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April 17, 2014

Leverage Erie Lakefront, say experts

By Mara Biggs

Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs held a forum titled “What’s Happening? Cleveland’s Waterfronts” on April 10. The event was the first in a series of public programs that have been discussing changes to Cleveland’s lakefront in the areas of the East Ninth Street Pier, the Metroparks, the Detroit Shoreway and the Flats East Bank.

The five panelists’ discourse was focalized on the need to take advantage of one of Cleveland’s greatest and underutilized assets in order to strengthen the local economy and remold the city’s character in a post-industrial age, but most importantly, to do so in ways that will allow greater Cleveland residents optimal access and enjoyment of this asset.

The city of Cleveland needs to recognize and build on what makes Cleveland different from other northern cities, said Donna Studniarz, director of strategic initiatives for Cleveland Metroparks and one of the five panelists.

The lack of small-scale attractions along the lakefront makes the city lack vibrancy, said Bob Brown, director of the City of Cleveland’s City Planning Commission.

For example, Brown said, there are nice parks and open land near the lake, but nothing to eat or drink there. Bringing food trucks to the lakefront parks would be a good start.
One food truck can already be found near the East Ninth Street Pier.

“We have to make these parks a destination,” said Studniarz.

The Cleveland Metroparks found in a study that greater Cleveland residents do not want the lakefront parks to become overdeveloped, but rather be open, green and have aquatic recreation facilities, with paddle boarding, kayaking and multi-sports venues gaining much popularity within Cuyahoga County. The county also has the second-highest number of boat owners in the state.

“I would personally like to see an increase in shops and storefronts along the lakefront,” said Olivia Smosarski, a senior majoring in nonprofit administration and sociology at Cleveland State. “I think the placement of small businesses would make the area more attractive and draw in a variety of visitors. I also think the lakefront is a great place to show off Cleveland’s diversity and individuality by offering a variety of shops, markets and businesses.”

Brown talked about the issue of having limited pedestrian access to the downtown lakefront due to the freeway ramps and railroad tracks that cut through near East Ninth Street. A pedestrian bridge connecting to the East Ninth Street Pier is underway, and next year, construction will begin on a pedestrian bridge connecting the East Ninth Pier to Northcoast Harbor, a 9.7-acre district that comprises of the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A marina including a paddle board concession is set to open shortly on Northcoast Harbor.

The Detroit Shoreway will soon have its original name, Edgewater Parkway, restored.

Edgewater Parkway will be less of a freeway and more of a boulevard, with beautiful landscapes and lanes for walkers and cyclists, said Jeff Ramsey, executive director of the Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Corporation.

Additionally, the Detroit-Shoreway CDC would like to see the neighborhood restore some of its former glory as a walking community, Ramsey explained. Before the neighborhood’s large factories closed, it had one of the largest walking communities in the state, with factory employees walking to work every day.

According to Ramsey, the Detroit-Shoreway CDC also wants to build more upper-income housing in the neighborhood, which is currently in demand. Development has already commenced for Breakwater Bluffs, an upper-income residential complex with picturesque views of Lake Erie and downtown.

Rivergate, a small park located on the east bank of the flats, is presently being reconstructed to hold a waterfront promenade, a restaurant and a kayak rental facility. The Cleveland Metroparks acquired Rivergate Park in 2012, along with 511 additional acres on Lake Erie.

There are also plans for a water taxi building on the east bank of the flats, Studniarz said.
In the past, the Flats on the banks of the Cuyahoga River was a lively entertainment district. However, it saw a decline in recent years.

Phase one construction of the Flats East Bank has already been completed, which included a 23-story building housing Ernst & Young and Tucker Ellis and West LLP, a hotel, several restaurants and a health club. Phase two of construction is currently underway and will produce a residential complex with 243 apartments, more restaurants, night clubs, a 12-foot riverfront boardwalk and a park.

Full plans for the Flats East Bank phase two construction can be viewed at http://flatseast.com/phase-2.

The Cleveland Metroparks will spend $17.6 million in capital improvements on bathrooms, concessions, infrastructure, shoreline protection, roadways, fishing and aquatic areas, and amenities.

The first phase of the new Lake Link Trail is in progress, said Pam Carson, executive director of the Trust for Public Land, Ohio. The Lake Link Trail will connect the lakefront parks and amenities of the west side to those of the east side.

The Metroparks would also like to plan large-scale and monthly events such as festivals, Studniarz said.

During the Q-and-A session, the audience raised concern about being able to make use of the lakefront parks during the winter.

“The test of a good lakefront plan is what happens in February, not what happens in June,” said Brown.