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New residential breaks ground in Shaker Heights, reflects changing times

While Shaker Heights is known for its rich history, excellent schools and beautiful homes, one 2.4-acre parcel of land along Van Aken Boulevard has remained vacant and undisturbed — until now.

In November 2016 Vintage Development Group broke ground on the plot of land at 3190 Van Aken, nestled between Onaway and Sutton Roads, as the future spot for the Townhomes of Van Aken.
 
“Shaker Heights is a beautiful area and we were well-aware of the beauty of the city’s homes,” says Vintage director of development Mike Marous. “What happens in built-up cities is there’s no land and you have to tear down [for new development], but here was this piece of land that for years was virgin soil that had never been built on.”
 
Working with Shaker officials, Vintage came up with a $10 million plan to build 33 upscale townhomes on the property, offering proximity to the RTA Rapid, University Circle, downtown and all that Shaker has to offer.

—Further reading: Placemaking puts Shaker residents in the mix of Van Aken District plans and The next must-live neighborhood: Moreland district.
 
“You can walk out the door, jump on the Rapid, get your groceries and be home in five minutes,” says Marous of the location, adding it offers the best of urban and suburban living. “It’s 15 minutes to downtown," he says, noting that picturesque Shaker Square is nearby and walkable.
 
Construction on phase one — the first six units in two buildings — is underway, while framing has begun on the remaining three buildings in phases two and three. Construction will continue has the townhomes are sold.

Keeping with Shaker’s strict standards was a challenge in the design, Marous says, but RDL Architects designed the two- and three-story townhomes to fit with the city’s existing feel. “It was quite a process working with Shaker because of the unique architecture,” he explains, noting the city's high quality standards. “But these give a modern, distinctive look that lends itself to the community, but also has an urban modern feel.”
 
Additionally, the townhomes will meet green energy standards. Phase one even has four solar powered units, where the rooftop solar panels feed the electrical systems. Shaker Heights secured the solar panels through Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council’s (NOPEC) Powering Our Communities program. Cleveland-based YellowLite is providing the panels.
 
Additional solar packages will be offered as an upgrade in the future, Marous says. All of the homes have 10-year tax abatements.
 
The two-bedroom, two-full bath and one- or two-half bath townhomes range from 1,800 to more than 2,100 square feet and have two-car attached garages. Prices start at $294,900 and go upward to more than $350,000.
 
The stone facades are highlighted by bay windows and other large energy efficient windows that bring in natural light. “All of the windows are very large and individually placed,” explains Marous. “They’re all trimmed to give it that distinctive look of the community." Each unit also has its own private walk-out patio.
 
The homes include wood plank laminate and ceramic tile floors throughout, as well as plush stain-resisting carpeting. The furnace and air conditioning operate at 90 percent efficiency. Optional gas-powered fireplaces are an available upgrade.
 
Several styles and finishes of cabinetry are offered in the kitchen, which is outfitted with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, wood plank laminate floors and a large center island with seating.
 
Bathrooms feature quality cabinetry; ceramic tile flooring; granite countertops; under-mount, vitreous china sinks; polished chrome fixtures and ceramic tile showers with rain-shower heads. Vintage’s in-house interior designer, however, will work with buyers to customize all of their selections.
 
While Marous says he anticipates the whole project to take about three years, the process could be completed sooner. “It’s an ‘if you build it they will come’ process,” he says. “We definitely feel that when you’re building in a new area where there’s not been a lot of development we could build momentum."
 
The goal of the project is to build modern homes that fit in with Shaker’s existing architecture. “The whole objective here is to mix with the existing community, but give it a different feel,” Marous says, adding that Shaker city officials have been very supportive in the project, which represents subtle winds of change.

"The city owned the lot for a long time," notes Victoria Blank, Shaker's director of communications and marketing. "The Van Sweringens conceived Shaker Heights as a predominantly residential community and as such, it made sense to preserve and protect green space," she says, adding that, in keeping with the times, city officials have since reconsidered and now welcome denser housing options such as the Townhomes of Van Aken, especially along public transit lines. "This new focus coincides with redevelopment and growth of [the city's] commercial districts," says Blank.
 
Marous says passersby are curious about the activity behind the construction wall. They won't have to wait too long, however. The model suite is due open for showings by mid-May, and just about all parties are anticipating what's to come.
 
“We love this neighborhood, we love Shaker,” Marous says. “There’s so much potential here.”


The city of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Closer look: two eco-friendly townhome projects bloom amid urban—and green—settings

Developer Andrew Brickman of Brickhaus Partners create luxury living spaces in Cleveland’s urban areas that are not only eco-friendly, but also provide a park-like setting. So, what better location than along the borders of the Cleveland Metroparks?

The Emerald Necklace is what drew him to his latest projects: 95 Lake at 9508 Lake Road in the Edgewater neighborhood and Riversouth, 18871 Lorain Road in Fairview Park, both of which offer spacious, luxury city living with spectacular views of the Metroparks, as well as easy access to transportation, shopping and nightlife. Riversouth sits on the border of the Rocky River Reservation and Big Met golf course, while 95 Lake overlooks Lake Erie and Edgewater Park.

“We try to be near parks, public transportation,” Brickman says of his projects. “We’re near all the Metroparks”
 
Furthermore, both developments provide the amenities of city living that is so popular in Cleveland right now—another priority for Brickman.
 
“I try to develop in the city and inner ring suburbs to stop urban sprawl,” he says. “Because urban sprawl contributes the most to duplication of services. You know, Cleveland’s not getting any bigger, it’s just spreading out. So I’m trying to bring people back to the city.”
 
In the Edgewater neighborhood, the first residents are scheduled to move into their new townhomes at the end of this month, says Brickman. Seven of the 10 townhomes are sold, he says, with a “lot of interest” in the remaining three units.
 
Brickhaus broke ground on the project last April, on the site of the former St. Thomas Lutheran Church. The 95 Lake townhomes were designed by architect Scott Dimit, principal of Dimit Architects, as were the 32 units at River South.
 
The three remaining three-story homes range from approximately 1,800 square feet for a two bedroom, two-and-a-half bath floor plan to a 2,168-square-foot, three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home. Prices range from $499,000 to $649,000 and include 15-year tax abatements.
 
The townhomes come equipped with attached two-car garages, optional fireplaces and stainless steel, energy-efficient appliances in the kitchen. The furnace and hot water tank are also energy efficient.
 
Brickman notes that energy efficiency is a standard in all Brickhaus properties, adding that the company’s Eleven River project in Rocky River is the first geothermal multifamily development in Northeast Ohio.
 
“Energy efficiency is important to us because we’re trying to bring a lifestyle to people, and that involves being a good citizen of the earth,” says Brickman.
 
Each residence has its own private rooftop balcony, ranging from 250 to 350 square feet and offering great views of the lake and Edgewater, as well as of downtown Cleveland and the neighborhood’s tree canopy.
 
Many of the residents who have already purchased properties at 95 Lake are local, with one buyer returning to Cleveland from out of town, and others coming from Tremont, Ohio City and Battery Park, says Brickman.
 
“What they said was they loved the inner ring suburbs and they love this Edgewater area because it’s older,” says Brickman of the typical buyers. “It has character like those other neighborhoods, it’s a mature sort of neighborhood.”
 
The Edgewater area also offers a sense of security, says Brickman, while still being in the Cleveland city limits.
 
“They want to be close to everything in those neighborhoods, but this has a different feel to it because we have the single family housing,” Brickman explains. “You’ve got the park and you’ve got lot of owner-occupied houses. These are people who want to be in the city, because it’s still the city.”
 
Residents will be moving in to 95 Lake through the next few months, says Brickman, with the entire project scheduled for completion by summer.
 
All but 10 of the 32 townhomes at Riversouth have sold, Brickman says, and all of the site work and landscaping is completed. In addition to the views, he points to the development’s proximity to Kamm’s Corners—a 10 minute walk—and Fairview Hospital as well as access to the biking and hiking trails right outside the door.
 
“Riversouth is surrounded on three sides by Metroparks,” says Brickman, “so your views are right there.”
 
The townhomes offer a seven-year tax abatement and range from 1,148 to 2,808 square feet. Prices start at $269,000 and go up to $539,000.
 
Brickhaus calls Riversouth “Ecohomes,” in that the townhouses are smarthomes with everything from lighting to the sound system integrated through the owner’s smart phone. Of course, everything is energy efficient, has bamboo floors, private decks and balconies, and two-car insulated garages.
 
Outside, like all Brickhaus properties, the landscape is planted with native perennial plants that do not require irrigation. A dry basin storm water retention system keeps everything in check.
 
“We expect to win awards for the landscaping and the creativity in which it was handled,” says Brickman of the storm water retention system at Riversouth.
 
In keeping with its commitment to develop in Cleveland and stop urban sprawl, Brickman says there are a few more urban projects on the horizon for Brickhaus. It’s what he loves to do.
 
“It’s a lot easier to develop a cornfield out in Avon because you don’t have any neighbors to deal with than it is to develop in an existing neighborhood,” explains Brickman. “Because you have the neighbors to deal with, and they don’t want change, and the guy next door doesn’t want to be living next to construction.

"It’s probably the most difficult kind of development you can do but to me, it’s been pretty satisfying.”

Cavs' three-pointers grow into trees, partnerships

The Cleveland Cavaliers made 433 three-pointers at their home games during the regular season last year, which ended with an NBA Championship.

While those points were planted in the hoop, they're soon to bloom green courtesy of the Trees for Threes program, which is a partnership program between the Cavs, PwC, Holden Arboretum, Davey Tree and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC).
 
Last Wednesday, Oct. 19, 60 of what will eventually total 433 trees were planted around the Great Lakes Science Center.  The group of volunteers included Cavs legend Campy Russell as well as other representatives of the Cavs, partner organizations and students and teachers from Cleveland Metropolitan School District MC2 STEM High School.


 
“It was a beautiful fall day,” says Emily Bacha, Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s director of communications and marketing. “We had over 100 corporate volunteers and 100 students there. Not only were there beautiful, robust trees planted, it will create a beautiful canopy in downtown.”
 
Davey Tree donated the trees, which consist of eight different varieties – ranging from Japanese tree lilacs and kousa dogwoods to maples, white oaks and elms.
 
Now in its second year, the Trees for Threes program helps restore Cleveland’s dwindling tree canopy.


 
“The City of Cleveland’s tree canopy stands at just 19 percent – only one quarter of the tree canopy we could see across our neighborhoods,” explains Bacha. “From intercepting rainwater to removing air pollution to providing essential wildlife habitat, trees are a critical part of our infrastructure.”
 
Bacha adds that trees also improve public health and reduce stress. “Cleveland can once again thrive as the Forest City, but it will take a true community effort to reforest our neighborhoods,” she says. The addition of the 433 trees will have a economic benefit of $1.56 million benefit over the next 40 years.
 
WRLC urban forestry and natural resources manager Colby Sattler and Holden Arboretum’s community forester Char Clink worked with the MC2 STEM students earlier this year regarding the importance of trees for a healthy ecosystem – educating them about storm water absorption, tree canopies and the oxygen they produce.
 
“It’s really exciting to bring this to the high school level and train future botanists and arborists,” says Bacha, who adds that Campy Russell took the time to interact with the students, even coaching some of them. “It was really great to see him interacting.”
 
On Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m., an additional 273 saplings will be distributed to guests who attend the screening of the film Tiny Giants at the Great Lakes Science Center’s new state-of-the-art digital theater. 

Next spring, 100 more trees will be distributed through WRLC’s Reforest Our City grant program. Fourteen organizations – many of them community development corporations – benefit from the program.

New bike lanes add to Lakewood's cyclist-friendly goal

In its quest to have bicycles be a primary form of transportation in the city, Lakewood recently added two new dedicated bike lanes along the entire stretch of Madison Avenue. The addition is part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, adopted in 2012 as a way to encourage cycling.

“We want to establish cycling as a main means of transportation in Lakewood,” says Bryce Sylvester, the city’s senior city planner. “The goal is to be recognized as one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the country.”
 
City officials began implementing the plan back in 2012 with shared bike-vehicle lanes, known as “sharrows,” on Detroit Avenue and dedicated bike lanes on Franklin Boulevard.  The lanes are clearly marked as sharrows or dedicated lanes.
 
In addition to the traditional bike lane markings, the new lanes on Madison implement two new bicycle infrastructure signs.  The lanes will have “door zone” patterns – small diagonal lines – to mark areas where people in parked cars may be opening their doors into the lane. The idea is to reduce the number of run-ins cyclists have with abruptly opening car doors.
 
Dotted markings through intersections along the route will reinforce the fact that bicyclists have priority over turning vehicles or vehicles entering the roadway – alerting traffic, both bike and vehicles, of potential conflict areas.
 
“Our hope is to make it a safer ride down Madison Avenue,” says Sylvester.
 
The city also has installed more than 100 bike racks in front of businesses since 2012, with the aim of installing 20 racks per year.
 
Sylvester says the Bicycle Master Plan and its execution are in response to the residents’ demands. “The people have built an environment of cyclists here,” he says. “People use their bikes to get around. We’re taking a proactive approach of active living in Lakewood. We feel infrastructures like this allow out residents to be active.”
 
Lakewood has been awarded a bronze award for its efforts by the League of American Bicyclists
 
"We're doing okay," says Sylvester of the plan’s progress.

Downtown Hilton glitters with all things Cleveland

Last Friday, a group of visitors gathered in the lobby of the new Hilton Cleveland Downtown as they readied for the 2016 Transplant Games of America at the adjacent Convention Center. They blilnked in awe at the beauty of the 32-story hotel and also marveled over the professionalism of the staff of 350.

The positive reaction is exactly what the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County officials aimed to achieve when construction on the nearly 614,000-square-foot hotel, operated by Hilton Worldwide, began in 2014.
 
The 600-room Hilton was designed by the Atlanta architecture firm Cooper Carry to show off all of Cleveland’s assets while providing a world-class stay, says Carolyn Deming, director of public relations for the hotel.
 
“Nearly 500,000 visitors who have never been to Cleveland are expected in the first year,” she says. “We already have business groups on the books through 2020. There are really exciting things happening here and this is a chance to see what Cleveland has to offer.”
 
A mural composed of 2,800 selfies embodies that assertion. Located at the bottom of the escalators to the connecting Convention Center, the photos were submitted in the #MyClePhoto contest last year and were collected and assembled into a Cleveland skyline mural by North Carolina-based hospitality art curator Kalisher.

Mural of tthe Cleveland skyline comprised of 2,800 selfies submitted in the #MyClePhoto contest
 
The winner of the contest, a man and his wife on their wedding day in front of the Playhouse Square sign, received a weekend stay at the hotel.
 
The art throughout the hotel is primarily by local artists. Of the 194 original works of art by 54 artists, 46 artists are from Cuyahoga County, including a free-standing powder coated steel wall by public artist Steve Manka; photographic prints by Paul Duda; and a metal sculpture by Jerry Schmidt.
 
Twelve murals are repeated in each of the rooms, many of the designs done by local artists Duda, Stuart Pearl, Barbara Merritt, Garrett Weider and Erik Drost.
 
The 600 rooms, including 37 suites, feature floor-to-ceiling windows with city and lake views. Many of the rooms are ADA accessible. King bed rooms have walk-in showers, while rooms with two queen beds have bathtubs with showers. Two of the suites are themed, with one based on Rock 'n' Roll and the other celebrating graffiti arts.
 
Interactive digital reader boards in the Hilton public areas rotate through all the artwork in the hotel, giving visitors a quick overview of both Cleveland and the city’s wealth of talented artists. “It’s not just about us,” says Deming, “It’s about telling Cleveland’s story.”  
 
Four dining options include the Noshery, which offers snacks, coffee and gifts in the 24-hour lobby stop. Eliot’s Bar, named after notorious Cleveland safety director Eliot Ness, offers specialty coffee drinks by day and turns into a cocktail lounge at night on the upper level, which overlooks the lobby.

Eliot’s Bar – named after notorious Cleveland safety director Eliot Ness
 
Cleveland restauranteur Zack Bruell served as consultant on the dining facilities, including The Burnham restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a Creole fusion flair. “The culinary team traveled to Austin, Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans to taste and bring back flavor profiles,” explains Deming, adding that the staff makes using locally-sourced food a priority.
 
Deming says the culinary team is known as the “Young Guns” because the chef de cuisine, pastry chef, banquet chef and executive sous chef are all under the age of 30.
 
The Burnham has an open kitchen so diners can watch the chefs in action – a Bruell signature – and has open views of the Cleveland Mall and the Public Auditorium from both inside and on a large patio. The restaurant is named after Daniel Burnham, who designed the Group Plan of 1903.
 
Atop the Hilton sits Bar 32, with sweeping views of Lake Erie and the city from a large open-air terrace. The bar, which is slated to open on July 1, will feature craft cocktails and small plates such as flatbreads, seafood, charcuterie and cheeses. Former general manager of Porco Lounge and Tiki Room Shannon Smith will head up the Bar 32 staff as they make cocktails featuring liquid nitrogen and other unique concoctions.
 
“Shannon is an extremely experienced cocktailier,” says Deming.
 
Other features include carpeting depicting maps of downtown Cleveland streets in the elevator lobbies, more than 50,000 square feet dedicated to meeting and event space that can be configured to fit any size event, an indoor pool and four fitness rooms – two focused on cardio exercise and two centered around yoga. The hotel has also earned a silver LEED certification rating for its green building and attention to environmental efficiency.


 
At its job fair in February, Hilton interviewed 1,300 people and hired 267 on the spot. “More than 200 of them had never worked a day in hospitality,” says Deming, adding that newly-hired Hilton employees went through extensive training. “We hired for attitude, not aptitude. We believe in second chances.” The Hilton continues to hire additional staff. Prospective employees can apply here.
 
The hotel was built as a joint venture by Turner Construction,  Ozanne Construction and Van Aken Atkins Architects and officially opened June 1. Reservations are available now, and rates start at $149 per night. Not surprisingly, the hotel is completely booked for the Republican National Convention.

Deming heartily encourages Clevelanders to come to the Hilton for a "staycation" and enjoy the amenities the hotel and downtown has to offer.

“This is your hotel,” she says. “Come for your coffee, come for happy hour, come for dinner. This is a new downtown destination.”
 

Tiger Passage aims to inspire, connect people with animals

Last week, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo opened the highly anticipated Rosebrough Tiger Passage.

First announced last September, the $4.1 million installation occupies a staggering 48,000 square feet, which includes the space designated for the cats as well as their adoring fans. The new habitat includes climbing poles, meadows, shallow streams, soaking pools and outdoor overnight access. Visitors can enjoy highly interactive viewing as the animals have access to overhead catwalks. Large viewing windows and paths that traverse the environment round out the experience, which encourages visitors to explore and seek out the Zoo's two resident Amur tigers, Klechka, a 12-year old male, and Dasha, a 15-year-old female.
 
Per Andi Kornak, the Zoo's director of animal and veterinary programs, the two cats wintered at the Zoo's Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine while Panzica Construction Company of Mayfield Village completed the build-out of the new habitat. The Cleveland based firm Van Auken Akin Architects and WDM Architects out of Wichita, Kansas; which specializes in creating sustainable, authentic environments that immerse and inspire zoo visitors; designed the sprawling space.
 
The two cats were understandably shy during the grand opening, said Kornak.
 
"It will take them a few weeks to acclimate to their new exhibit," she noted during the event. "It's five times the size of the old one so there's lot of space to explore and become comfortable with."
 
The Zoo's executive director Christopher Kuhar said the space is designed to allow the animals to prowl, climb and saunter around in a way that they've never had the opportunity to do before.
 
"While it seems that we're focusing exclusively on the animals," said Kuhar, "the reality is that the best possible guest experience is to see animals performing their natural behavioral repertoire, to see them moving around and exercising and doing all those really cool things that cats do."
 
Kuhar added that the new exhibit also focuses on education as there are only 500 Amur tigers left in the wild.
 
"We want to connect people with wildlife, to inspire personal responsibility to take conservation action," he said. "What we hope is that people are going to see these great cats and be inspired to do something in their own way to help animals in the wild."

The Cleveland Metroparks is part of Fresh Water's underwriting network.
 

Roof at CIA's Gund Building set to transform into urban "meadow"

In just a few weeks, the roof of the Cleveland Institute of Art’s (CIA) George Gund Building will be in full bloom will rows of sedum covering 3,364 square feet, or half, of the 6,800-square-foot rooftop.
 
The roof was originally designed to be a green roof system, explains CIA director of facilities and safety Joe Ferritto, but the system was cut from the budget during the 2015 completion of the building. The garden got the green light this year after a successful $19,000 fundraising campaign.
 
The garden was designed by Cleveland-based Rooftop Green, which has a patented system for planting directly on a roof. “They gave us a proposal for a basic green system and tray system,” says Ferritto. “The trays are produced out of recycled water bottles to create a cellular material that is very dense and absorbs water.”
 
The trays, which each measure about 24 inches by 18 inches, are filled with dirt and sedum seeds and then covered with a poly netting material.  
 
Five members of the maintenance team spent three days last week hauling 38 palettes – with each palette holding 40 trays of sedum -- up to the roof via the service elevator. Half of the sedum, planted toward the back of the garden, will grow to be about 14 inches tall, while the front of the garden will have 8-inch tall plants.
 
“The guys thought it was pretty interesting when we put this up,” says Ferritto. “We had a carpenter, a painter, a HVAC guy and an electrician all hauling that stuff up there. It was kind of an all-hands-on-deck experience.”
 
Ferritto is keeping the garden off limits until the sedum has bloomed in about a month. When he does open it, the roof will be accessible only to students and faculty and by appointment. In the meantime, the garden can be admired through the window wall on the building’s third floor and CIA students in the adjacent biomedical arts department have a spectacular view.
 
“Once it hits 60 degrees we should see some seed pollination, then it’s a four to five week growth time. It looks very white right now," he says, adding that the trays will soon fill with color, mostly green. "It will look like a meadow.”
 
The whole rooftop garden system provides additional points toward achieving LEED certification for the building. “I’ve heard claims that it can increase the life of a roof by 50 to 100 percent, but studies are still being done on that,” he says. “There’s increased insulation the green roof provides, and [there is] reduced UV that [can] beat up the roof system.”
 
Now that the landscaping in complete, Ferritto has his eye on the other half of the roof. He says plans for hardscaping for the remaining 3,400 square feet include pavers, furniture and a canopy. “Once we get the hardscaping piece done, there have been discussions on hosting events or making studio space there,” he says. 

The Cleveland Institute of Art is part of Fresh Water's underwriting network.

Hemlock Trail set to make all the right connections

A multi-purpose trail planned for the City of Independence will serve as a connecting point with the Towpath Trail while also catalyzing the region economically, planners say.

Construction of Hemlock Trail is scheduled for the first quarter of 2017 following a $500,000 grant the project received from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Clean Ohio Trails fund. The money will cover a portion of the venture while Independence officials make plans to raise the remaining $1.1 million, says city engineer Donald Ramm.

Partner group West Creek Conservancy, which helped with the grant effort, has been approaching trail advocates for single donations. Meanwhile, the city will call on local foundations to garner additional dollars, says Ramm.

Urgency is the watchword moving forward, as the ODNR grant must be used within 18 months of signing. Engineering for the $3.4 million path began last year and should be completed by the end of 2016. Construction bidding will commence early next year, with work starting in spring 2017. If all goes as planned, the trail will open to the public in 2018.

When complete, the 1.7-mile Hemlock Trail will begin at the intersection of Brecksville Road and Selig Drive, ending  at the Towpath Trail connection on Canal Road in Valley View.  That linkage is significant for a population base that currently has no easy means of accessing the iconic 85-mile track, Ramm says.

"We're excited about it," he says. "Hemlock Trail will be a major link for our residents to get from the center of town to Towpath Trail."

The 10-foot-wide path, designed to cross through private, industrial and national park properties, will have room for both bikers and joggers. Four or five bridges will be built along the trail's snake-like course, along with space for up to 15 parking spots.

Giving Independence residents a new place to walk, run and bike can have a positive impact on local economic development as well, believe supporters. Officials view Hemlock Trail as one piece of an amenities package that can attract people from outside the region and bolster a downtown redevelopment plan now in the preliminary planning stage.

"As a community asset, the path is going to be significant to the city," says Ramm. 

Lakewood fish shelf coming along swimmingly, officials say

A "fish shelf"  designed to stabilize about 300 feet of riverfront on the Lakewood bank of the Rocky River is on track for completion this fall.

Last June, the City of Lakewood received a $123,000 grant from the Ohio EPA for streambank restoration and construction of the shelf, which will be comprised of former sound barrier walls or other repurposed concrete construction materials, notes city engineer Mark Papke.

The fish shelf will be built near the Rocky River Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, close to the Lakewood Animal Shelter off Metropark Drive. Bidding will begin in April while construction on the approximately $204,000 venture is scheduled for June. Lakewood will pay $82,000 toward the project cost.

The portion of the riverbank slated for restoration is unstable and eroding rapidly, says Papke. "The trees there have fallen into the river," he says. "There's no vegetation at all now."

While the fish shelf won't replace the 15 feet of land lost to erosion over the last several years, it will protect the bank from further damage, Papke says. In addition, the shelf will prevent the influx of phosphorous-laden sediment into the river. Phosphorous, a primary plant nutrient, is known to play a role in creating potentially damaging algae.

Meanwhile, new trees and shrubs will serve the dual purpose of beautifying and further firming up the space. Gaps in the rubble can provide a habitat for additional greenery as well as animal life.

If planners have their way, the fish shelf will also be site a for sport fishing. The water around the proposed shelf is already known for steelhead trout.

"We met a couple of fishermen last week to show them the plans," says Papke. "They appreciate the chance to have better access to the river."

Partner organization Cleveland Metroparks will conduct a survey prior to and following construction to determine if the enterprise can attract even more fish to the area, Papke says.

City officials estimate the fish shelf to be ready by October. Papke is confident the project will be both an environmental and civic boon for the region.

"It's giving us an opportunity to stabilize the bank and provide a nice place for fishing," he says. 

Revisiting Cleveland's whales after hurricane damage repair

It was about three months after Hurricane Sandy blew through town when Steve Tucky, Wyland Ambassador for Ohio and the Great Lakes region, was driving along the East Shoreway and noticed that the giant whale mural to which we've all become accustomed was in the dark: the array of lights normally illuminating it had apparently been damaged by the notorious October 2012 hurricane.
 
"I'm kind of attached to it," says Tucky of the "Song of the Whales" mural, also known as a Wyland Whale Wall. Additional inspection revealed that a section of the painted panels had apparently blown off the building as well. Tucky contacted the city and Cleveland Public Power in order to get the repairs in motion.
 
It took more than two years and a notable amount of red tape, but 49 new painted panels are now in place and the lighting has been restored. Completed last fall, the work cost $50,000.
 
"They did get it fixed," says Tucky, noting that the new panels do not replicate the original artwork, but are simply painted a solid sky blue (the damaged section depicted clouds). "It kind of blends in," he says. "You don't really notice unless you really look at it."
 
As an ambassador, Tucky advocates for the Wyland Foundation, which was founded by artist and environmentalist Robert Wyland in 1993 and is dedicated to promoting, protecting, and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways, and marine life. The foundation fosters environmental awareness through education, public art, and community events. To that end, Tucky is active with campaigns and organizations such as Sustainable Cleveland 2019 and the West Creek Conservancy.
 
To be sure, most of today's Clevelanders pass by "Song of the Whales" with little knowledge of it. Hence, Fresh Water celebrates this subtle repair with the following must-know Cleveland Whale Wall facts:
 
- Cleveland Mayor Michael White dedicated Wyland's "Song of the Whales" on Oct. 6, 1997.
 
- "Song of the Whales" was one of 100 aquatic murals Wyland painted over a 27-year period.
 
- Wyland's last such mural, "Hands Across the Oceans," was dedicated in July 2008 in Beijing, China, ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
 
- Wyland painted "Song of the Whales" free hand – without the aid of any templates – inside of a few days. A basket crane provided access and volunteers helped out with paint mixing and clean up. "I was there for that," recalls Tucky.
 
- Sherwin Williams donated more than 160 gallons of paint and primer for the project.
 
- The mural measures 240- by 88-feet.
 
- Per the Oct. 4, 1997 Plain Dealer, the mural depicts, "a humpback cow, calf and 'escort' male, plus another male challenging the first for the honor of escorting the female."
 
- The original mural tour was dedicated to Jacques Cousteau and was aimed at bringing awareness to the earth's aquatic systems and their connectivity. "It all ties in," says Tucky. "The Great Lakes flow into the ocean."
 
- The green space adjacent to "Song of the Whales" is a public park complete with a walkway and benches. While it has no name, "some people fish over there," says Tucky of the space.
 
Considering approximately 24 of the Wyland Whale Wall murals are listed as "extinct" by Wikipedia, meaning they are "no longer accessible" and "may have been covered, destroyed, or significantly altered" and a handful of others are noted as tiled, partially covered or no longer visible, that the Cleveland mural endures so vividly should inflate northeast Ohioans with renewed pride the next time they pass it.
 
Moreover, the gentle giants depicted in "Song of the Whales" quietly urge us to live locally and think globally. After all, the water flowing in our delicate river and lake that we often take for granted eventually end up amid whales and dolphins and flying fish.

Holiday connections of a different sort: a little chickadee and a police station party

This holiday season, the Cleveland Metroparks invites families looking for something beyond the season's ubiquitous candy and glitzy digital animation to make a more authentic and gentler connection – with nature.

An array of free hand feed the chickadees programs offer up a breathtaking experience that's been a Metroparks tradition for more than five decades. Avian enthusiasts stand in a designated spot with an open hand of sunflower seeds and the tiny creatures land therein, pick up a seed and fly away to eat it.
 
"The trick is to watch a person's face as a bird lands in their hand," says the Metroparks' director of outdoor experiences Wendy Weirich. "That's worth everything."
 
The program is available at the Brecksville Nature Center from Dec. 19 through 31 from 10 a.m. to noon every day except Christmas, and on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 2 through Feb. 28 also 10 a.m. to noon. Two 1.5-mile Chickadee Feeding Hikes will be conducted at the Rocky River Reservation on Jan. 3 and 24 from 10 to 11 a.m., or meet the hungry and not-so-timid chickadees at the North Chagrin Reservation, which hosts bird-watching hiking events of various lengths on Dec. 19, 21, 26, 27, 29 and Jan. 4.
 
Would-be wildlife explorers are advised to dress for the weather with layered clothing and appropriate footwear (trails may be snowy or icy). Calling ahead to confirm programming and registering is always a good idea.
 
"It's connecting people to nature," says Weirich. "What’s more important than that? If we don't get the next generation falling in love with nature, we're in for some trouble."
 
She notes that the feed the chickadee programs do not impact the birds' natural feeding habits - but it does impact program participants.
 
"It's a life changing experience," says Weirich."
 
For a connection of a different sort, this Saturday, Dec. 19, the 73rd Street Block Club and Ka-La Healing Garden Resource Center will team up for their fifth annual Winterfest event, which is for children up to age 17. Free and open to the public, the event will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Cleveland Police Department's Third District Community Room, 4501 Chester Avenue. Kids will enjoy a host of holiday treats and receive toys as well as hats and gloves. Last year's event attracted nearly 20 volunteers and 100 area kids, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged homes.
 
Previously held at the Ka - La Garden, this year holding Winterfest at the new police station will help reinforce one of the ongoing goals of the organizers: getting urban youths to interact with police in a positive way. While that ambition is surely lofty and honorable, event founder and community organizer Tanya Holmes says it's not the best part of the annual Winterfest.
 
So what is?
 
"The looks on the kids' faces," she says, and somewhere a chickadee chirps.

Winter is coming … and so is fresh local produce and permaculture from the urban greenhouses of CGP

Community Greenhouse Partners (CGP), an urban greenhouse and farm, is about to fly in the face of winter with fresh produce and an all-season teaching venue for an array of people,including some of the city's most disadvantaged youths.

This beacon of all things organic, sustainable and green will also continue to sell their produce at affordable prices even as the snow flies.
 
"We happily sell out the back door," says CGP executive director Timothy Smith, inviting anyone and everyone to visit this unique farm in the middle of the city at 6527 Superior Road. "Come and see. Come and help us harvest your greens."

Hours are between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the week. The organization also sets up shop every Saturday at Coit Road Farmers' Market and on Wednesdays from June through September at Gordon Square Market.
 
The greenhouse will operate through the winter courtesy of a compost heater, designed and built by engineering students from Cleveland State University (and funded by Virtec Enterprises). The system heats the farm's hydroponic water system to a balmy 70 degrees, keeping the roots of the plants warm even in winter.

Current crops include lettuce, kale, arugula, root crops and CGP's specialty, sunflower microgreens, which include the first stem and leaf of the sunflower plant.  
 
"They are nutty and sweet and crunchy," says Smith. "They taste a little bit like a sunflower seed. Some people say they taste like green beans or asparagus." He recommends them raw in a salad, as a sandwich topper or a salsa add-in. "I tend to sauté a handful of them in a little bit of butter and add my eggs."
 
Touting the plant's nutritional value, Smith tags protein, B vitamins, folic acid and antioxidants. "They're a superfood that's healthier than kale," he says of the tender greens. "We sell lots of them."
 
The group also offers up handmade value-added items such as apple jelly, herbed vinegars and cherry tomato chutney, which Smith describes as sweet and spicy hot. "It is delicious."
 
The CGP site was formerly a Catholic Church campus. Working the farm are any number of revolving volunteers and seven interns who live in what used to be the rectory, which was originally a farmhouse built in 1865. The interns get room and partial board in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. The live-in staff changes, with candidates coming from schools, internship programs and the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, which links international volunteers with organic farmers and growers. Working visitors of CGP have come from New Zealand, France, Peru, England and Germany.
 
While the organization is all about outreach and has engaged in educational and volunteer partnerships with Case Western Reserve University, Hawken School and an array of interested parties and downtown residents, CGP's work with students from the Saint Francis Elementary School truly exemplifies Smith's goal of teaching permaculture -- a hands-on learning approach to the ethical care of people and the planet that creates a "fair share" environment.  
 
The Saint Francis partnership starts aptly enough in the school's cafeteria with microgreen salads purchased from CGP once a month for student lunches.
 
"They love them," reports Smith of the students' reactions to the monthly salad delivery, which started in September. "They tear into them. They're so excited when we bring them in."
 
The kids also have monthly science classes at the farm, where they learn all about urban farming with hands-on instruction on topics such as composting, microgreen planting, bed preparation and harvesting crops like green beans.
 
Sometimes, however, just showing kids where vegetables come from – out of the ground - sparks an epiphany.
 
"You can see them make the connection: this is where (food) comes from. The light bulb goes on," says Smith. "It's remarkable just to watch them," he adds, noting that the Saint Francis students are largely disadvantaged.
 
"They're really smart and they want to learn," says Smith. "They're hungry for information and they're hungry for good food."
 
Community Greenhouse Partners is soliciting donations for an expansion that will include doubling the organization's greenhouse space from approximately 1,250 to 2,500 square feet and transforming CGP's growing system from hydroponic to aquaponic, which will utilize fish as living natural fertilizers. Click here to help the urban farm meet its $12,000 goal.
 

Urban section of Towpath Trail inches closer to completion with funding for pedestrian bridge

As the ever-popular Towpath Trail continues to wind its way north from Harvard Avenue to Lake Erie, no matter how small each benchmark is, it represents a victory in the expansive $43 million project, which is unfurling amid four complex stages.
 
Last month, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) delivered yet another win when it awarded the Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works a $432,222 Clean Ohio Trails grant for a small but important component of the project: A prefabricated 150-foot bridge that will cross traverse West 7th Street in Tremont. The funds are part of $6.1 million in grants awarded to 19 projects around the state through the Clean Ohio Trails Fund, which improves outdoor recreation opportunities and aims to protect and connect Ohio's natural and urban spaces.
 
Currently dubbed the "Tremont Pointe Bridge," the new West 7th Street bridge is part of the $17.5 million Stage 3 portion of the trail. Aesthetically speaking, the prefabricated bridge will be similar to any number of pedestrian bridges in and around area parks, including two adjacent to the Scranton Flats and one traversing Euclid Creek in the Metroparks' Euclid Creek Reservation.
 
Further reading: Ten Takeaways from the ongoing Towpath Trail development.
 
Tim Donovan, executive director of Canalway Partners describes the route of Stage 3: "The trail will connect with the trail that's already established at Steelyard and will make its way north to Literary Avenue in Tremont." Of scheduling he adds, "We're under final design and engineering right now." Michael Baker International is the lead architect on the project.
 
Donovan expects to have the entire 1.9-mile Stage 3 portion of the project (including the new bridge) out to bid late this year or by January 2016. Ground breaking will begin next July 1, when federal funding associated with the project is officially released. He is reluctant to give an estimated completion date other than to say construction and planting may take more than a year.
 
"It will become more apparent once the project gets underway," he says.
 
After the completion of Stage 3, says Donovan, "we have about seven-tenths of a mile from Steelyard to lower Harvard and we probably have another mile or so from Literary to Canal Basin Park." Those sections represent Stage 1 and Stage 4 of the project, respectively. The Stage 2 section of the trail adjacent to Steelyard Commons is already complete.
 
Further reading: Canal Basin Park: 20 acres of urban green space in the heart of the Flats.
 
"It’s a very very complex process that we're involved with building this trail through that industrial valley," says Donovan of the six urban miles of trail, noting that challenges arise with property acquisition, environmental cleanup and funding. "The money part is a as complex as the design part, which is as complex as the acquisition piece and everything else."
 
Donovan emphasizes the collective patience, support and efforts of the four main partner organizations, which include Canalway Partners, Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland Metroparks.
 
"Everything we do is a team approach," says Donovan.

"Those efforts are bearing fruit. Thankfully, it's all coming together."
 

Up to 250 new sharing bikes coming to the 216 ahead of the RNC

Bike Cleveland has teamed up with the Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability to secure 250 bikes for a bike sharing program in time for the Republican National Convention next July. The move is part of a larger countywide initiative.
 
"Over five years we need 700 bikes in 70 stations," explains Mike Foley, executive director of Cuyahoga County's Department of Sustainability.
 
In order to get started on that tall order, last month the team identified CycleHop-SoBi as the preferred vendor for the new bike share system. Negotiations are ongoing, although Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) awarded the county $357,000 in federal funding to bring the plan to fruition. With 20 percent in matching funds, the group has $446,000 available to purchase the bikes.
 
"The federal government requires us to own these things at least for their usable life," explains Foley, "which is deemed five years." The program in its entirety will cost more, he adds, and will depend on a private-public partnership that relies on business and other private sponsors adopting stations and systems. Downtown will be the initial focus area for the first wave of bike stations.
 
The CycleHop-SoBi brand is a collaboration of two entities.
 
"CycleHop operates the system,"explains Foley. "SoBi manufactures the bikes," which he describes as sturdy and equipped with GPS systems. "Heaven forbid a bike is stolen or not returned," he says, "they'll be able to find it. It also helps figure out routes. They call it a smart bike. We were impressed with technology."
 
The bikes can also be locked anywhere.
 
"You don't have to go to a SoBi bike station," says Foley. "You can lock it up at regular bike stop and go get your coffee."
 
The versatility doesn't stop there. Although still tentative, Foley sees the program having flexible membership options, with yearly, monthly and weekly fee structures available, as well as an hourly rental system for one-time users.
 
As the program expands to reach that 700 number, Foley sees it reaching across the county.
 
"There are suburban communities that I know are interested in this. Cleveland Heights is chomping at the bit to be part of it," he says, adding that Lakewood has also expressed interest.
 
"We want this to be larger than just the city of Cleveland."

Safe and Clean Ambassadors now in University Circle

University Circle has expanded its Clean and Safe Ambassador program, which will now be an extension of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance's (DCA) service of the same name. University Circle Inc. (UCI) and PNC sponsored the move.
 
Most Clevelanders have seen the Ambassadors on bikes and as a friendly presence at events such as Walnut Wednesday, but what exactly do they do? Fresh Water posed the question to UCI's vice president of services Laura Kleinman.
 
"They're often referred to as 'Clean and Safe Ambassadors,'" she says. "Generally speaking, those are the services they provide."
 
The "clean" part of their jobs includes picking up litter and debris along major corridors with a pan and broom or sometimes with a more muscled beast. They also identify and remove graffiti from public property and fixtures.

Kleinman notes that graffiti is a loose term that includes "everything from a sticker that doesn't belong, to someone defacing a utility box with spray paint," she says. "It really runs the gamut." Ambassadors also remove gum from sidewalks and will take on special projects such as cleaning up notoriously dirty areas like bridge underpasses.
 
The "safe" portion of their responsibilities includes contacting authorities if they encounter something amiss such as an altercation or aggressive panhandling.
 
"They are the eyes and ears for the neighborhood," says Kleinman, noting that they will not only contact the police and fire departments, but they might assist them as well.
 
Ambassadors also act as informal neighborhood concierges.
 
"They are an extension of our visitor center," says Kleinman. That includes giving directions to museums and area restaurants as well as information regarding public transportation and area anchors. "They let people know where to go and what to do," she adds. "In many cases it's parents with students or prospective students or families with patients at one of the area hospitals that are in need of any number of things."
 
Residents will see ambassadors on foot, bicycles and Segways. They'll also attend events such as Wade Oval Wednesday and Wade Oval Winter.  
 
Kleinman encourages any resident in peril to approach an ambassador. Bike trouble? Flat tire? Ambassadors know where to get help or even one better: "Depending on the problem," adds Kleinman, "they might be able to help you."
 
University Circle has four full-time ambassadors in the fairer months and two in the winter, when their duties also include small-scale snow removal. They are located in the University Circle Visitor Center, 11330 Euclid Avenue. Ambassadors are trained and managed by the national firm Block by Block.
 
"The other great service they provide to us is that they're tracking their activity every day, every hour," says Kleinman of the professional staff. "We get great information about what they've been doing: where they are cleaning up, removing graffiti and how many people they've assisted." The resulting data informs UCI on how to manage and deploy resources and helps to track trends.
 
There is another less quantifiable benefit to the ambassadors' presence.
 
"The hand they reach out and the assist they are providing," says Kleinman, "it's great to have that personal touch in the neighborhood."
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