Jeremy Paris, the recently hired Executive Director of the Group Plan Commission
, wants to help Clevelanders reconnect with their iconic downtown public spaces. The Group Plan Commission is expected to break ground later this year on the reconfiguration of Public Square, new amenities for the downtown malls, and a bike-ped bridge that will link the mall overlook with North Coast Harbor.
If you're skeptical that these big picture projects, which have been dreamed about for years with no action, will get done, well, don't worry; Paris will convince you otherwise.
"Cleveland deserves these world class public spaces," he says fervently. "We’ve done an unbelievable job of establishing downtown amenities, and our neighborhoods are increasingly thriving and exciting. Our job is to build the connective tissue, to have public spaces that can weave together these amenities and be gathering places for the city. We’re building on the wave of downtown investment, and I think the city will look and feel different when we get this job done."
Paris attended Yale and Harvard and lived in Washington D.C. for a dozen years. After returning to Cleveland with his wife -- a Cleveland transplant -- he interviewed with County Executive Ed FitzGerald and landed a job in his office. After working on the Group Plan project on behalf of the county, he applied for and was selected as the Group Plan Commission's first director.
"I wanted to be civically involved, and to plug in in terms of what’s going on with economic development and downtown development," he says. "I wanted to work at the hub of the political community, business community and the public realm, and try to get things done for the city. That’s where I feel like I’ve landed."
Although specifics of the Group Plan Commission's work are still being ironed out -- nationally-known architect James Corner, who designed the High Line
in New York City, has been tapped for the project -- Paris says that $30 million has been assembled from the city, county and other sources and designs are being finalized.
A public meeting at the City Club
is being planned, probably sometime in April, to reveal specifics of these designs and garner additional public feedback. Yet the basic concepts discussed for several years remain the same. The Public Square re-do will involve closing Ontario and reconnecting the four quadrants of Public Square; the mall improvements are geared towards making it a thriving, people-filled public space by adding public art, seating, stages, reflecting pools and the like; and the bridge will better connect downtown to the lakefront.
"We want people to use these public spaces, to turn them into activated spaces and not just pretty vistas," says Paris. "Watching people discover these public spaces, even in their current form, I've already seen a change. People look down and say, 'Oh, there’s the lake.' It's like they're seeing it for the first time."
Source: Jeremy Paris
Writer: Lee Chilcote