Tower City Foot Traffic Is as Bad as You Think It Is

The Arcades saw almost three times as many visitors

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click to enlarge Tower City, pictured here December 29, sees roughly a third of the foot traffic of the Arcades down the street. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Tower City, pictured here December 29, sees roughly a third of the foot traffic of the Arcades down the street.

In early December, as city boosters welcomed tens of thousands for Winterland Cleveland, Bedrock announced a detailed dream-vision of what the riverfront south of Tower City could/might/will look like in 20 years: a Cuyahoga River bordered by new buildings offering 850,000 square feet of office space and 2,000 new residential units.

Included in $3.5 billion project would be a reinvisioned Tower City marketplace that, as Bedrock's press release promised, would be an "active and unifying hub," a "grand space" comparable to the "covered markets" and "boulevards around the globe."

It could all happen. Some of it could happen. But, in the meantime, Tower City remains pretty much in the same stagnant state despite Bedrock's recent efforts to revitalize one of the city's architectural stars of decades ago.

The company is in the midst of structural repairs for the 32-year-old mall, and have brought in new tenants, thrown concerts, and built a weird indoor park on the main level.

As Winterland kicked off in and around Public Square, even more was added to Tower City's offerings including pop-up vendors along with a Nuevo Christmas bar.

But numbers released by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance paint a dismal picture of foot traffic at Tower City, despite it being attached to both a casino and hotel and despite the RTA rail hub inside and bus hub outside.

As post-pandemic rebounds are measured, Tower City saw just 300,000 visitors in September, compared to roughly 800,000 visitors that frequented the nearby 5th Street Arcades and the Historic Euclid Arcade.

click to enlarge Tower City Foot Traffic Is as Bad as You Think It Is
Downtown Cleveland Alliance

Tower City may have five times the square footage of the 5th Street Arcades, but its heyday is long in the rearview and it currently sits 55-percent vacant with most larger storefronts covered up in optimistic vinyl wrapping.

"I just think we need to get more businesses to move in," Madison Williams, owner of
click to enlarge Madison Williams, owner of The Feet Geeks in Tower City - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Madison Williams, owner of The Feet Geeks in Tower City
 The Feet Geeks, a 1,500-square-foot sneaker store on Tower City's second level, told Scene. "For real, bring a big anchor store in here, like Macy's—something for that draw—and we'd see changes, you know?"

Williams, who gave Tower City a shot after first operating his business on Denison Ave. for four years, claimed "more convenient parking" is a selling point heard aplenty in Bedrock's monthly tenant meetings. (Bedrock didn't respond to two requests for comment for this article.)

Signs advertising $50 game-day parking nearby, however, he said, confuse regulars who flock habitually to the first floor garage. (Bedrock's attempting to combat this with a free parking lure—after a $30 purchase.)

But with Winterland's assist, Christmastime sales at Feet Geeks were decent.

"It's been good," Williams said.

But could Tower City actually be better? If, according to DCA and Bedrock, Downtown will see at least 6,000 new apartment units by decade's end, then it's possible Tower City could rebound off Cleveland's rush to rehab dusty office space, and its vacant malls—i.e., the even more deserted Erieview—into luxury rentals.

The days of Disney, Brooks Brothers, Gap, Hard Rock Cafe, 11-screen movie theater and the estimated "400,000" people that Forest City Enterprises reported showing up on Tower City's opening day in March 1990 are long gone, local businesses seeking discounted rent downtown have drawn new vendors.

click to enlarge Mary Allen, owner of Unscript'd, moved into a larger space in Tower City after her first storefront fizzled out. "The rent's not as much as a more active mall," she said. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Mary Allen, owner of Unscript'd, moved into a larger space in Tower City after her first storefront fizzled out. "The rent's not as much as a more active mall," she said.

It's such direction that brought Mary Allen to house her Unscript'd Boutique on Tower City's second floor. Repelled by the $8,000/month retail spaces in Shaker and Cleveland Heights, Allen signed a lease on a 5,000-square-foot store last month, where she pays "a lot less in rent" than her east side competitors.

"[The rent's] not as much as a more active mall," Allen said, sitting behind her cash register at Unscript'd. When asked if a Macy's or a Target could up foot traffic, Allen rebutted, "Why would a big store come here when there are vacant storefronts on the other side of the floor?"

Both the entry point cost, and Bedrock's openness, has kept Allen happily in place overlooking Skylight. She said she sold "several items a day" during the holidays, but is concerned about how sales will fare throughout the rest of the year.

"Maybe we need to advertise to Downtown residents?" Allen said. "I mean, I might be putting out some mailers myself pretty soon."

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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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