoning a portion of its property for retail development. And, she says, city residents were conspicuously left out of the decision.

Virginia Aveni: There was no convening of discussions even to speak to the concerns that we had. It was all done in the public meetings where we were presented with the fait accompli.

Dick Geier, who also actively opposed the Legacy Village project, agrees.

Dick Geier: Unfortunately we were out gunned by developers and people that took a short view of development for the city of Lyndhurst.

And many concerns were, in Geier’s opinion, not sufficiently addressed. The lifestyle center concept is unproven; it may fly in the short run, but will its popularity last? Also, the Cedar Road/271 interchange is already snarled with traffic; yet another big commercial venue, some fear, will make it worse. Add to those environmental concerns and the loss of green space, Geier says, and the city as a whole loses its character as a bedroom community.

Dick Geier: There was a potential, I think, of developing an area where the more successful residents of Lyndhurst could live instead of going to Nurture, Hunting Valley, or Gates Mills or Solon or some other community. That opportunity’s been lost.

What rankles Geier most, though, is what he sees as a lack of public process in approving the project. The re-zoning of the land from residential to commercial use occurred through a ballot referendum and not by way of traditional city government channels. Geier says TRW was heavy handed in its campaign to get the project approved, not only spending a million dollars on the campaign but also suggesting it would re-locate if the ballot measure lost. It won by just 63 votes, and Geier says TRW wound up leaving anyway.

Backers of Legacy Village have high hopes for it becoming a strong asset for Lyndhurst. But, concedes Vice Mayor Joe Cicero, who is currently running for Mayor, nothing is guaranteed.

Joe Cicero: Legacy Village as the kind of lifestyle shopping center that it is, offers something we’ve never seen before in Northeast Ohio. So we really don’t know what the long term affect will be. Our hope is that it will generate the tax base that TRW had given us before they left. I believe that we’re going to be guaranteed that in the next few years.

Now, on the eve of Legacy Village’s debut, workers are still adding the finishing touches, and store and restaurant employees are gearing up to serve their first customers. Those who opposed the complex are resigned to it. But disappointment lingers. Virginia Aveni.

Virginia Aveni: You accept things you can’t change, and so I hope this is going to be a really good development and that it will actually give a little cache to Lyndhurst, which is a fairly dull, common suburb otherwise. So you look for what’s good and maybe make lemonade out of lemons.

In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3. 

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