Downtown resident population still growing, despite the pandemic

Last February, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) announced it was well on its way to meeting its goal of having 20,000 residents living in the city core by the end of 2020. In fact, DCA president and CEO Joe Marinucci predicted the agency would be talking about increasing that goal to 30,000 by the end of the year.

By March, the coronavirus pandemic had taken hold on the country—causing lockdowns, quarantines, and a halt to just about every aspect of business-as-usual.

Projects like the renovation and adaptive reuse of the former Illuminating Company building into the residential apartment project 75 Public Square are underway.It’s been a tough year to keep downtown goals on track, Marinucci concedes, but he says development continues to move forward.

“We’re still on track to hit that 20,000 mark that we had hoped to reach by the end of the year,” he says. “But now we’re looking at the first quarter [of 2021]. We’re just a few months off.”

Residential development projects have continued throughout the pandemic, Marinucci points out, with projects like the Athlon, Euclid Grand, the Beacon, the Lumen, and the May all coming online in 2019 and 2020.

“We are seeing projects being delivered,” he says. “We’re seeing some softening [of the market], but we expected that.”

Other projects in the works are still moving along on schedule, Marinucci says. Projects like the renovation and adaptive reuse of the former Illuminating Company building into the residential apartment project 75 Public Square are underway, and construction on the City Club Apartments is due to begin in the first quarter of 2021, says Marinucci, as is work on the Centennial.

Marinucci says the pandemic has caused a small impact on the number of people moving downtown, but the interest and popularity of downtown living remains strong. “Out-migration still exists among young professionals because they are taking advantage of the interest rates and moving out,” he says. “But we still remain positive in terms of residential growth.”

The restaurants’ struggle
Like everywhere else in the country, Marinucci says the downtown restaurants perhaps have been hit hardest by the coronavirus.

“They have struggled during the pandemic, especially with the limitations in hours being imposed,” he says. “We’ve seen some restaurants close—some permanently, some for the [winter] season and will reopen in March.”

To help those restaurants and small businesses survive, DCA has partnered with Destination Cleveland’s Roam the Winter Wonderland program—encouraging customers to continue to support downtown businesses.

“We want people to take advantage of the restaurants that are still open through pick-up and delivery,” Marinucci says. “We fully anticipate it’s going to be a tough few months.”

DCA Clean and Safe AmbassadorsMarinucci adds that the holiday lights will remain lit through February—giving an added incentive to patronize downtown businesses. “Come down, enjoy the lights, and take advantage of pick-up through the restaurants,” he says. “We want to get people to come down, enjoy the environment, and practice safety protocols while supporting businesses.”

Marinucci adds that the DCA Clean and Safe Ambassadors have been fulfilling their duties throughout 2020. “We made the strategic decision in the first part of the pandemic that the ambassadors were essential to downtown,” he says. “They’ve worked the entire pandemic in both safety and service.”

The winter months are critical times for all small businesses during the pandemic, Marinucci explains, and the community will be key to their survival. He says more than 140 downtown retailers were still open before the virus surge in late fall.

“A number of them made the decision to close for the winter months though,” he says. “With spring comes the opportunity to take advantage of the outdoors. And, hopefully, we’ll have baseball to look forward to.”

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.