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First look: Nearly finished Public Square renovation looks spectacular

CLEVELAND, Ohio – It's too soon for a final evaluation of the nearly finished, $50 million, 15-month renovation of Public Square. But a visit inside the perimeter construction fence earlier this week was deeply encouraging. It looks like the square, which is on schedule and on budget for completion in June, in time for the Republican National Convention in July, is going to be knockout beautiful and unlike any other public space in the city. The nonprofit city-county Group Plan Commission, the civic body that has overseen the project, isn't yet ready to announce precisely when the square will open to the public, or when a formal dedication will occur. But Jeremy Paris, the commission's executive director, said on Wednesday that more information will be in the offing soon. This much is known: - The Cleveland Orchestra has scheduled a July 29 concert in the square. - The Group Plan Commission has hired Sanaa Julien of Cleveland Metroparks as a loaned executive to manage public events and branding for the square. - The commission has raised at least $3.8 million of the $6.8 million it hopes to have for programming and maintenance. - LAND Studio, the nonprofit landscape and public art agency that managed the renovation, will launch a temporary outdoor installation, created by the group Cracking Art of Milan, Italy. - The National Endowment for the Arts just awarded Cuyahoga Arts and Culture a $50,000 matching grant for arts programming in the square. As of Wednesday, the square's new concrete benches and paved walks were finished. Workers from the contracting firm of Donley's were installing the paving blocks in the square's splash zone, which can be programmed as a placid reflecting pool or as a fountain with arcing jets of water. Elsewhere, workers were finishing the square's outdoor cafe, a one-story pavilion designed by nArchitects of New York with the Cleveland firm of Westlake Reed Leskosky. The freshly conserved bronze statues of city founder Moses Cleaveland and early 20th-century mayor Tom Johnson gleamed from their new respective locations at the south and north sides of the square. Wiping away a dowdy past As the square's future comes into focus, what's clear now is that the project should wipe from memory the previous state of the space as a collection of four crumbling traffic islands marooned amid the wide lanes of Superior Avenue and Ontario Street, the latter of which has been removed to create two large rectangular spaces divided across the middle by the now-narrower Superior Avenue. The first impression created by the project is stunning. Freshly planted dogwood and eastern redbud trees were in full bloom this week. All other trees, including gingkos, homestead elms, lindens, and "dura heat" birches, were planted and greening up. The big event lawn on the north side of the square, which culminates in two hills at the northeast and northwest corners, was planted with a lush, swooping carpet of rich, green Kentucky bluegrass. The views from the hilltops looking down onto the lawn are breathtaking, and they highlight just how radical an act it was to remove the two-block section of Ontario Street that used to cut north-south across the space. The new Public Square symbolizes an age in which cities are reshaping urban spaces for people, not automobiles. Unifying the square The redesign, led by the nationally renowned landscape architecture firm of James Corner Field Operations, co-designer of the celebrated High Line Park in New York, looks as if it will accomplish much of what it set out to do for the historic, 10-acre civic space in the heart of downtown Cleveland. The biggest impression is that the square, once dominated by traffic and carved into meaningless, unattractive quadrants, now feels like a single, unified space. Whether it will continue to feel that way once buses start cruising east and west on Superior Avenue is open to question. But it's clear that the northern and southern halves of the reconfigured square create a palpable sense of flow across the bisecting avenue. One key to the unification is that the concrete pebble aggregate paving of the avenue and its flanking sidewalks and plazas match each other, reducing the interruption created by the avenue. Continue Reading

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