There was a time late in the 20th century when the 5 o’clock whistle blew, and downtown Cleveland would become a virtual ghost town, the workers all flocking to the suburbs.
That is no longer the case. Today, downtown Cleveland is bursting with life and a whole lot of people who call it home.
While downtown’s population hit a low point in the 1960s and 1970s, numbers started rising in the late 1980s and early 1990s with development of adaptive reuse projects like the Warehouse District. Steady subsequent development grew the population by 102% between 2000 and 2017, according to the International Downtown Association.
In 2017, 15,000 people lived downtown. In 2018, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance set a goal of growing the population to 20,000 by 2020. It looks like the agency charged with making downtown a vibrant place to live, work, and play is going to meet that goal.
In 2018, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance set a goal of growing the population to 20,000 by 2020.
Downtown will indeed see 20,000 residents by the end of the year, says Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the alliance, and the neighborhoods are still growing.
Still, they are not slowing down efforts to increase the city’s core, he says.
“In 2015, we had 15,000 residents, with the goal of 20,000 by 2020, and with new construction, we will get to 20,000 by the end of the year,” he says. “But now it’s time to recalibrate, and by the end of the year, you’ll hear us talking about 30,000 [residents living downtown].”
Residential construction projects like The Beacon, Terminal Tower Residences, The Athlon, the May Co. building, and The Lumen have kept the migration to the city growing steadily, Marinucci says, and the alliance aims to continue that growth through additional residential projects, beautification and safety programs, and involvement from the city of Cleveland and downtown businesses.
On Jan. 31, the alliance announced its “Build Something” campaign for the renewal of the Downtown Cleveland Special Improvement District. Since 2005, the improvement district has allowed Cleveland’s city core to grow, see tremendous residential development that has drawn 20,000 residents, and create a safe place for people to live, work, and play in the city.
With people living downtown comes a healthy retail business base, says Michael Deemer, the alliance’s executive vice president of business development, with 88.8% of available space filled. Today, downtown has 473 retail businesses, with more than half restaurants—263—making up 28% of the city's available retail space.
Steady development grew the population in downtown Cleveland by 102% between 2000 and 2017.“Today, restaurants serve as retail anchors in downtown Cleveland in the same way department stores once did,” he says. “The strength of the retail market in downtown is largely supported by the population density of residents, the workforce, and visitors to downtown on a daily basis.”
The alliance’s 13th annual Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week, running from Monday, Feb. 24, to Sunday, March 1, is one way it highlights the vibrancy of today’s downtown Cleveland. About 50 restaurants have signed on to participate this year.
“Restaurant Week is an initiative that many large cities, small suburbs and restaurant groups produce annually to help drive traffic into restaurant establishments during slow winter months,” Deemer says. “Downtown Cleveland Alliance continues to spearhead Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week to showcase our vibrant downtown culinary scene to new talent, business, visitors and investment.”
Diners can visit participating downtown restaurants and enjoy a three-course lunch for $15, or dinner for $30.
Events like Restaurant Week are popular, in part, because of the positive effects produced under the improvement district. The city is cleaner, safer, brighter, and overall a destination for locals and visitors alike.
The improvement district, which is measured in five-year increments, must receive 60% approval from downtown businesses. Business owners sign a petition asking the city to assess them fees (based on linear square footage of the property and the property value) for services that improve the downtown experience.
“Fifteen years ago, we created a SID under Ohio law,” Marinucci says. “At that time, we worked with property owners to make a determination of enhanced services. We created a five-year threshold where we go back to the building owners to give them a chance to assess the progress we made.”
The improvement district assessments totaled $4.2 million in 2019, collected from 600 ownership groups owning 1,700 parcels, Marinucci says. “Everybody who owns real property is subject to the assessment,” he says. “The city and federal properties are exempted.”
Programs like the alliance’s Clean and Safe Ambassadors program rely on the help of 68 full-time, paid employees (95 ambassadors in the summer months) to keep the city in good shape.
“The ambassadors are the concierges, the eyes and ears of the police, keep the sidewalks clean, act as safety escorts, and will even change a flat,” Marinucci says. “Two-thirds of every dollar assessed goes to the ambassadors’ [salaries].”
As the petition circulates again in 2020, Marinucci says he is optimistic that business owners once again will support it. “They feel good about our work in the marketplace,” he says. “We’ve gotten good support over the years, and we anticipate good support in the upcoming year.”
They expect to have 60% support by the end of March, Marinucci says, at which time they will begin to work with city officials. “Our hope is by September, we will have all the ordinances passed.” It may take a “few years” to reach the next benchmark of 30,000 residents, he says. “If we can keep the momentum, the faster we will reach that goal.”