Come Saturday, Ohio City will be bedlam, as it is
most Saturdays. The intersection of West 25th and Lorain will be endlessly logjammed as the suburban tourists descend upon the West Side Market with their bags and their strollers and all the force and rancor of the Uruk-hai. Rain or shine, the patios and plazas will be bustling with the pulse and patter of urban life.
And in short order—very short order, if developers jump on a study lately produced by the RTA and unanimously approved by the city—Cleveland's near West Side may see an influx of high-end renters.
The study, which Ohio City Inc's. director of economic development Tom McNair stresses is currently just a concept, calls for upwards of 200 residential units in a mixed-used development project located at Market Plaza on the corner of Lorain and West 25th.
The Plain Dealer has covered development developments (wink wink) closely this past week. Scene caught up with residents and business owners to see how they're taking the news in the 'hood. They tend to agree that this type of project is a boon for the community.
"It's long overdue," says Mark Raymond, founder of The Cleveland Hostel, located just south of Lorain. "It'll make the neighborhood more complete, make it more a place that you want to live and visit. And that'll make my guests happier."
Jennie Doran, of Room Service, the boutique shop next door, is "totally energized" by the prospects. Her store sells Cleveland-themed apparel and trinkets, and tends to attract the same type of shopper that might be looking for a rental near the rail line.
"My demographic is pretty diverse," Doran said. "But it does skew younger. I think this is all remarkable though, just a really remarkable movement. The confluence of people is always a positive. And the diversity here is incredible."
Asked whether large numbers of pricier rental properties might affect the neighborhood's diversity—you know, gentrification—she was unsure.
"I think it will change the face a little bit, but the positive aspects are so great not to," Doran said, who's lived in Ohio City herself for four years. "It's just sort of a wait and see thing."
Foot traffic has steadily increased near Doran's shop in conjunction with Ohio City's rise in popularity, but so has car traffic. She suspects the biggest hurdle for any potential developer in the Market Plaza location will be parking.
"It's a huge priority, but I think the people who are planning are really attuned to that," said Doran. "And with proximity to the RTA, they've got some interesting decisions to make."
Tom McNair knows firsthand. He's one of the only Ohio City Inc. staffers not to live in the neighborhood—he and his wife moved out to Shaker Square after searching unsuccessfully for a rental on the near west side—and he uses the Rapid station at West 25th every day.
"When you come out of it, it feels as if the entire neighborhood has turned its back on you," he said. "You've got a six-lane roadway off to your right-hand side. You've got that shuttle. You feel like you're dropped in this place where you kind of have to play Frogger just to get to the neighborhood."
(Incidentally, Mike McIntyre of the PD made a Frogger joke at the Cleveland Connects conversation about lakefront development earlier this month. It's a go-to reference for men of a certain age.)
RTA's proposed plan is what they're calling Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), signifying a densely populated, mixed-use project located very close to transit infrastructure that encourages ridership.
Though Ohio City Inc. mostly acts as an institutional facilitator—it won't be doing any development itself—McNair said the study was compelling enough for RTA to secure $3.5 million in funding for upgrades to the station. McNair would love to see an extension of the 16-foot pedestrian walkway over the Lorain-Carnegie bridge, and a reconfiguring of "that mess of roadways" where Gehring, Abbey, West 24th and Lorain converge.
Angie Schmitt, a Detroit-Shoreway resident and urbanist blogger who manages the transportation reform site Streetsblog, says investing in transit infrastructure is terrific, but only if there's a corresponding disinvestment in car infrastructure.
"That's really critical," said Schmitt in a phone interview. "I mean, they're competing modes. I live by the West 65th Street stop, and to get to Ohio City by transit, it costs me $4.50 round-trip. That discourages people because driving is cheaper. Cleveland really needs to rethink its policy toward cars."
Schmitt has been impressed with the RTA and thinks that stake-holding organizations are starting to recognize the potential for improved transit.
"But right now, the infrastructure doesn't really reflect that." Schmitt referenced underutilized Park-and-Ride Rapid stops as a prime example. Schmitt, however, is generally in favor of Transit-Oriented Development, from a financial, environmental and lifestyle perspective. She just hopes it's integrated into the community successfully.
Alex Nosse, a lifetime resident and owner of Joy Machines Bike Shop, isn't convinced that residential development and the outpouring of support is such a good thing.
"The main buzzword for Ohio City has always been diversity," Nosse said in an interview at Koffie Cafe. "And I mean actual diversity. I know a lot of people who use that word with absolutely no meaning attached to it. 'There are more businesses, so now it's more diverse!' or 'There are more people, so now it's more diverse!' That's not true. None of the projects in the pipeline right now are mixed-income. So it'll be a lot of white, middle-class people."
Nosse said one of the coolest things about the neighborhood is that it's been populated for decades by old-school residents whose values often superseded more conventional premiums on economic gain.
"They reveled in the fact that Ohio City was a community, and they didn't just use that as a buzzword." He said. "It's becoming an adult playground more and more every day and longtime residents are irate."
Nosse said he fears that people who are neutral on the subject tend to align themselves with the loudest side. In Cleveland, new development is big news. But there's a population of neighbors who've been in Ohio City long before it was trendy and whose voices aren't as glamorous or as fun. But they built the neighborhood, and they don't want to see it destroyed.