The City’s Promising Lakefront Plan Presented at Tuesdays at REI

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Wed, 04/20/2005 - 17:45.

The City’s Lakefront Plan was the topic of a recent Tuesdays at REI. Chris Ronyane and Debbie Berry from city hall were there to present the plan to a packed lecture hall in the Peter B. Lewis Building. Audience members included many CASE students from Economics 395, a class on public policy sponsored by the Richard Shatten Memorial Fund.

Ronyane began his talk with a comprehensive historical overview of Cleveland’s use of the lakefront. He began with Moses Cleaveland who arrived in 1796 from Connecticut. Early settlers largely avoided the lakefront because natural features made access difficult and for fear of waterborne diseases. The next significant lakefront development was in 1903 when Chicago architect Daniel Burnham designed 7 classical buildings for Cleveland. Burnham’s plan did not focus on lake access due to the natural bluffs that border the lake. Ronyane’s slides of East 9th Street Pier in 1915 showed large boats docked there, a reminder of Cleveland’s once thriving passenger boat service. Slides of photographs from the 1930s showed how tourists flocked to the lakefront to see aquatic shows with Esther Williams and other celebrities as part of the Great Lakes Exposition. Cleveland’s first (and last) comprehensive lakefront plan was in 1946, it was considered successful and 2/3 of the plan was implemented.

A new lakefront plan is long overdue, but one has been in the planning stages for the past few years. In 2002 1,000s of Clevelanders met in community forums around the city to discuss what they wanted for the lakefront, though some citizen were skeptical that soliciting public opinion was only for show. Finally, in November of 2004 the current lakefront plan was first presented at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in the Detroit-Shoreway Neighborhood of Cleveland’s westside.

The city’s lakefront plan is a fifty-year vision with a five point agenda: sustainability, water related improvements, access and connections to the waterfront, parks and open space and neighborhood development. Some of the specific details of the plan include transforming the Shoreway into a 35 mile per hour boulevard with 6 grade level crossings, creating 8 miles of connected parks along the lake with 500 acres of new public space, reusing and maintaining existing buildings and infrastructure and maximizing property value. The public parks aspect of the plan includes improving existing parks and creating new parks. Gordon Park, which is now separated by the highway, would be reconnected. Dike 14, a new 88-acre prime bird watching space recently created by landfill would be opened to the public. And as one audience member brought to the group’s attention, public access to Whiskey Island should also be preserved.

Some aspects require further study such as who would be responsible for long term maintenance of the parks and how it would be funded. Ronyane is in favor of the Metroparks taking over lakefront parks, but this would require a vote to provide the Metroparks with the necessary funding to do the job.

One criticism of the plan is the 15 year tax abatements 1000s of new housing units plan to offer. There is currently no provision to reimburse schools for the loss of tax dollars. While attracting new residents to Cleveland with the condos that are springing up all over Cleveland’s westside it is important not to leave behind a generation of school children who are currently growing up in less attractive real-estate.

One audience member asked what the city planned to do about pollution in the lake and on beaches. Ronayne referred the question to a representative from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in the audience. Without being specific, he said that plans to deal with such issues were in the works. The next day an article with the specifics ran in the metro section of the Plain Dealer. A major upgrade of Greater Cleveland’s sewers estimated to cost $1.6 billion is scheduled to start later this year. The improvements will have a great impact on water quality -- preventing 5.5 billion gallons of pollution from pouring into the lake annually. Anyone who walks the beach at Edgewater Park, fishes along the break wall or goes boating at one of the nearby marinas or yacht clubs knows water quality currently detracts from public enjoyment of the lake. Though the upgrades to the sewer system will not happen overnight improving water quality will be as important as improving access to the lake.

Perhaps what is most encouraging about the city’s lakefront plan is that it intends to utilize Cleveland’s unique selling points. This includes keeping the Steamship William G. Mather Museum – a 1929 618’ iron ore carrier that tells the story of Cleveland’s industrial history. Other aspects of Cleveland’s history that the new lakefront plan intends to capitalize on are The Warehouse District, canals, and the Hulett iron ore unloaders. The Huletts were recently dismantled, but one was put in storage to be relocated and reassembled later. City planners have also looked to models of other waterfront cities with climates similar to Cleveland’s as models for our lakefront plan.

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