17-Acre Park Envisioned for Irishtown Bend, Blending Cleveland's Past with Future

click to enlarge Irishtown Bend, as seen from the Columbus Avenue bridge. The acreage in question wraps around to Detroit Avenue. - ERIC SANDY / SCENE
Irishtown Bend, as seen from the Columbus Avenue bridge. The acreage in question wraps around to Detroit Avenue.
Long in the works and much talked-about, the Irishtown Bend project is seeking conceptual approval at a Sept. 1 Planning Commission meeting downtown. Located along the crook of the Cuyahoga River nearest to Merwin's Wharf, the unstable hillside of Irishtown Bend holds promise for city and neighborhood stakeholders envisioning a 17-acre park.

Developers and representatives will host a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. today to discuss the plans. The meeting will take place at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, on the St. Ignatius campus, 2008 W. 30th St.

click to enlarge 17-Acre Park Envisioned for Irishtown Bend, Blending Cleveland's Past with Future (2)
CMG/Michael Baker International
According to draft plans that will be showcased before city planners on Friday, the park will include a playground, a farmstand, a "sledding meadow," a canopy walk and connection to the Red Line Greenway, a "maritime theater" overlooking the city, and archaeological and historical sites to pair with beautified gardens. The history of Irishtown Bend settlements would be proudly displayed through the park. (Tucked beneath the Japanese knotweed along the hillside, it's very possible that there are foundations for those early structures awaiting discovery.)

"From where it started in April to where it is today it’s evolved a great deal," Ohio City Inc. executive director Tom McNair tells Scene. While the hillside's threat of "imminent collapse" and general danger prompted planning to begin in the early 2000s, the latest vision began in earnest after OCI and other partners corralled much-needed grant money to secure land ownership.

It's an ambitious plan with as-yet-unknown costs, but the first order of business will take care of the nagging problem of a dangerous slope. Prior to any park installations, the plan calls for a $50-million land stabilization job, funded mostly by the Port Authority and state grants. Once the pure grading of the land is taken care of, OCI looks forward to implementing the above vision.

The stabilization work was inevitable, what with the possibility of disrupting the region's $3.5-billion maritime industry. McNair says that the safety upgrade presented a unique juncture for city stakeholders: "Maybe there’s an opportunity here to not just look at this as stabilization — and we know we need to do that, that is the root of it all — but maybe we look at this as an opportunity to create a civic space around the hillside."

Multiple public meetings took place this year; tonight's meeting will once again welcome public feedback.

There is, through all of this, the human side of the coin. Public and transitional housing lines the top of the hillside (and further north along West 25th), where OCI has taken measures to include those residents in the planning. McNair pointed out that this vision represents the first waterfront park in the country tied intimately to public housing.

And an estimated 25 people live in Irishtown Bend itself. Over the past 20 years or so, anywhere from 20 to 40 people have called the forested area home, arranging their lives in tents and ad-hoc structures among the brush. "It's been an important refuge for the homeless community for a long time," Chris Knestrick says. The executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless says that those residents' individual wishes have so far been left out of the planning process.

The general idea right now is to move those residents into permanent supportive housing through the county. OCI has been working with Cuyahoga County's homeless services and with other agencies (FrontLine, the ADAMHS board) to find a housing solution for the inevitably displaced population.

Knestrick's contention is that the federal Uniform Act demands what would be about $18,000 to help fund the residents' relocation. Because federal dollars will be used in a later portion of the project — specifically the extension of the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail — that triggers a Uniform Act response.

But with the Port's land stabilization phase preceding any of that trail work, relocation will need to take place before federal dollars enter the picture. The Port's bulkhead work is expected to begin later this year.

"[The current plan] doesn't respect people's agency to choose what they want to do," Knestrick says, adding that NEOCH and other organizations are experienced in helping to create individualized relocation plans that might differ from person to person. "Cleveland is not a city that displaces people. Our priority should be the people who are most vulnerable."

That facet of the Irishtown Bend plan and much more will be on display at the Breen Center meeting this evening.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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