CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a drive to take full ownership of an effort to reshape highways, transit and public spaces on the downtown lakefront, the City of Cleveland announced Wednesday it is embarking on a new master plan for the area.
The new planning process, on which the administration of Mayor Justin Bibb is prepared to spend up to $500,000, will last a year and is intended to add a broader design vision and public perspective to the new civic effort to better connect downtown to Lake Erie.
The city issued a request for proposals Wednesday from planning firms, with an October 17 deadline for responses.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam, owners of the NFL Browns, jumpstarted the lakefront conversation in May 2021 with a proposal that called for extending the downtown Mall north over railroad lines and the Ohio 2 Shoreway to North Coast Harbor attractions including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and FirstEnergy Stadium.
It was the latest of many proposals over the past century to better link the downtown core and a lakefront separated by a bleak, 14-acre landscape of concrete and steel. Cities across the U.S. have solved such problems in recent decades, but Cleveland hasn’t yet figured out a solution.
The Haslam concept sparked a $5 million transportation feasibility analysis, funded 50-50 by the city and the Ohio Department of Transportation, that started earlier this year. The feasibility study is aimed at clarifying the impact on local and regional traffic if the Shoreway were altered in order to enable the Mall extension.
- RELATED: Fate of Cleveland’s downtown lakefront vision could hinge on whether traffic flow trumps economic development – Commentary
But Bibb doesn’t want traffic considerations to be the only driver of the lakefront project. And he recognizes that the public hasn’t yet had a chance to have a say in the discussion. No public meetings have yet been held on the project.
“If we don’t get the right public input and public buy-in, this won’t work,’’ Bibb said Wednesday in an interview with cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. “We want to use this moment to bring the community together and really make sure this process is rooted in the voices and the will of the people.”
Despite the lack of extensive public engagement on the lakefront so far, the nonprofit organizations Green Ribbon Coalition and Big Creek Connects recently released a series of proposals for consideration by the city.
The design team chosen by the city will be asked to study a much larger than the narrower scope of the $1 million Haslam proposal.
The Haslam concept, developed by New York-based landscape architect Thomas Woltz with Osborn Engineering of Cleveland, focused tightly on the area between West Third Street and East Ninth Street, extending north of Lakeside Avenue to the lakefront.
The new study area will extend from the Warehouse District on the west to East 18th Street on the east, and the city’s municipal parking lots along South Marginal Road.
Joyce Pan Huang, the city’s planning director, said the consultants chosen to carry out the new master plan, will be able to consider public comments on the future of Burke Lakefront Airport as part of the upcoming study, but any detailed plans for alternative uses of the airport would be undertaken in a separate future planning project.
In April, the Bibb administration announced that it had asked a consulting firm already working on a federally required Airport Layout Plan for the city to include the possibility of closing Burke.
Bibb and Huang also said that the new lakefront planning effort will proceed under the assumption that the city-owned football stadium, where the Browns lease expires in 2028, will remain on the lakefront, despite speculation that the team wants a new facility elsewhere near downtown.
Since it began earlier this year, the transportation feasibility study has been broadened to include options for lakefront connectors that go beyond the Haslam proposal. At least eight alternatives are on the table.
Seeking a broader view
Huang said the master plan for the lakefront will add an even broader dimension to the city’s vision.
“The idea is that the lakefront connector study will show us how we will get to the lakefront, and the master plan will show us what we will do at the lakefront and how we’ll experience it,’’ she said.
Parks, transit, pedestrian and bike routes, areas for private development, opportunities for public art, and other features will all be part of the master plan, Huang said.
“It really needs to be a world-class space with both active and passive public space that is available to everybody,’’ she said. “We want it to be spirited. We want it to be reflective of the many cultures that are in Cleveland.’’
And, she said, the lakefront should be a regional amenity that’s equitable and inclusive of people who “have had historical access to the lakefront and those who haven’t.”
The budget line for the master planning process has not yet been identified, Huang said. City Council would have to approve the amount. Ward 6 Councilman and Council President Blaine Griffin and other Council members are engaged in the lakefront process, she said.
Timeline for federal funding
The master planning process is designed to be completed in late 2023 along with the transportation feasibility study, making a complete package. The city sees both studies as a foundation for applications for federal funding for a lakefront connector and potential adjustments to the regional highway system.
Bibb said he believes there will be enough time for the city to apply for federal infrastructure funding for a lakefront project in 2024, before the November presidential election that year.
“I’ve been talking to every leader at every level of government to ensure that they know that the lakefront is a key priority of the Bibb administration,’’ he said.
An early estimate placed the cost of the Haslam proposal at $229 million, but there are no estimates yet for any alternatives under study in the feasibility analysis.
The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, NOACA, which oversees federal transportation spending in the region, is engaged in the transportation analysis, as is the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the region’s chamber of commerce.
The partnership, at the city’s request, organized a large civic task force earlier this year to inform the planning for the lakefront.
Baiju Shah, the partnership’s president and CEO, said the city has asked the business organization for help in evaluating the design firms that respond to the city’s new request for proposals for the lakefront master plan.
The task force members, including civic, philanthropic, and business leaders will also engage in the master planning effort to ensure that it’s integrated with the transportation study, Shah said.
Bibb emphasized that after being spurred by the Haslam proposal, the city is taking charge of lakefront planning, with the interests of city residents and the region in mind.
“I applaud what the Haslams have done to really kickstart this conversation,’’ he said. “But this master planning process is really about centering this with the residents of Cleveland in mind to truly, truly ensure we can have a world-class lakefront that rivals not just what we see in America, but what we see across the globe.”