A Hotel On Every Empty Acre: Cleveland's Hospitality Hunger Arrives on the Lakefront

click to enlarge North Harbor, looking south at the grassy area where a hotel might one day sprout. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
North Harbor, looking south at the grassy area where a hotel might one day sprout.

We discussed the city's budding "lakefront development" plan a few months back when City Council approved a piecemeal approach to following through on oft-ballyhooed promises. Steven Litt, seemingly carrying the Plain Dealer mantle solely on his back these days, appropriately revives that convo today, explaining that plans to erect a potentially six- to eight-floor hotel on the "grassy area between the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock Hall" would kill an iconic slice of our city's aesthetics. Probably more troublesome, Litt writes, is how the hotel would interfere with plans to construct a pedestrian bridge from the Malls to the lakefront.

With hotels opening up around town just about each week at this point — including most recently at the cryptically named and super-sized entertainment hub (or something), The 9 — the question du jour stands: Can Cleveland handle all these hotel rooms?

(w/r/t Litt's argument: Bear in mind also that the skyline will already be interrupted visually by the county-funded downtown Hilton, set to open like so many other things around here in time for the Republican National Convention. At the very least and for whatever it's worth, the renderings have the hotel looking fairly snazzzzzzy. Plus, hey, a rooftop bar will accent the joint.)

ANYWAY, to answer the question at hand, we'll all soon see what's up with the hospitality bet. The zeal is certainly outwardly exciting. Think of all the weary travelers we can now house after a thrilling Cavs victory at the Q! Or, or, think of the sheer humanity Cleveland can swallow as the RNC descends upon our asphalt! 

It's weird, though, because LeBron's return and the RNC's scheduled drop-in are cited as the two major economic boons for Cleveland — the two driving forces in convincing city leaders that hotel rooms are needed, like, yesterday. (No one seriously submits Dan Gilbert's goofy casino deception as a tourism "destination," right?) But, see, the Cavs don't play every night. And the RNC sure as hell isn't going to hang around Cleveland any longer than is needed to foist Marco Rubio on the nation. 

The argument over filling rooms will unfold in the coming years, primarily on cold, gray nights long after the Republicans have skipped town. 

To get back to the lakefront hotel plan, a key point from Litt:
[Developers] Pace and Trammell Crow have been asked to follow the 2012 lakefront plan approved by City Council, which among other things called for a two story retail and entertainment building to be wedged unobtrusively between the Rock Hall and the Science Center, to connect and serve both buildings.

The idea of putting a hotel tower on the same site, atop the two-story platform, is not a minor variation from the publicly approved plan. It's a sharp departure.

The risk to the public in exploring this idea is that Pace might find that the market – and lenders - would be eager to support it.

If that's the case, the city could soon feel pushed to accept a project likely to create the impression that the harbor is being walled off - exactly what it doesn't need or want to do.

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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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