Kids eager for first downtown playground to open at North Coast Harbor

“When are we going to start digging for the playground?” Downtown Cleveland Alliance spokeswoman Heather Holmes says about nine neighborhood kids asked during the ceremonial groundbreaking for downtown Cleveland’s first public playground Monday, Oct. 28, at North Coast Harbor.

Holmes says the children all live in downtown Cleveland and were given hardhats to keep and lent kid-size shovels to mark the upcoming playground harborside, on the green space outside of the Great Lakes Science Center MC2 STEM High School.

Ground will officially be broken Monday, Nov. 4, by play structure supplier Penchura, which will have the completed playground ready for visitors in just a couple of weeks. “The worst thing you can do to a kid is make them wait for a year,” Holmes says of the quick turnaround on the project.

Philanthropist Joe Thomas, who with his wife Ellen donated private funds for the playground.Designed by Landscape Structures Inc. to mirror the nearby Steamship William G. Mather, the 1,575-square-foot playground will feature slides and climbing components and be ADA accessible, with several wheelchair accessible features. “This is for any child, age 12 months to [age] 92,” says Holmes. “There’s still room for kids to run around and play as well.”

The playground is being paid for by a private donation from philanthropists Joe and Ellen Thomas, whom Holmes says have paid for other playgrounds in the region, mostly at schools. “Creating a space for children to have fun and be outside is right up their alley,” she says. “They read about [our plans] in the paper and picked up the phone and called us.”

While the playground will take just weeks to go up, the planning started in 2018, Holmes says. It began with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s City Advocates placing mobile pop-up playgrounds in different locations throughout Cleveland.

“They popped it up around downtown to see how the public responded, and the Great Lakes Science Center [was most popular],” she says. “Plus, North Coast Harbor has a full-time program manager, and with all of the development happening and lots of activities, it’s actually pretty popular. There’s not a lot of traffic, and kids have access to amenities and public restrooms.”

Additionally, Holmes says it’s high time that downtown got a public playground, given the number of families moving there recently. She says 2017 U.S. Census estimates show more than 1,200 children live in downtown Cleveland.

Designed by Landscape Structures Inc. to mirror the nearby Steamship William G. Mather, the 1,575-square-foot playground will feature slides and climbing components

“North Coast Harbor is a quickly growing neighborhood downtown,” Holmes says. “With the growing number of families with children living downtown, we knew there’s a definite need for things to do. We have 16 units open at Harbor Verandas, the [other development by] Dick Pace and Cumberland Development, and the [pedestrian] bridge under construction will allow quick access from Voinovich Park. So, we’re excited.”

The science center is leasing the land to the city for a “reasonable price,” Holmes says, and the downtown alliance’s Clean and Safe Ambassadors will maintain the playground.

Attending the Oct. 28 groundbreaking were Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; Ward 3 councilman Kerry McCormack; Kirsten Ellenbogen, CEO and president of the Great Lakes Science Center; the Thomases; and downtown residents.

One resident argued early in the planning process that the playground was not downtown's first, Holmes says. Upon investigation, she says downtown alliance officials found that perhaps this is true. “There was a pop-up playground in the 1950s in Public Square,” she says, “where moms dropped their kids off when they went shopping.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.