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Perspectives May 6, 2004

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Casinos might not save this town, but Cleveland State might

The first revelations of spring prompted me to take a lunchtime stroll down Euclid Avenue last week. Nostalgia brought me back to the days when I was pint sized and a trip down-town was a journey to an incredible place. I was fascinated by the shadows cast by the tall buildings and the speed at which busy professionals made their way through bustling Public Square.

I found much of the same on last weekís walk, but itís safe to say that my childhood fascinations have subsided. Maybe itís because I have spent a majority of the last four years in downtown Cleveland going to school or working. The novelty tends to wear off after a while. Or maybe its because the massive shadows cast by Clevelandís skyscrapers only camouflage empty storefronts, and busy professionals now walk so quickly through Public Square to avoid panhandlers and get back to the burbs, where the real action is.

Itís safe to say that Cleveland is in a slump. The late 90s came and went with fanfare. We enjoyed success at Jacobs Field, rejoiced when the Browns came home, celebrated the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center, and lived it up in the Flats. And it got old.

The Indians arenít what they used to be, the Browns canít win fast enough to satisfy the NFLís most demanding fans, the Rock Hallís too small, and the Flats bare a striking resemblance to the ghost towns of the old West.

And as hard as he tries, LeBron canít save the city by himself. So what happens next? How does Cleveland rise up from the depths?

We could build casinos, but getting permission from the Republican-controlled statehouse would be like asking your parents to have a coed pajama party on prom night. Itís a long shot.

Regionalize! scream journalists and radio commentators. Good luck getting the suburbs to sign up to inherit Clevelandís problems, especially with so many oversized political egos in Cuyahoga County.

Move the Shoreway and develop the lakefront says Queen Jane, but itís hard to justify that type of spending and the uprooting of so many homeowners on a long shot idea with only a slight possibility of actually reviving downtown.

Clouds keep raining on everyoneís parade, but luckily a small ray of sunshine pokes through with a real shot at sparking some life downtown.

This summer Cleveland State University will embark on a new beginning; a facelift that will revitalize the campus and surrounding community. New dorms and a state-of-the-art recreation center will attract students not only from Northeast Ohio, but the rest of the state and country as well. A new bookstore, a new administration building, and a new education building, will all be pieces of Cleveland Stateís improved look.

Not only will there be physical changes, but the dynamic of the university will soon change as well. Last week the faculty senate voted to end open admissions at Cleveland State, guaranteeing that students will be more competitive and prepared to contribute to the university community. Next fallís inaugural honors college class will represent Cleveland Stateís newfound mission of attracting the best and the brightest to complement an already world-class faculty.

Just as the university begins to transform itself, Euclid Avenue will see major changes as well. If Congress doesnít sit on its hands, the Euclid Corridor project could break ground this fall, providing an above-ground transit system that links Public Square with University Circle. Students at Cleveland State and Case will have greater access to the entire downtown area instead of being confined to their respective campuses.

Playhouse Square has also been approved for another five years as a business improvement district. Improvements made near the west end of campus will only help complement the $130 million worth of renovations scheduled for Cleveland Stateís future.

So, while the glamour of casinos and lakefront development sounds marvelous, it might not be in the cards, but the university is in a great position to lead the redevelopment of the downtown area.

Years from now I hope spring prompts more lunchtime walks down Euclid Avenue and I will share the same awe for downtown that I did when I was young.

And it will be nice to know that Cleveland State helped lead the charge.

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