Six big, bold ideas that could change Cleveland as we know it, 2nd edition

Last summer, FreshWater reported on six big, bold ideas that could change Cleveland as we know it. The tradition continues this year with a new group of audacious efforts designed to distinguish Northeast Ohio in a growing global economy. From harnessing wind power to jumpstarting the region’s small business ecosystem, each of these ideas has an opportunity to make a major impact on Cleveland.

1. Cleveland public lights proposal: The Detroit Superior Bridge is a striking feature on the city skyline, arcing over the Cuyahoga River to link our east and west sides. Thomas Fox has a bright idea to beautify the already impressive edifice, in the form of a permanent installation of LED lights adorning the inside of the bridge.

According to Fox, his “DS Lights” proposal is a canvas for lights set to music, similar to the holiday season spectacular put on by Disney California Adventure Park, only without the moving fountains.

“What it will look like over time is bound only by limits of creativity and imagination,” says Fox, host of the CreativeMornings lecture series. “I’m proposing a metaphorical movie screen for which new shows can be made over and over.”

Fox says the idea is a shining example of how public arts programming has the power to drive economic returns.

“It’s about gathering people together and creating good will to be shared and multiplied,” he says.

2. Icebreaker Wind energy project: Offshore wind in the U.S. is a multi-billion-dollar industry, one Cleveland has been attempting to utilize for years via the Icebreaker Wind energy project.

The six-turbine Icebreaker would be located in Lake Erie eight miles off the coast of downtown Cleveland. While the turbines would have minimal visual impact, officials from Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), the project coordinator, say their environmental benefits are practically limitless.

“Seven-and-a-half million tons less coal would be burned and 14 tons less CO2 would be emitted,” LEEDCo vice president of operations Dave Karpinski said in an email. “All of these benefits will improve the quality of life for Northeast Ohio residents.”

This spring, LEEDCo reached an agreement with the Ohio Power Siting Board, representing a major milestone outlining environmental monitoring and reporting requirements surrounding Icebreaker. More work must be done before the project can formally proceed, but officials are hopeful about turbine installation beginning as early as 2021.

“Cleveland is a leader in this emerging industry and poised to usher in offshore wind in the Great Lakes – a tremendous source of clean energy in a region dominated by coal-fired power,” Karpinski says.

3. Cleveland Chain Reaction: For two years, Cleveland Chain Reaction has connected local small businesses with private investors eager to expand the city’s entrepreneurial scope. The economic development contest’s third “season” focuses on Collinwood, a community poised to welcome new businesses to its commercial corridors, project organizers say.

“Collinwood is a precious lakefront asset people take for granted or aren’t fully aware of,” says Jeff Kipp, director of neighborhood marketing for Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, which helps coordinate the contest. “We wanted a community that has some success but could use an economic boost.”

Collinwood joins Slavic Village and Old Brooklyn as the newest pitch showcase participant. The big news for 2019 is JumpStart Inc. and Greater Cleveland Partnership investing $125,000 a piece to be split among the five contest winners, guaranteeing at least $50,000 for each business.

Winning entrepreneurs are encouraged to expand their businesses in Collinwood or relocate to the area. Kipp also sees a larger benefit for the neighborhood itself.

“The exposure is great – a lot of new eyes are being placed on the community,” Kipp says.

4. Smart city: Hudson prides itself as a community alive with innovation, and has the accolades to prove it. Recently named a Smart21 Community by the Intelligent Communities Forum, the Cleveland suburb joins an elite group of world-wide metros recognized as innovation hotbeds.

At its core, Hudson is preparing businesses for tomorrow’s digital economy through lightning-speed fiber internet. The city is busy brainstorming new applications for this technology to ensure its place in a “smart” future, says City of Hudson chief economic officer Jim Stifler.

Among Hudson’s future-proofing ideas are deployment of sensor nodes on street poles to help visitors find open parking spaces, or using smart technology to capture real-time rush-hour traffic data. Ultimately, smart technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) offer endless possibilities for cities willing to take the leap, Stifler says.

“We want to expose people at the earliest possible age to the opportunities this technology will bring them,” he says. “We want to stay connected to our past while thinking of or future.”

5. Cleveland as a region: Merging Cleveland and Cuyahoga County into a single regionalized entity has been discussed here since, well, forever. Some folks in Northeast Ohio still support a bold strategy bearing a host of benefits, including elimination of duplicated city services and sharing tax dollars across political boundaries.

Destination Cleveland president and CEO David Gilbert believes erasing rigid political and social divisions among municipalities could elevate Northeast Ohio’s standing in a global economy. But for regional government to have a chance, local governments must act less territorial.

“There’s a long-time lack of trust (in the area) – a lot of it very natural – and we do a better job talking about regionalism than acting,” says Gilbert.

A visitor to Cleveland doesn’t care about boundaries, whether geographic, political or otherwise, Gilbert says. Building cross-city relationships may mean short-term loss for a city’s coffers, but it’s the bigger picture that officials must consider in any regionalism conversation.

“Our competitors are other parts of the country and the world,” Gilbert says. “Developing partnerships means you’re not going to win sometimes, and that’s okay.”

6. Shaker Square re-imagining: Historic Shaker Square is due for a change, say designers working on a new vision for the nationally known shopping district. Transforming the square into a regional amenity friendly to all is key to a proposal orchestrated by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress andLAND Studio.

Central to the plan is removing Shaker Boulevard from the square and rerouting traffic around the perimeter, a move that proponents say will make the district a greener, more welcoming destination.

Other ideas include connecting a multi-use path to a proposed trail in the center median of Moreland Boulevard. New parking garages and creation of a large “event lawn” on the square’s south side are part of the package as well.

Wayne Mortensen, director of design and development of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, says the plan hinges on four key points: vibrancy, connectiveness, convenience and welcome.

“Shaker Square is a lot of things to a lot of people, and the center of a proud community,” Mortensen says. “The more we’ve talked with people about the plan, the more excitement there’s been for the future of the square.”

An update on last year’s Big, Bold projects

Downtown lakefront land bridge

The nonprofit Green Ribbon Coalition continues to press ahead with advocacy for the project, says executive board chair Dick Clough. A group of architects and designers are collaborating on new studies and other efforts to expedite the plan approval process.
<span class="content-image-text">Downtown lakefront land bridge rendering</span>Downtown lakefront land bridge rendering
Emerging EcoDistricts

Having successfully completed its first phase of certification, the MetroHealth System EcoDistrict is currently launching Phase Two of the planning process, consisting of new collaborations among the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation and additional area stakeholders.

Chicago-to-Cleveland Hyperloop

Early funding for a supertrain rocketing passengers from Chicago to Cleveland passed the U.S. House of Representatives in late June. If approved, the bill would open up the Great Lakes Hyperloop System for future federal funding.

Making a ‘smart lake’

Cleveland Water Alliance is working on a few proposals to smarten up Lake Erie through technology: A hack competition encourages teams to pitch new lake-friendly innovations, while alliance leaders expect to launch a harmful algal bloom early warning system, or HAB, later this summer.


Cleveland entrepreneur and blockchain backer Bernie Moreno recently announced plans for the “City Block” tech hub at Tower City. The joint effort between Blockland Cleveland and Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit real estate company could launch next near.

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

DDouglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine, and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.