As downtown Cleveland continues to rebound from the pandemic, and as East 4th Street enters into yet another new era following a string of high-profile closures and openings, Ari Maron of MRN, which owns the majority of the block, this week announced plans to give the street a $1.65-million refresh and intentions on making it the city's first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area.
Maron wants to update lighting, amp up public art, move the valet operation, build a pocket park where that is now, hire more security, remove fencing and barriers to create open seating in the central business district's 450-foot-long stretch, and install a canopy designed by world-renowned architect Jenny Sabin, who has done work for Nike (see below) and others.
"I've been doing this 23 years, and I think that this is one of the most challenging environments we've had in some time," Maron told Scene. "And that's a huge part driving this."
While Ohio legalized DORAs in 2015, Cleveland has yet to take advantage. Shaker Heights established one in the Van Aken District in 2019, which has helped make it a popular destination. Columbus, Akron and Sandusky have also permitted them.
According to Ohio law, a DORA in Cleveland cannot exceed one square mile, and would require revelers of drinking age to use recognizable "DORA Cups" to keep it legal as they wander the area.
If MRN succeeds in winning city council's approval, which is likely to happen in February, the company hopes to increase foot traffic and bump up revenues for restaurants and bars on the street outside of days with sporting events and concerts.
Maron suggests it would help continue Downtown's conversion into a residential neighborhood and possibly bring a DORA to Euclid Ave.
"Part of the goal of this plan is to be a pilot," Maron said. "Our hope is that it expands to a greater part geographically, a greater part of Downtown."
Owners and MRN tenants on East 4th, who've been chatting about the DORA possibility for months, are mostly welcoming of a the makeover.
"The newest version activates under-utilized space and freshens the neighborhood's appeal, while retaining the best parts of East 4th's aesthetic," Andrew Watts, part owner of Cordelia, told Scene in an email. "Cordelia couldn't be happier to be on E.4th and are, along with MRN, looking decades down the road to ensure the street remains Cleveland's premier destination."
Others, like Robin Harris, the manager of the Wonder Bar, one of the few tenants in properties not owned by MRN, are optimistic but worry about what bringing down the barriers and fences could mean.
Harris, a longtime Downtown bar owner and deejay, said she's been increasingly worried about safety, a concern which she believes has contributed to less pedestrian traffic.
"Ten years ago, you couldn't move—wall to wall people," she said. "Everything bustling. It's not like that anymore. When I walk to my car, I go, 'What the heck happened to the street,' you know what I mean?"
Harris has security high on her wishlist. "We have no police!" she said.
Maron said that $200,000 of the $1.65-million price tag for the project will go to "the safety and security aspect"—new cameras, foot patrol. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance, he added, would funnel proceeds made from the 25-cent DORA cups into MRN's security budget. (Ohio law requires property owners and city council to have a precise security plan for their DORA written out and updated every few years.)
East 4th's makeover, which Maron plans to present to the landmarks commission this month and hopes will start buildout this summer, would be partially financed by using leftover funds from a 2002 TIF for development on lower Euclid.
Maron told Scene he hopes the project would help build momentum to fill vacant spaces around the area, like the original rebirth did.
"We've done it, and I think we need to do it again," he said, "and see if we can come up with a good strategy for how to activate the main street again."
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