You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and that’s exactly why Deanna Fisher is passionate about making the Cedar Lee Mini-Park a place that makes visitors and residents fall in love at first sight with Cleveland Heights.
“So many people who visit the Cedar Lee District walk through this space, and it’s often the first experience people have of Cleveland Heights,” says the FutureHeights executive director of the public space between Cedar-Lee Theatre and Boss Dog Brewing Company. “We felt it should really be a much more welcoming and attractive experience than what was currently there.”
Enter plans for the Cedar Lee Mini-Park placemaking project, which seeks to transform the space from an unremarkable pass-thru to a vibrant community hub. With an estimated cost of $440,000, the plans include a raised performance stage, pollinator garden, three-tiered drinking fountain, new trees, and bike racks to supplement the gathering areas already in place.
“This is an area of Cleveland Heights that is very urban, so there is a need for a place where people can connect with nature,” says Fisher. “[The mini-park] will function as a public park for Cleveland Heights residents and visitors.”
This effort has been in motion since 2017, when a group of residents came together to form Friends of Cedar Lee Mini-Park and reinvigorate the city-owned site in tandem with FutureHeights. According to Fisher, the city had acquired the site in the 1960s after it closed Cedarbrook Road to install parking for the Cedar-Lee district, after which the adjacent space became a pedestrian pass-thru from the parking area to Lee Road.
In 2018, FutureHeights mounted a public placemaking and planning process—informed by visioning sessions, workshops, online surveys, and interviews with the surrounding community. Since then, the project has been through several design iterations with Columbus-based MKSK.
“Cedar-Lee completed its streetscape in 2017, but this space was not touched by that [Special Improvement District project],” says Fisher. “This area has always been an afterthought, and the park was tired and forlorn-looking. It has been so long since anyone put any thought into the design.”
That’s all about to change, as Fisher says they are close to landing on the final concept and just launched the final survey for community input. FutureHeights hopes to begin construction this fall (or by spring 2021 at latest) with a phased rollout to accommodate the need for further fundraising; so far, they've raised $80,000 of the necessary $440,000 to bring the project to fruition.
Fisher says she is buoyed by the possibilities and new opportunities to bring more public art and programming into Cleveland Heights. “Cleveland Heights is home to the arts, with more artists per capita than any other city in Cuyahoga County,” says Fisher. “This is a space where we can really celebrate that and create an opportunity for the character of Cleveland Heights to come out.”