Irishtown Bend Park Project Receives a $5 Million Matching Grant Boost From Mandel Foundation

The park coalition needs to raise another $28 million

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click to enlarge Irishtown Bend in 2019. A recent $5 million matching grant this week advances the untouched riverfront space toward its projected three-year evolution into a 23-acre park. - aerialagents/Instagram
aerialagents/Instagram
Irishtown Bend in 2019. A recent $5 million matching grant this week advances the untouched riverfront space toward its projected three-year evolution into a 23-acre park.

The last missing piece to connect the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to Lake Erie — and Ohio City to its riverfront — moved closer to its total funding goal ahead of construction partners hope begins in 2026.

The Mandel Foundation yesterday awarded Irishtown Bend's coalition a $5 million challenge grant. The park will have two years to raise the matching funds.

With about $17 million committed, the group needs some $28 million more by 2025-2026 to keep on schedule. In 2021, the Cleveland Metroparks made a $3.3 million commitment to the build Irishtown's riverfront trail and boardwalk. The Gund Foundation also recently donated $3.1 million to the effort.

Funding aside, plans for the 23-acre public park recently encountered legal hurdles.

Since July, the Port of  Cleveland, which is in charge of the two-year, $53-million land stabilization process, has been attempting to secure the long-vacant Royal Castle building on the corner of West 25th and Detroit under claims of eminent domain. That building is owned by Bobby George and his father, and is valuable mainly for the billboard atop the building.

The Georges in 2021 sued the Port over the eminent domain move and in November Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John Sutula issued a preliminary injunction against the Port and park partners, saying that George does not have to accept the $360,000 "good-faith offer" for the parcel.

"The work to stabilize the hillside can begin without involving the Plaintiff's property," Sutula wrote in an opinion this fall. "The court further finds that the plaintiff has met its burden of showing that the defendant's actions related to its attempted appropriation of the property constitute an abuse of authority due to lack of: 1) necessity, 2) good faith, and 3) strict adherence to the statutory procedures governing the exercise of the agency's power of eminent domain."

The Port and its partners have filed notice of an appeal to the 8th District. Briefs are due later this month and in January.

Reached for comment, Bobby George told Scene, "I feel like we're having positive discussions."

Tom McNair, head of Ohio City, Inc., brushed off any anxiety about George's half-acre property and said with momentum on the funding side there's every reason to focus on the work at hand and not the lone property holdout.

"That building represents about two percent of the the total hillside," McNair said. "The Port is going to find a way to stabilize the land—we're going to create a world-class park on whatever land is available to us."

McNair and group need some $28 million more by 2026 to keep on schedule, funding, he said, that could come from a range of sources. In 2021, the Cleveland Metroparks made a $3.3 million commitment to the build Irishtown's riverfront trail and boardwalk. The Gund Foundation also recently donated $3.1 million to the effort.

Though tree removal began on Irishtown in March, the meat of the stabilization process has yet to receive a green light. With an aim to start in early 2023, the Port is planning to install steel tie rods 150 feet deep to keep the hill from shifting. And to refine the hillside into its planned park shape, McNair said some 250,000 cubic tons of landfill will need to be removed.

"We always say that Ohio City is the waterfront neighborhood that can neither see nor touch the waterfront," McNair said, with a laugh. "And this is something that is going to dramatically change that."

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About The Author

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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