Four visions of four sections of Cleveland are merging into one — and that’s just fine with the visionaries.
The sections are downtown, with its growing residential population and live-work landscape; the Health-Tech Corridor, which uses Euclid Avenue to join downtown to University Circle; the MetroHealth Corridor, where the MetroHealth System is rebuilding its main hospital campus on the near southwest side; and Opportunity Corridor, a new 3-mile boulevard that will connect Interstate 490 to Cleveland Clinic.
On Feb. 15, representatives from each corridor met at Greater Cleveland Partnership downtown to review their progress connecting the city’s dots. The panel discussion was part of GCP’s ongoing series of breakfast presentations by business leaders, politicians and industry experts.
Those on the panel included Michael Deemer, executive vice president for business development at Downtown Cleveland Alliance; Jeff Epstein, director of Midtown Cleveland, which is working to redevelop the Health-Tech Corridor; Jim Haviland, director of economic and community development for MetroHealth; and Chris Urban, director of physical development at GCP, which supports Opportunity Corridor.
Tim Tramble, executive director of Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. in Cleveland, moderated the event with help from Steve Luca, managing vice president of Cleveland Development Advisers, a GCP affiliate that invests in real estate and business projects.
Deemer said downtown’s residential population, now exceeding 15,000, is growing as millennials demand walkable, live-work communities. He projected the population will reach 40,000 in 10 years.
The key is keeping the momentum going because downtown repeatedly has experienced busts after booms.
“For a variety of reasons, we took our foot off the gas,” Deemer said. “We stepped back and allowed ourselves to pat ourselves on the back a little bit.”
Epstein said the growth of workforces downtown at Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals and in University Circle has driven development in the Health-Tech Corridor.
“We want to transform that middle piece from a pass-through to a place,” Epstein said.
Haviland said MetroHealth is undergoing a transformation of its 52-acre campus on West 25th Street in the MetroHealth Corridor, which stretches from Old Brooklyn in the south to the West Side Market. The new hospital campus will include plenty of greenery. “It will be five years of nonstop construction,” he said.
Opportunity Corridor started as a transportation initiative through several East Side neighborhoods, but evolved into an economic-development project for those neighborhoods, Urban said. Work is scheduled to be completed by 2021. “Opportunity Corridor will present a huge opportunity for growing employment in an area that can benefit significantly from it,” he explained.
The recipe for these projects’ successes requires several ingredients. Here are a few:
Deemer said downtown redevelopment and growth relies on inducements like the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, established in 1976. It provides a 20 percent tax credit for projects involving rehabilitation of historic structures.
Deemer said the tax credit, over the past 10 years, has played a role in modernizing historic downtown buildings into residential and commercial properties.
Luca noted that the federal New Markets Tax Credit extends tax credits to private firms that invest in distressed communities.
However, Deemer pointed out, state and national politics can threaten these programs. Business leaders must lobby elected officials to keep the tax breaks in place, he said.
“These can be acrimonious issues, but they are no-brainers, good things when it comes to job creation and development, not just in core cities but in the entire state and region,” Deemer said. Meanwhile, MetroHealth is financing its project through hospital revenue bonds, backed by the revenue the redevelopment is expected to generate.
“Cleveland has far and away the strongest and most robust transportation system in the state of Ohio,” Deemer said. “It’s not even close.”
That system includes the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s HealthLine, a bus-rapid connection of Public Square and East Cleveland. It runs along Euclid Avenue through the Health-Tech Corridor. Haviland said MetroHealth is working with RTA to rebrand the agency’s 51 line, which links MetroHealth and surrounding neighborhoods to downtown. New mass-transit vehicles will bear the MetroHealth logo.
An audience member challenged the panel, saying transportation in Greater Cleveland is sorely lacking. Deemer admitted that more is needed.
“There will probably have to be some type of local solution, but we already have the highest sales tax in the state, and a portion of that goes to RTA,” Deemer says. “Lots of folks are working on it, but good solutions are tough and not obvious.”
Epstein said he wants new developments in the Health-Tech Corridor, which runs through four inner-city neighborhoods, to provide job opportunities for those living there. He mentioned Link 59, a new 11-acre business park, as an example.
“We’re fighting hundreds of years of poor policy decisions and structural racism that has affected our communities,” Epstein said. “We all need to be very intentional and open-minded about addressing that challenge, and we need a coordinated and cohesive strategy, regionally, in attacking that.”
Urban said Opportunity Corridor will bring economic development to some of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. For example, Innovation Square on East 105th Street will contain about 500 new homes for people living and working there.
Haviland said MetroHealth is working with neighborhood organizations to remake the corridor. The hospital hopes to draw mixed-use developments that include new housing and retail, and its plans include a $100 million capital campaign for job training and community programs.
Deemer said DCA aims to build housing and commercial buildings on surface parking lots downtown.
“Over the next 10 years, that’s our big growth opportunity,” Deemer said.
Epstein added the plan in Health-Tech is to convert older buildings into flex space. MetroHealth is looking to renovate vacant, older buildings.
Opportunity Corridor contains an abundance of vacant land, which is unusual for an inner-city area, Urban explains. Potential development sites measure 10 to 15 acres.
“To see sites of that scale,” he said, “you probably have to look outside the county, where the transportation infrastructure doesn’t exist, or is not nearly as robust, and where the labor force isn’t as robust as the center of the city.”