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Casino Inches Closer To Approval On Second Downtown Pedestrian Bridge

A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Ontario Avenue in Downtown Cleveland. [Cleveland Planning Commission]
A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Ontario Avenue in Downtown Cleveland.

The Cleveland Planning Commission Friday approved a schematic proposal from JACK Casino to build a second pedestrian bridge across Ontario Avenue downtown.

The bridge would connect the former May Company parking garage with the Higbee Building, which houses the casino.

The company needs the bridge not just for gamblers but to better market the 70,000 square feet of vacant office space in the Higbee Building above the casino, said Gino Del Pup, JACK Entertainment’s vice president of design and construction. Potential tenants are always turned off by the lack of parking, he said.

“The consistent theme is that there's just no covered parking,” he said. “They love the location, love the building, love the views, it's just the lack of covered parking.”

The bridge is just one element of what the company envisions as a more sweeping streetscape improvement plan for Ontario Avenue. Dan Gilbert and his family of companies already own much of the property along Ontario, including the May Company garage, which is targeted for a $35-million overhaul, and the proposed bridge could serve a secondary function as a visual gateway for the downtown, Gilbert’s reps say.

The planning commission’s Charles Slife pushed back at the notion.

“I personally don't think we need the bridge to say ‘Welcome to Cleveland’,” Slife said. “I think when you round that corner, you see the church, you see the courthouse, you see the traditional New England town square, that that's the entrance to Cleveland.”

Plenty of downtown office tenants manage without covered parking, Slife added.

The commission approved the plan conceptually with two dissentions – from Slife and city councilman Kerry McCormack, who represents Downtown – but said it wants to see a more refined version with streetscape enhancements before giving final approval.

Once the casino gets final approval from the city, JACK Entertainment CEO Mark Dunkenson said construction on the walkway would begin immediately and is expected to be completed within 14 months.

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.