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Art, history, design define new Little Italy-University Circle Rapid Station


Little Italy-University Circle RTA Station construction photo


 
This week, the highly anticipated $17.5 million Little Italy-University Circle Station will open on Mayfield Road at East 119th Street, with a ribbon cutting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. this evening at the new station.
 
"University Circle is thriving," says Joe Calabrese, CEO and general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA). He also notes that the area's growing success has gone hand in hand with parking challenges, which has its own peril. "People don't feel comfortable going there because of parking concerns."
 
Calabrese, along with a host of area partners including the Cleveland Foundation, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), Little Italy, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University, hopes the new station will change that.
 
"The whole community is trying to do more to promote people going to University Circle--not necessarily by car, but by other means as well," he says. "So this will be a great option for them to get to that great area."
 
Construction on the $17.5 million project ($8.9 million of which came from a federal TIGER grant) began in October 2013. The contractor was McTech Corporation. Paul Volpe, founder of City Architecture and a Little Italy resident, led the design team.
 
Highlights of the new station include artistic lighting of the bridges leading to the station, a terrazzo floor designed by artist Suzy Mueller Frazier and lighting fixtures by artist Jennifer Cecere that will remind some of the handmade white doilies that festooned the side tables in Nona's parlor.
 
"This is little Italy and our design team really spent some time looking at appropriate art," says Calabrese, "to almost make you feel like you're in Italy."
 
Another fascinating design element begins with an historic oddity courtesy of the same gents who delivered unto us the Terminal Tower, the Van Sweringen brothers.
 
"They basically built the Shaker Rapid," says Calabrese, adding that the famed brothers planned other rail lines throughout the region. "When we did our investigation as to where we were going to relocate our station, we found this old foundation (we call it a vault) for a station that the Van Sweringens built but never finished." The structure dates back to the 1920s and will now serve as the entranceway and lobby for the new station. "It's an historic piece of transportation history," says Calabrese.
 
The new Little Italy-University Circle Station will replace the East 120th Street Station, which the Plain Dealer described two years ago as, "aging, outmoded, secluded and unsafe-looking." Per Calabrese, demolition plans are well under way, with a contract already in place.
 
"It was not in a good location," he says. "It needed significant upgrades. It was built in the 1950's"
 
These efforts are part of GCRTA's ongoing campaign to address and update an aging system in a changing city that is playing catch-up to other municipalities across the country.
 
"Public transit ridership is growing. It's growing nationally. It's growing here in Cleveland with a whole new wave of public transit advocates: millennials," says Calabrese, adding that the up-and-coming generation isn't nearly as concerned with car ownership as their parents. They want to live and work where walking, biking and public transit options are robust.
 
"If they can't get the lifestyle amenities they want here in Cleveland, they're going to go cities that offer those amenities like Boston, Chicago and New York City," he says, adding that the new Little Italy-University Circle Station is a stalwart step to attracting and keeping them here.
 
"Little Italy is such an important and iconic area of the city," says Calabrese. "We think this station will be a game changer."
 

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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