By Thomas Skernivitz
Editor, CBC magazine
CLEVELAND — All swim!
Figuratively (and sometimes literally) speaking, that is the message local officials are sending to visitors of downtown Cleveland’s lakefront and, more importantly, potential residents of the district known as North Coast Harbor.
“We need to get people into the water,” Richard Pace, the president of Cumberland Real Estate Development, said Wednesday at the Amplify Speaker Series at Windows on the River. “What we really need to think about is how are we going to engage the people of Cleveland with the water.”
The process has already begun as part of a “water plan” that is tailored after architect Stan Eckstut’s development of Battery Park along the Hudson River in New York. “Stan did that 30 years ago, and (Battery Park) looks just as good today as it did back then,” Pace said.
North Coast Harbor’s Transient Marina, which opened in June of 2014, caters to kayakers, jet skiers, and paddle boaters. Future steps are more grandiose and include Pace’s hope that the Cuyahoga River water taxi proposed by the Metroparks will eventually include the harbor as a destination.
“The goal is to take the million and a half visitors that come down to the lakefront every year to visit the Browns, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Great Lakes Science Center, and add a reason for them to stay,” Pace said. “Our master plan, which has evolved over time, is trying to create a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood, one that has all the vitality of the people who live there and work there and play there. We can be a model for the nation.”
North Coast Harbor encompasses the land north of the CSX railroad tracks, between East 9th and West 3rd streets. Cumberland Real Estate Development, along with Dallas-based partner Trammell Crow, control development of the 28 acres, which already boast three anchor venues — the rock hall, science center, and FirstEnergy Stadium. “We need to continue to build on that momentum that (the anchors) started,” Pace said.
The first phase of development includes construction of a one-story glass-encased restaurant — operated by a local restaurateur “with a great track record,” Pace said — and a mixed-use building at Voinovich Park, the latter of which will replace the existing skate park. The rock hall and science center will be connected by a new building that will feature local retailers and businesses, including Cleveland Bike Tours. Sand volleyball and bocce courts will be constructed along with fixed public restrooms. “We’re going to get rid of the port-a-potties out there right now,” Pace said.
The ensuing three phases, involving the property just north of FirstEnergy Stadium, will revolve around 1,000 residential units, more than 100,000 square feet of office space, and a school that will feed into MC2 STEM, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school based at the Great Lakes Science Center.
“Part of a great neighborhood is a school that you can walk to,” Pace said. “We’re lucky to have a high-performing high school at the science center already. Their first valedictorian is at Harvard now. We want to support that and build a school that will lead up to that, from toddler all the way up to eighth grade.”
For Jon Stahl, it’s not a long walk from work to the water. His software development company, LeanDog, and the marketing firm Arras Keathley are housed on a floating barge that was once the restaurant Hornblowers. With 50 to 80 people reporting to the North Coast Harbor location each work day, Stahl has been leading the charge to string a cable-car system — the Cleveland SkyLift — among 14 stations along the shoreline and inland toward the heart of downtown.
“It’s a big collaboration effort to pull something like this off,” Stahl told the Amplify crowd of approximately 200. “The hard part is that everyone is developing (their own projects) at a different pace. And if we’re going to connect things, you have to work the timing out. What we do have is a lot of people in this room who are willing to at least have the courage to have this conversation about whether this is possible and are not afraid to actually take on all the roadblocks that we’ll face.”
Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock Hall, said the venue will open a Rock in Politics exhibition next spring, just a few months ahead of the Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland. Now 20 years old, the Rock Hall has attracted 10 million visitors while adding $2 billion to the local economy. Ninety percent of its visitors are from outside Northeast Ohio, he added.
“We were committed to building the Rock in Politics exhibit before the RNC was awarded to Cleveland,” Harris said. “We wanted to build it because Ohio is such a vital state to the election cycle. There will be so much attention that we wanted to have this great theme be front and center.”
Kirsten Ellenbogen, the president and CEO of the Great Lakes Science Center, said her venue is starting to cater to downtown residents, who, she said, want their evening activities to revolve around the facility. The science center, in turn, is offering evening showings of second-run films such as “Interstellar,” and is hosting events such as a beer garden on July 4.
“These little things that are happening on the lakefront make a big difference,” Ellenbogen said. “This arts and culture aspect of growing a community, of activating a lakefront, is a huge part of it, and Cleveland is way ahead of the game.”
Khalid Bahhur, the commissioner of Burke Lakefront Airport, credited the NBA finals for illustrating the vitality of his lakefront facility, just east of North Coast Harbor. The municipal airport hosted 330 private jets during the series’ six games, which included two stops and three games in Cleveland. “If you want to see what a half-billion dollars worth of metal looks like, you should have seen the Burke ramp,” Bahhur said.
Landmark Aviation recently reached an agreement with the airport to construct a new hangar and offices. Burke Lakefront is also renovating the former Aviation High School facility and embarking on a terminal enhancement project. Currently the airport has no space to lease, Bahhur said. The Burke Corporate Aviation Expo is slated for Sept. 10.
Kellie Rotunno, COO of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, said her organization has completed 24 percent of its Project Clean Lake, which by 2037 is expected to reduce the total volume of raw sewage discharges from 4.5 billion gallons to 494 million gallons annually at a cost of $2.4 billion. “So we’re well on the way to clean water in our region,” she said. “In the next 10 years we are estimating about a billion dollars in infrastructure. This is some of the biggest investment that our region will see, solely borne on the backs of our ratepayers — our citizens and businesses of this community. It will be underground, so it’s something people won’t see but will benefit from every day.”