group plan commission announces details, first major grant for new park

Internationally renowned landscape architect James Corner recently unveiled his plans for Cleveland’s Public Square at the City Club. The square’s four quadrants will be connected via swaths of green space and a pathway, closing Ontario and limiting Superior to buses. It will include a water feature that will allow visitors to dip their toes in the cooling waters, sloped seating embedded in a hillside for concerts or movies, a café and natural landscaping.
 
Now, thanks to an $8 million gift from the Cleveland Foundation, the long-planned changes are one step closer to reality. LAND Studio, a local nonprofit that helps to design vibrant public spaces, will receive grant funding to help implement the Group Plan Commission’s design. The award is part of a special series of grants the foundation is making to celebrate its centennial. The south plaza of the park will be named “Cleveland Foundation Centennial Plaza.”

"This is important because it's the Cleveland Foundation taking a leadership role and saying this transformation is critical for the city’s future," says Jeremy Paris, Executive Director of the Group Plan Commission. "It's a way for them to impact the city for this generation and generations to come, and a validation of the work we’re trying to do. In addition, the gift itself is catalytic for our funding goals."

Paris says the goal is still to break ground on the project this year, and to complete the Public Square redesign by 2016, in time for major events occurring that year.

In his City Club presentation, Corner outlined the importance of public space in an economy where cities are competing for tourism and residents: “Cities are reinvesting, in a bid to retain a competitive edge, in the public realm.” With the recently renovated mall atop the convention center, Cleveland now has an opportunity to create signature public spaces connected to the lake.  
 
Corner presented key aspects of the design. The northern half of the mall will feature a manmade hill with seating seamlessly cut into it. It will also include additional foliage and gardens, with trees positioned to avoid interrupting views yet also to keep the park visible from the surrounding streets. The new water feature will be a reflective pool, yet it will also have jets. As in many other cities, Cleveland will soon have a fountain where kids can play on hot summer days.
 
When the next Polar Vortex returns, this area can be transitioned into an ice skating rink so that Clevelanders can take advantage of winter activities on Public Square.
 
The cafe will be located on the south side of the park. The concept and operator have not yet been chosen, but it will likely be a fast-casual sandwich and coffee shop. The Sailors and Soldiers monument will be well preserved and improved as part of the project. New lighting will highlight the historic monument and the design will open up the space around it to provide uninterrupted views. 
 
In his talk, Corner called attention to the importance of simply populating parks, as well as offering creative, interactive programming. “People love to simply lounge, to be with other people and see others,” he explained.
 
Closing Ontario and limiting Superior to buses remains somewhat controversial, with some wanting not to close the streets and others wanting to close Superior entirely. Corner noted that Superior could be closed occasionally and lined with tents for farmers markets or festivals in the summer months. Design elements will help make crossing Superior a pedestrian-friendly experience. “Our traffic engineers are nationally renowned for traffic planning, and in their estimation, what we’re doing is a good thing in terms of how traffic works in Cleveland,” Corner stated.

Finally, Corner noted how public space can generate economic development in cities. James Corner Field Operations previously had worked on the High Line in New York City. This revolutionary park transformed an abandoned elevated rail line that was once seen as a blemish in the neighborhoods through which it ran. It was about to be torn down until a neighborhood group had the visionary idea to turn it into a park. The High Line is now the second most visited tourist attraction in New York City, attracting 4.5 million people in 2012. It has spurred $2 billion in economic development and 12,000 new jobs in neighborhoods flanking the park.
 
“These are significant investments that aren’t only beautifying, aren’t only socially enriching and enhancing, but also will boost the economy of the city if not the region," Corner stated.
 
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