Park in the mall: Cuyahoga Valley National Park transforms Tower City into green oasis

Donté Gibbs has fond memories of the iconic dancing fountain in the center of Tower City Center—from1998, when he was 10 years old, heading in to see the movie “A Bug’s Life.”

But as wonderful as those memories are, Gibbs is even more excited about what’s now coming in the fountain’s place, 30 years after the fountains first danced.

Today, as vice president of community partnerships with the Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Gibbs and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) are working with real estate developer Bedrock to transform the now-empty 2,100-square-foot oval fountain area into an indoor greenspace.

“Bedrock reached out and they had an idea to create a park in the Skylight Concourse area of Tower City, and right away I thought, 'that’s right where the fountain was,'” says Gibbs. “Then I thought, 'this will create new potential for that space, for families, and good for kids.'”

Gibbs and CVNP ranger Pam Machuga immediately began brainstorming how to create a park in the middle of an urban setting—discussing types of plants and trees that are native to the area, as well as how the park should look and feel.

“It was a natural opportunity to partner with CVNP and Bedrock to think about how people relax and gather,” says Gibbs. “What value to find this green space when you’re in the urban core in Tower City.”

This Saturday, July 16, the Conservancy and Bedrock will unveil the new Skylight Park on the concourse with a lush greenspace, experiential programming and performances, food and beverage pop-ups, and family-friendly activities.

The Skylight Park is Bedrock’s latest endeavor in improving Tower City Center to create a more engaging experiential environment with shopping and retail experiences, dining, and entertainment. Recently, Bedrock announced three new additions to Tower City, including Unscript’d Boutique, Ninja City, and MODBites by Nuevo.

Crews have been installing the new Skylight Park over the past two weeks—featuring a curated mix of live and artificial foliage with real flowers native to Northeast Ohio like the Eastern Purple Coneflower and the Black-eyed Susan. The park will also have benches, picnic tables, and chairs.

“We used plants that are native to Ohio and the Midwestern region because we thought it would be important to highlight the things you might see in your back yard,” says Gibbs. “It’s a continuation of discovery of our region.”

Additionally, CVNP and the Conservancy included features known as “Mindfulness Moments,” which feature encouraging quotes and mantras that will be posted amid the greenery to allows visitors to pause and reflect.

Gibbs cites a quote by poet Maya Angelou as one of this favorite Mindful Moments: “We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.”

Ivy Greaner, Chief Operating Officer at Bedrock, says the urban garden concept fits the revitalization plan for Tower City in a time when malls are no longer considered destinations.

“There are 1,200 malls across the country now, and only 200 are successful,” she explains. “People want more authentic experiences, and they take those experiences very seriously.”

Greaner says the concept of the Skylight Park is to entice shoppers into malls like Tower City. “Most malls have seen better days,” she says. “But bringing the park inside, it’s an opportunity for people to get to the park at night, in inclement weather, and escape.” She adds that the planned regular entertainment and activities will further attract people to Tower City.

Yet, Greaner says they wanted to stay authentic to the Northeast Ohio region with the plantings, which is part of the reason Bedrock brought in CVNP and the Conservancy.

“We could have brought in palm trees from Florida, but it doesn’t seem like the spirit,” she says. “We thought, rather than just fixing the fountain, let’s do something fun. That’s when the idea of working with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park came.”

Gibbs adds, “Being able to reimagine this space, I’m looking forward to how Tower City continues to reemerge as a center of urban nature in this region.”

The grand opening is this Saturday, July 16 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, July 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday events include CVNP’s “Misunderstood Critters and Creatures” from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., to learn about how critters that are often seen as pests—bats, bees, possums—are critical to the ecosystem.

Muralists from the #VoicesofCLE public art project will paint a mural and have and have an interactive chalkboard for guests to share messages and pictures for all to see. There will be a free roller-skating rink, balloon artists, face painting, fortune tellers, live music and entertainment from ListenCLE and appearances by the Cleveland Cavaliers PowerHouse Dance Team, and prize giveaways.

Saturday evening will be capped by a free screening of "Sing 2" in Skylight Park at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, July 17 Sprinkles & Milk will host Ice Cream Social with roller skating, live performances and entertainment.                                    

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.