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Cleveland Takes Up New Lakefront Plan, This One Driven By The Browns

A new plan for the Downtown lakefront calls for a pedestrian greenway linking Mall C with the harbor. [Cleveland Browns]
An artist's rendering of a pedestrian greenway crossing railroad tracks and the Shoreway on Downtown Cleveland's lakefront

Updated 9:27 a.m., May 18, 2021

Cleveland has long dreamed up plans for its Downtown lakefront, only to realize those visions in a piecemeal, halting way. This week, city officials unveiled a new such idea for the Lake Erie shoreline, this one driven by the Cleveland Browns.

Drawings presented to Cleveland City Council on Monday show the grassy downtown mall stretching over the railroad tracks and Shoreway that separate the city from the lakefront. A hotel, a pedestrian promenade and other buildings surround the city-owned FirstEnergy Stadium.

“This is just a preliminary vision,” Haslam Sports Group General Counsel Ted Tywang told council members, “and it’s exciting, and hopefully it really starts the discussion. But we know how much work remains and we’re at the very beginning.”

This plan would also retool the Shoreway near the stadium. Eastbound traffic would have to exit the road at West Sixth Street, turning onto a new Shoreway boulevard at West Third, Cleveland’s Chief of Regional Development Ed Rybka said.

The Browns assembled the team of architects and engineers who produced the renderings city council reviewed on Monday, according to the team. Council members and mayoral staff were effusive in their thanks for the team and its owners, Jimmy and Dee Haslam.

“I cannot overemphasize what the Cleveland Browns did,” Rybka said. “And it has nothing to do with that hundred-yard field you see on your screen now. It’s them stepping up as a good corporate citizen.”

Still, the plan requires more study, he said. The next step for the city is an $8.1 million engineering study and traffic analysis. The city is requesting $5.6 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation for that work, Rybka said. The funding application estimated that the overall project could cost $229 million.

“This is very bold, and really a very great look at what the lakefront could look like,” Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said, while noting there are “plenty of plans on plenty of shelves” for the city’s north coast.

Almost a decade ago, Mayor Frank Jackson unveiled a development plan that called for a hotel, restaurants and shops along the lakefront. In 2014, Cleveland selected Cumberland Development to build apartments and office space around the stadium and East Ninth Street. That relationship yielded apartments and a restaurant near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, before the city and developer nixed their deal in 2020.

Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones, who, like Kelley, is running for mayor this year, said he supported the plan and Downtown investment, but wanted to see more attention elsewhere in the city.

“It’s not about an either/or, but it’s a reality that on the East Side and the West Side, across the whole city, that there are specific pockets that feel as if they have been forgotten,” he said.

Rybka did not outline how the $229 million cost would be financed, but said the project would “leverage private investment.” In a story posted to the Browns’ website, the team pledged its “full support” to the plan, but did not specify whether that meant financial support beyond the initial planning.

Without private sector money, the idea won’t go very far, Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek said.

“It’s probably one of the boldest designs that I have seen in my time here for the lakefront. That in itself is impressive,” Polensek said. “I’m going to be looking at who is prepared to step up at the plate and help pay for this project, or be engaged in that process. Because if not, it won’t happen.”

nick.castele@ideastream.org | 216-916-6288