dca seeks to forge key connections throughout cleveland

The transformative plans laid out by Downtown Cleveland Alliance in its Step Up Downtown report are not necessarily new. They're more a series of recommendations for integrating ideas already in place, tied to a goal of seamlessly linking people and activities from one downtown district to the next.

For the study, DCA hired two consulting firms to suss out ways to bridge existing barriers so Cleveland visitors could enjoy a contiguous - not to mention safe and enjoyable - urban experience. Currently, a walking trip through the city reveals parking lots, vacant storefronts and other unpleasant obstacles that can act as psychological barriers for folks moving between destinations, notes Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of DCA.

"Cleveland hasn't done a great job of connecting neighborhoods in a way that makes pedestrians feel comfortable walking through them," says Marinucci. "If we make investments for those pedestrian-friendly connections, it will make downtown a much more livable and inviting place."

Lots of potential links

The alliance, Kent State University's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative and Colorado-based Progressive Urban Management Associates arrived at 18 recommendations to better integrate a city that DCA predicts will have a population of 25,000 by the end of 2022.

The proposed linkages span from the lakefront to the Gateway District, and from the Flats' east bank back to the Campus District. Some connectors are more modest investments of funding and time, including bike lanes along St. Clair Avenue, a community garden in Willard Park, and better streetlights near bus stops and along walking paths.

Other possible district integration projects are built off the back of larger investments, Marinucci says. A planned $30 million revitalization of Public Square, for instance, would be further embellished by linking the refurbished square and The Malls to one another through streetscape improvements and digital projections that would illuminate the two spaces at night.

"The idea is to accelerate those investments and create a vision for an evolving market," Marinucci says

The 18 connections defined by the DCA report are sorted by cost and time of implementation. Not everything in the plan can be put into effect immediately, though each idea has been assigned a team comprised of alliance partner groups, both private and public, already working downtown.

A few "key connections" from the "Step Up" study include:

*Design concept for the Main Avenue bridge that would light the underside of the structure and add directional signage, encouraging visitors to use the route as a walkway between the Warehouse District and Flats' east bank. Addition of bicycle and pedestrian improvements to the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge is also being pushed.

*Construction of a pedestrian bridge frim the downtown Malls to North Coast Harbor and attractions including the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The walk to the rock hall and other venues along East 9th Street would be made easier via more prominent crosswalks, lighting, banners and wayfinding elements.

*Connection of the Campus District to Lake Erie through a zigzagging route enhanced by new bike lanes, green street improvements and signage. A dedicated, two-way cycle track, meanwhile, would safely shepherd bikers along Ontario Street on their way downtown.

A Cleveland centerpiece

In compiling the study, DCA wanted its suggested connections to move easily around the ambitious plans of its partners. One of those is Stark Enterprises' nuCLEus project, a three-acre mixed-use development consisting of approximately 500 apartments, 150,000 square feet of retail and 200,000 square feet of office space.

Bound by major street fronts including East 4th, Prospect Avenue and Huron Road, the $250 million to $350 million nuCLEus development is slated to bring significant new mixed-use construction to the downtown core, following 15 years of other builders refurbishing obsolete warehouse and office space for hotels and apartments.

"There's been a lot of great renovation of existing space, but the Cleveland skyline is largely unchanged," says Steve Coven, director of development with the real estate company.

Vertical construction will add a 550-foot-high residential tower that would become downtown's fourth-tallest building when completed. Street level, from East 4th to East 2nd Street along High Avenue, will be a pedestrian-only hive of restaurants and retailers similar to the East 4th enclave north of Prospect. The walkway along East 6th Street toward Quicken Loans Arena will receive similar treatment,  incorporating retail and good eats for people on their way to the Cavs' game.

The nuCLEus project got its name for the central role it can play downtown, notes Coven. With the active East 4th Street's district nearby, he believes the combined energy from both developments can be an attractor for national retailers and restaurant companies as well as a connector encompassing a large chunk of the urban core.

"Anywhere you would walk from Progressive Field to Public Square you'd be walking by our property," Coven says. "We would be a center dot connecting all the others."

The notion of connection is what "Step Up Downtown" is all about, says Michael Deemer, DCA's vice president for business development and legal affairs. The report's recommended linkages would fill in any gaps and barriers ambitious endeavors like nuCLEus leave behind.

"We're going to take full advantage of those proposals and create a sense of momentum around them," Deemer says.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, 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.