Come June of 2016, Cleveland’s newly-renovated Public Square will be unveiled to the public – just in time for the Republican National Convention. The plan to renovate Public Square, one of Cleveland’s most well-known landmarks in the heart of downtown, has been tossed around for the last five years by the city’s Group Plan Commission – the nonprofit group founded by Mayor Frank Jackson in 2010 to revitalize Cleveland.
According to Jeremy Paris, executive director of the Group Plan Commission, the organization exists to “transform downtown Cleveland spaces, and make them a connective tissue to those living downtown.”
After news hit that the RNC would be traveling to Cleveland, and basketball player LeBron James would return, money to fund the operation came rolling in.
On July 15, the Cleveland Foundation became one of the first major donors of the estimated $32 million project, donating $8 million towards the cause. KeyBank also joined the efforts by donating $4 million to the cause – the single largest donation the company has ever made.
After influential organizations and businesses within the Cleveland area began to support the initiative monetarily, the sketches rendered by the design team seemed as though they would become a reality. Designs of the Square include a water fountain, ice rink for the winter months, spotlights to feature the historical monuments, larger green spaces, a heightened pedestrian pathway and a café.
“We want to make it feel like a neighborhood, a place to walk your dog, a place to drink coffee and a place to hang out with your friends,” said Paris. “We’re envisioning day-to-day programming such as food trucks and vendors, free speech events and art exhibitions and performances, as well as large scale programming.”
According to Ed Rybka who oversees the mayor’s development department, specifically city planning, says the plans have come a long way within a short period of time.
“A few weeks ago,” said Rybka, “we finally received approval from the Cleveland Restoration Society after compromising how
to preserve and pay tribute to important landmarks and monuments in the Square. Now, as we’re getting into crunch time, we’re taking the next steps.”
Rybka added that the Group Plan Commission is currently in the process of hiring a design builder and a construction manager.
“Currently, we’re trying to hire the manpower necessary to overcome construction issues that have been reviewed by the city of Cleveland.”
“At first glance,” said Rybka, “it may seem like the main problem is working with what’s above ground. But, the most difficult part is working on what’s underneath the iceberg, so-to-speak.”
Rybka is specifically referring to the process of removing and reinstalling the sewer system, as well as the cable and electric lines underground.
The Group Plan Commission has tentatively scheduled construction to begin at the beginning of 2015, and end by June 1, 2016.
“The other obstacle we’re trying to overcome is controlling traffic during the construction period,” added Rybka. “We’ve hired a traffic consultant to help accomodate traffic flow – both for vehicle and bus traffic. This includes the closure of Ontario Avenue. However, Superior Avenue will remain open.”
Rybka also adds that many Clevelanders affiliate Public Square as the transit hub of the city. “We’re looking to relocate bus stops, which is a critical issue for the RTA. We’re still deciding the best plan of attack so it doesn’t clog up traffic flow around the square.”
Paris added that the planning team is making every effort to balance the interest of all parties involved. “Some don’t like that [Public Square’s] a transit hub, and believe the bus stops should be moved. Others want to keep it there. We’re working closely with RTA to come to a compromise.”
The Group Plan Commission is also seeking to implement a system to maintain the attractiveness of the Square once its finished.
“A decent portion of the dollars for the project will go towards maintenance initiatives such as snow removal, litter control, gardening and addressing other issues,” explained Rybka. “We want to make sure the newly renovated Public Square is a people magnet.”
Rybka added that Cleveland is entering into an exciting time. “More young people are moving into the downtown area. And, with the renovation, it’s only going to increase. Development builds on that activity. Investments in open spaces tend to attract residential and commercial development.”
Additionally, the city of Cleveland believes the revitalization of the square will germinate into economic prosperity.
“Morale is higher than ever. Part of it is the RNC, and part of it is getting back the best basketball player in the world,” Rybka said. “The fact that we’ve come out of the worst economic period next to the Great Depression stronger than ever says a lot about who we are as a city. This project is an example of that.”
Many Clevelanders are excited to see how the new changes will positively impact the city.
According to native Clevelander and John Carroll University student, Alex Kwit, the changes will make Cleveland appear more favorable to people outside the area. “The renovation will foster a greater sense of community among Clevelanders, and show people who don’t live in Cleveland what makes us unique as a city.”
Paris believes the project will serve as a model for other cities. “We’re pursuing this project with a unique public-private partnership model,” Paris said. “It really exists to bring in the public, private and philanthropic sector commitment. That way of coming together to pursue a common goal is a unique aspect, and I bet it’s going to be an example for other cities after its completion – not just what we did, but how we did it.”
Rybka added the mayor has stressed the renovation will make Cleveland more than just a great city, but rather, a neighborhood. By implementing pedestrian walkways, green space and family-friendly programming at Public Square, he believes the heart of Cleveland will be stronger than ever.
“Cleveland will be a neighborhood, and the area around Public Square will be a desirable place to work, live, enjoy – not just from the window of your car.”