By Marc Lefkowitz
Once the “Grand Avenue” that boasted the
world’s wealthiest addresses and a bustling commercial district,
Euclid Avenue today is suffering. If you’re in search of a
'quiet crisis,' drive or walk from Public Square to Midtown and
take notice of all the dark storefronts.
Euclid Avenue connects the central business district,
the east side and the cultural hub at University Circle. After the
promise of a new lakefront and a revitalized Cuyahoga Valley, Euclid
Avenue is Cleveland’s third frontier. But despite plans that
include installing bike lanes and sidewalk dining, the $200 million
Euclid Corridor Transportation Project has been a lead balloon.
Letters to the editors in newspapers around town blast it as another
example of government run amok (even as most incorrectly assume
that the federal dollars could be transferred to fixing their
Midtown, particularly the section between E. 55th
and E. 70th on Euclid Avenue, hasn’t had much to cheer about
since 1995 when Pierre’s Ice Cream relocated and expanded
its operations at E. 65th and Euclid. All around, the building shells
of the city’s light manufacturing center and the neighborhood
that supported it are crumbling.
Like it or not, all is about to change.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA)
is preparing to spend the first $60 million of the $200 million
for the Euclid Corridor project on a new streetscape and the city’s
first dedicated bus lanes (running state-of-the-art diesel-electric
hybrid buses) on Euclid. Plans are also underway for a $21 million
Midtown Technology Center at E. 59th and Euclid from local developer
John Ferchill, who was recently in the news for the adaptive reuse
of the former, sprawling Pabst Brewing Company complex in Milwaukee.
Even as the individual pieces begin to fall into place,
the larger vision for Midtown is far from set. So Hotel Bruce went
in search of the future Midtown—we asked top local practitioners
in urban design, architecture and development to consider whether
the proposals to remake Midtown into a hotbed of biotech research
will help recapture its urbanity and spur more development?
A place to begin is with the linkages, or what’s
in proximity to Midtown, says David O’Neill, a partner at
real estate brokerage firm Colliers International.
“We need to do a better job connecting with assets,”
he says. “The Cleveland Clinic has 9,000 employees—where
do they like to shop and go out? And do they want to take the Euclid
‘trolly’ to work?”
O’Neill, who is not involved in development
in Midtown, points to Beacon Place and Church Square as an example
of a successful, infill mixed-use development linked to the Clinic.
He thinks it’s replicable in Midtown, and suggests that a
developer build residential spaces at $85-100/sq. ft. and sell them
at around $115-120/sq. ft.
“A lot of what’s coming downtown is selling
at $200 a square foot,” he says. “If you take advantage
of forgivable second mortgages and the New Market Tax Credits, ultimately,
that’s the type of situation that fills gaps and makes new
development more affordable.”
On his wish list for Midtown is a development that
serves both the biotech nerds and nearby residents. And perhaps
its design could be a little more ‘creative’ and walkable
than Beacon Place and Church Square.
“I would like to see affordable, for-sale housing
as part of a retail and biotech mixed-use development,” O’Neill
says. “You’ll want neighborhood retail—a coffee
shop, family style dining, basic services like banking, dry cleaning,
postal, and food operations.“
“If you plan it, you can have cool spaces that
relate to the creative class and neighborhood buying power. Rite
Aid and the like…I mean, it’s kind of suburban. The
limited retail around the Clinic is not serving the shopping needs
of a daytime trade.”
Creating a vibrant, walkable district will happen
if it’s the collective value of the community and not seen
as too risky by the private market, notes Andrew Baque. Baque is
an urban designer, formerly at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative,
now at Wade-Trim.
“For people who choose a compact environment,
the notion of efficiency and access is critical,” he says.
"They choose to live in a place where forms of entertainment
and conveniences that feed our daily lives are not far away. Those
principles can’t be sacrificed if you’re doing biotech
or another institutional development. The guarantee of success lies
in diversity of use.”
Urban redevelopment often takes into account that
a fairly high percentage of people walk to shop, says O’Neill.
Still, New Urbanism—close-knit development with ground-level
retail, commercial/residential above and parking in the back—is
a fairly new concept for Cleveland. Is the market ready or is new
urbanism a notion that continues to get lip service?
The Cleveland Clinic’s monolithic designs as
well as the sketches for the proposed Midtown Technology Center—a
modernist glass and steel box dropped down in the center of the
parcel of land between Euclid and Chester – may provide some
clues. Receding from the street and scaled like a HumVee, the Clinic’s
buildings set the standard on Euclid.
They are uninviting because they turn their back to
the community, says local architect Calvin Singleton Jr. who serves
as co-chair of the Euclid Corridor Subcommittee of the Arts and
Transit Committee. Yet Singleton hastens to add that classic 1920’s
architecture may not be the answer for a future Midtown, either.
“A lot of times, a culture came into a community
and tried to meld into a building not always suited to it,”
he says. “I don’t know if preserving buildings is the
best way to pay tribute. I would start by thinking, ‘how do
I interact with the community to make it fuller’ instead of
an entity plopped in there.”
One way to do that is by paying homage to Cleveland
as a hub of attractions—be it art, music, culture, or sports,
Singleton says. He points out the history of the area which includes
the Cleveland Arena and boxing impresario Don King; Leo’s
Casino, a local club that hosted the hottest acts from Motown; the
Italian stonemasons who left their mark on the architecture; the
large African-American population, and even the small, relatively
unknown Japanese-American population that migrated there after World
The remnants of the past—the empty warehouses
in Midtown—represent both the social character and the opportunity
of the area, says Baque. He mentions the abandoned warehouses in
the Warehouse District, which were adapted into residential and
commercial spaces by artists and creatives in the 1980s.
“Warehouses allow for a range of tenant types
and users of a district,” says Baque. “They tend to
be flexible building types. If you have ‘missing teeth’
that could be good because it provides an opportunity for new construction.
And you’re not relying on one large investor with deep pockets.”
Filling in the ‘missing teeth’ or gaps
from abandoned parcels in urban areas with retail and housing has
been the rallying cry of the Campbell Administration, which recently
inked a deal to convert the former LTV West side mill into Steel
Yard Commons, a retail power center. Yet, O’Neill, who was
with Campbell on her recent trip to Las Vegas to court big box retailers,
disagrees with a conclusion from the recent Cleveland retail study
(completed by Oster Research Group) that E. 55th and Euclid is a
potential spot for big box.
“The Oster study did a good job identifying
the potential for retail in the city, but you have a demographic
hole to the north with the lake at the periphery,” O’Neill
says. “I’m not opposed to seeing big boxes coming into
the city. They do a superior job of delivering products. Americans
want it better, faster, and cheaper and by God they got it…
“The mayor speaks eloquently about the [estimated
$1.3 billion in retail sales] leakage from the city. It’s
time to reach out and capture these retailers. [Midtown] is a viable
stretch—it’s just not on the radar screen because it
has not been developed yet.”
With massive public investment about to be poured
into a new infrastructure on and below Euclid Avenue, it is only
a matter of time before the private market lines up to vie for development
rights. The discussion of land-use, design, and building types will
then begin in earnest.
“You recreate a community with place-making
real estate,” says O’Neill, who sold the multimillion-dollar
adaptive reuse of the Bradley Building in the Warehouse District
as live-work lofts. “Despite the fact that it’s tough
to assemble sites and combine density with mixed uses, your space
breeds creative ventures.”