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Redesigning Cleveland’s Waterfront

Friday, February 22, 2002 at 3:51 PM

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For decades, the city of Cleveland literally turned its back on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. Now improved water quality has drawn many people to view the waterways as two of Cleveland's biggest assets. But who's deciding how the lakefront and riverfront should be developed? Many residents think it's time for the people's voice to be heard. At a recent conference, civic and government leaders laid out a number of new plans that could fundamentally change the way Clevelanders connect with water. They're calling for more public access - and more public participation in the planning process. 90.3 WCPN's Karen Schaefer reports.

Karen Schaefer: The basic concept is simple. Enhance the city’s greatest natural resources - its waterways - and you improve both the city’s environmental and economic health. Other cities have done it. Improvements in Seattle’s Puget Sound, on Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront, and along Chattanooga’s Tennessee River have all been touted as models of urban planning and economic revitalization. It’s an idea whose time has come. And many civic and government leaders like Councilman Joe Cimperman are adamant that now, it’s Cleveland’s turn.

Joe Cimperman:We must recognize the greatest planning errors I would venture, in the Midwest, ever created in American history. The first being the horrible planning of the innerbelt. The second being the completely stupid planning of Burke Lakefront Airport. And I think if there is one maxim that today must produce, let it be this: that our plans must have at them their main component, that we must be able to touch the water.

KS: But the complex array of proposals is almost overwhelming. That’s why proponents of waterfront redesign got together recently with city residents to lay out all the possibilities. Mayor Jane Campbell has taken the lead in calling for a regional public planning process, possibly the first in Northeast Ohio’s history.

Jane Campbell: I always figured that the best symbol of how we didn’t understand what a resource the Lake was, is he architecture of the Holiday Inn Lakeside. I believe that we have the only parking garage with a view of the Lake. Our challenge really is to connect all of those plans and to infuse into those plans a sense of how do we go from plans on paper to changes that really make a difference…

KS: After years of spot development in the Flats and on Cleveland’s downtown waterfront, Campbell and others believe it’s time to take a more systematic approach to reshaping lake and river margins. One starting point is the re-design of Cleveland’s innerbelt highway. Now the 6-lane interstate mostly hugs the coast, allowing travelers only brief, blurred glimpses of Lake Erie at 50 miles an hour. A proposal from the Greater Cleveland Growth Association would move the Shoreway back away from the lake. The Association’s Dave Goss says it would free up more than 400 lakefront acres for new green space and development.

Dave Goss: Well, I think the issue is that this needs to be a public-private partnership in that it does now need to move into the public domain. You know, it was with some fear that we did this, but somebody had to take the leadership to get this concept out there. And I think we are just as concerned about quality of life as we are about improving the tax base and economic development from the business community.

KS: But there are other downtown projects that would need to be considered in the context of innerbelt re-design. One is the need for and placement of a new convention center. Others include the new proposed Crawford Museum and expansion plans for the Port of Cleveland. The Port’s maritime director Steve Pfeiffer says the Port could move anywhere along the lakefront - and that the lakefront itself could move.

Steve Pfeiffer: We have a submerged land lease with the state of Ohio for 43,000 acres going into the Lake. There is an opportunity to create additional lands going north from here, for whatever the community decides they want to see on their lakefront.

KS: Other proposals call for bringing the Ohio Canalway Corridor into the heart of the city, connecting it to neighborhoods with arteries of greenbelts and bikeways. One of the most comprehensive plans from the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission proposes that all future regional development be based on an green space model. And groups like the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership are working to clean up smaller streams and tributaries to make them healthier and more attractive to residents and visitors. Putting all this together with public input will take major civic planning. But Cleveland’s new Planning Director, Chris Ronayne, says that’s exactly what the city is preparing to do.

Chris Ronayne: Come April, you will see the city reinitiate a city-wide planning process that will, over the course of the next year, constitute a number of public meetings in the neighborhoods, anywhere from a dozen to a couple dozen. A component of our citywide plan is the lakefront plan. And at the end, it hasn’t just been planning, it’s implementable. And our infrastructure is in place and sometime certain where folks can actually connect to neighborhoods by way of multi-purpose trails and get to their lake and get to their river. We’re really excited about the opportunity.

KS: Civic leaders who’ve long called for more public access and public input say they’re pleased that the city and county are finally moving the planning issue to the top of the regional agenda. David Beach heads EcoCity Cleveland, an environmental urban design group.

David Beach: I think the turnout today vividly demonstrates that there’s a tremendous citizen interest in our lakefront, our riverfront, all these issues. And it also shows that people are encouraged by the fact that we have a mayor now who seems to be open to a public process where people can get involved in determining the future on these issues.

KS: But so far, there is no real mandate to follow up on a public process for planning the future of the city’s waterways. And as yet, the price tag for all these projects hasn’t even been discussed. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.

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