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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cleveland is Great at Talking About its Waterfront

Posted By on Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 10:49 AM

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Here is Cleveland's approach to waterfront development: talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk.

(I just typed "talk" like twenty times before remembering that I could just copy and paste a string of them, by the way.)

True to form, Ideastream hosted a Cleveland Connects community conversation about our waterfront last night in conjunction with the Plain Dealer and PNC bank — more talking! "Sound of Ideas" host Mike McIntyre moderated what turned out to be a discussion with little substance or new information.

Lisa Shroeder, the President and CEO of the Pittsburgh nonprofit development organization Riverlife, delivered the keynote address. The presentation was a self-described "zoom tour" through her organization's multiple riverfront development projects.

She joined Chris Warren (Cleveland's Development Chief), Debbie Berry (University Circle Inc. / Metroparks), Jennifer Coleman (Cleveland Landmarks Commission), and Joe Roman (Greater Cleveland Partnership) on a panel whose members tended to skirt the most pressing concerns.

At one point, McIntyre read a question submitted by an audience member which went something like: "We had community conversations like this 13 years ago. Ideas aren't in short supply. Why is Cleveland so bad at implementing them?" The studio audience — a capacity crowd of 300 at the Westfield Insurance Studio Theater — roared with applause.

Chris Warren responded that the past decade or so had been "setting the table" for upcoming projects.

Bigger-ticket Lakefront development was the primary focus — as opposed to, say, kayak excursions on the Cuyahoga — and Warren reiterated Mayor Jackson's inflexible allegiance to Burke Lakefront Airport. He said a decision had been made in 2007 and they're sticking with it.

Awesome.

Which means 100 acres — about four Midwestern city blocks — are now up for grabs behind the stadium, and the city is basically open to suggestions. Warren issued an open call on yesterday's "Sound of Ideas."

Coleman kept repeating that Cleveland needs to prioritize "telling our story" vis-a-vis development, presumably from a design perspective, utilizing what makes Cleveland so Clevelandey to steer the focus and feel of projects.

Agreed. The port and the marinas are natural resources to be leveraged in both practical and aesthetic terms. But the personality of upcoming projects weren't discussed, even in speculation (except Coleman's prognosis that "cozy" communal spaces might be the ticket.)

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In fairness, this wasn't a brainstorm session helmed by design experts and urban planners, though that frankly would've been much more exciting.

Here's the bummer: The prospect of anything happening on the waterfront is really cool and really infectious, especially if you're energized by Cleveland (or at least trying to be) and to hear panelists, our city leaders, reminding us that this shit takes decades and saying things like "That'll be something for our partners to figure out" — on the question of water quality — and "we should definitely borrow from Chicago and other cities" — on the question of adopting successful waterfront models (something which literally every single person from Cleveland who's been to Chicago has said a gazillion times before) — was pretty dispiriting.

Definitely some healthy ra-ra moments: celebrating Battery Park on the West Side, Quay 55 on the East, and phase one of the glitzy Flats East Bank project; but little in the way of cohesive development strategy. The most obvious takeaway from Shroeder's Riverlife talk was the fact that an entity devoted exclusively to riverfront development existed in the first place.

The creation of something like that in Cleveland seems like a good place to start.

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