Like a gilded octopus, Dan Gilbert's reach is thrusting deeper into the core of downtown Cleveland. Unsurprisingly, it's angering a lot of people.
To be clear, we're talking profound anger.
Last week, the Ohio Casino Control Commission gave the go-ahead to Horseshoe owner Rock Ohio Caesars' plans to construct a $5-million skywalk from the casino to its neighboring parking garage. In essence, good-timers traveling from out of the city won't have to denigrate themselves by strolling along Ontario to get to the would-be focal point of Cleveland. Yay?
It's a singular plan that does little to consider the grand scheme of Cleveland development and does a lot to underscore the casino operator's prominence and arrogance. But the opposition is vocal in town. At times, it seems like all of Cleveland will burn to the ground upon construction of this thing. Really, though, that probably won't happen.
It's true that skywalks were once seen as a Jetsons-esque embrace of the FUTURE!, but cities across the U.S. have actually spent time and money recently to tear down these people tubes. In most cases, they're seen as a detriment to further development and a hindrance in attracting pedestrians and other life forms to downtown sidewalks.
Detroit's Greektown Casino (newly owned by Gilbert) offers a comparison to Cleveland's situation. Since 2007, the casino has sucked up square footage in the city's once-authentic neighborhood. A skywalk funnels incoming bettors toward the building and away from the streets. After a while, there wasn't even a remote desire for the floundering Greek restaurants on Monroe Street and elsewhere. (It's fine, though; most shut down).
Here's a choice quote coughed up by Gilbert after his Greektown acquisition cleared in April: "Gaming in our view is a downtown activity and a development magnet. We don't look at it as a bunker where we want to keep people in all day long. We're looking for two-way traffic. We want to push people out to businesses and also attract them into the casino." It's so weird, though, because so much of what Rock Ohio Caesars is doing in Cleveland flies in the face of that.
On the surface, the whole skywalk thing is kinda innocuous. But greased by city stakeholders and championed by those precious few, it's yet another step in a corporate catering direction. Really, the crowd using Horseshoe's valets and the casino's impending skywalk are a fringe and suburban bunch. But the red carpet almost makes it seem like this is Cleveland's most prized demographic.
Time and time again, these civic matters that blow up into Avengers-level proportions a) aren't worth the ink with which they're discussed and b) revert dialogue back to a question of return on investment. What's the precedent being set here? Well, call a skywalk a skywalk and realize simply that there IS a precedent being set. There's the answer, and little more can be done to assuage the dissent of the dissenters or provoke critical thought in the supporters.
Among all the recent rumblings of development, development, development, city leaders seem to be throwing down palm fronds for everyone who isn't a resident of Cleveland.
It'd sure be nice, of course, if the skywalk bore any aesthetic appeal. Renderings show a polygonic member bursting forth across Ontario and Prospect. With Horseshoe's rather lame logo humming in the background, the whole thing is enough to induce twitches and spasms - and *not* the good kind.
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