Has it really been 10 years? It seems hard to believe that a decade has passed since senior editor Colleen Smitek walked River Road with Scott Wolstein for a profile of the developer and his plans for the East Bank of the Flats ("The Son Also Rises," October 2005).
Back then, Wolstein predicted 331 condos and apartments for young professionals in nine residential buildings with ground-floor restaurants, retail, an upscale grocery store and a movie theater. There would be a six-story office building near the RTA's Waterfront Line, and River Road would be moved to make way for the housing and a boardwalk.
"In its prime, the Flats was a fabulous playground but nothing more," Wolstein said at the time. "My vision is to establish an urban neighborhood, with entertainment being just one component of the ... community."
The plan, ambitious even in those heady development days, was to break ground that fall with an opening in spring 2009. But the financing was complex, even for a guy like Wolstein who thrives at finding creative ways to raise capital. And we all know what happened to the economy and real estate lending in the intervening years. But Wolstein and his partners at Fairmount Properties stuck with it, scaled back, adjusted and waited until the housing market recovered.
We got a glimpse of his vision when the 23-story Ernst and Young Tower office building and Aloft Cleveland Downtown hotel opened two years ago. But this summer has been different, as elements emerged one by one like gifts from a Christmas stocking.
You can find many of those new places in this month's issue: Big Bang dueling piano bar, Steve Schimoler's Crop Rocks, Crop Sticks and On Air Studio, Zack Bruell's Alley Cat Oyster Bar and FWD Day & Nightclub, a Best of the Best pick in our annual Best of Cleveland feature. (It's astonishing to believe we'll be hosting our 10th Best of Cleveland Party Oct. 16 as well.)
As fun and diverse as all those spots are, however, it's not what impressed me most during a late August weekend getting reacquainted with the Flats. Instead it was a single apartment, facing west toward the river, with the lights on: People were living here.
It's what Wolstein envisioned 10 years ago, and it's what will make the Flats the community that he knew it could be.