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Cleveland Mayor Insists This Time Lakefront Development Plan Is Real

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, presenting the latest lakefront development plan (pic by Brian Bull)
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, presenting the latest lakefront development plan (pic by Brian Bull)

Old story, fresh optimism. While city officials have made many promises before about developing the Lake Erie waterfront and various interests have squabbled for years on how to make the best use of Cleveland's land, Mayor Frank Jackson says this proposal will settle the issue.

"There's no more question about us being able to develop a waterfront, it's just a matter of what," Jackson said at a press conference.

The plan calls for the port and Burke Airport to remain intact, and continue on as a working port and a mainly private aircraft airport. New would be a hotel, marinas, restaurants, shops and a couple million square feet of office space. Plus, pedestrian walkways - some of the all-weather variety -- that would connect the mall area near city hall with the Great Lakes Science Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the new developments.

Stan Eckstut is one of the architects and consults who's developed the plan for the redesigned waterfront.

"It's got a mix of uses," says Eckstut. "Lots of public spaces, landings, a town square in the middle. We see a great promenade along the waterfront. A place where even in the wintertime you're buffeted by winds, and you have a mix of uses to enjoy, seven days a week."

The Port Authority Director was at the mayor's side. The port proposed its own plan earlier this year but port officials say it meshes with the Mayor's plan. The Cleveland Browns --which put forward its lakefront initiative earlier this year -- is also on board with the Mayor.

"The Browns are looking very much forward to making this vision...a reality," said Fred Nance, general counsel for the Browns, at today's press event. "And ladies and gentlemen, a lot of us have been in Cleveland a long time, we've heard a lot of lakefront plans, but I'm here to tell you this morning, that this one is a concept that may morph here or there, but this one is going to happen."

The Browns have no plans to invest in the project themselves but have indicated they'd help convince other potential investors, and talk up the effort.

Most of the money would come from private investors. The Mayor and other backers suggest that could be as much as $2-billion, but not all at once. Full implementation might take 25 years, according to the plan. A much smaller portion would come from the city and the federal government, enough though to pay for the pedestrian bridge

Mayor Jackson moved quickly to try and dispel doubters who might say "talk is cheap."

"Even though we do not have all of the finances in order or can guarantee you today what's going to happen, I can say that the City of Cleveland has put in an application for a TIGER grant, that will help support this project, and we will be as a city, making some short-term investments on the lakefront that will follow this plan."

Those TIGER grants come from the federal Department of Transportation for road and infrastructure improvement. Federal money would pay for the pedestrian walkway, but that's only a fraction of the total development planned.

One of those cheering the city on is Jim Gorjup, chief operating officer at a floating office, already in the proposed development zone. His software company, LeanDog, has occupied the former Hornblowers Barge site since it went out of business 2009. He says he's also confident that this latest proposal will float, though he's not sure just why others have failed.

"I don't know if it's a lack of leadership both at the city and political level, I don't know if it's just private investors not wanting to throw their monies into a project that may fizzle, right?" asks Gorjup. "I know the workforce would probably like to come downtown to draw east and west along with south, to a central location for working."

The Consolidated Downtown Waterfront Plan -- as the Mayor calls it -- begins with the marina and pedestrian bridge across the harbor scheduled for completion in 2013. The grand scale hotels, restaurants, shops, and other amenities all come later.

Maybe much later.