Designers 'blown away' by potential of Irishtown Bend
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Planners designing an iconic, 17-acre park overlooking the Cuyahoga River and the downtown skyline on Irishtown Bend lucked out big time Monday.
They kicked off their project on a flawless April day that seemed to echo the sky-high possibilities they saw, not the daunting obstacles that dogged previous efforts to improve the crumbling, weed-choked riverfront hillside, now populated by a year-round homeless encampment.
"I'm blown away by the potential of this site," said San Francisco-based landscape architect Scott Cataffa, a Youngstown native, as he stood near a homeless campground on Riverbed Street, sections of which have sunk several feet over the past few years.
Named for a 19th-century Irish shantytown that once stood there, Irishtown Bend has threatened for decades to slide into the Cuyahoga and disrupt a $3.5 billion shipping industry that serves 20,000 jobs in the region, according to the Port of Cleveland.
Public entities have squabbled for years over how to address the problem. The latest effort, led by the Port and Ohio City Inc., the area's community development corporation, is making headway, in part because the hillside's significance has become crystal clear in recent years.
Apart from its importance to navigation, Irishtown Bend lies at a key central point amid regional trail systems now under construction or in planning, including the Towpath Trail, the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail, and the proposed Red Line Greenway nearby.
The hillside also lies at the doorstep of Ohio City, the burgeoning West Side neighborhood anchored by the West Side Market.
Tom McNair, executive director of Ohio City Inc., pointed out Monday that "we are a waterfront community where you can't see or touch the water."
He said he's thrilled about the prospect of creating a park that could link the trails and leverage views of the river and the skyline to promote further economic development.
"It's an amazing opportunity to pull all of those things together," he said.
The team and the money
Cataffa's firm, CMG Landscape Architecture, is partnering with the Cleveland office of the engineering firm Michael Baker International to carry out the park design.
Their $125,000 project is being funded by $80,000 from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, plus $10,000 each from Ohio City Inc. and the Port.
Land Studio, the nonprofit agency that led the recent renovation of Public Square, has kicked in $25,000 donated by the Joseph and Nancy Keithley Foundation to enhance design quality.
LAND Studio also used Clean Ohio grants to assemble most of the acreage on the hillside, much of which was owned previously by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. Land assembly set the stage for the process that began Monday.
The planners started work on Monday with a sunny hike around the area from top to bottom and back again. And they said they'd hold public meetings throughout the process, giving the public a chance to offer feedback.
Their unabashed goal is to create a vision that it will galvanize public and political support to fix the deeper problems of hillside, which could cost an estimated $49 million, apart from what it would cost to build the park.
Fixing the hillside would mean replacing bulkheads that have rotted away along a riverbank blasted by side thrusters of the big ore boats that cruise around the tortuous curve.
It would also include blocking or diverting sources of water that have creating wetlands and a skim of bright green slime that covered sections of Riverbed Street on Monday.
After the Monday morning tour, the planners held a lunchtime brainstorming session with community leaders at the Market Garden Brewery on West 25th Street, followed by a 5:30 p.m. meeting for community residents nearby at the Franklin Circle Christian Church.
Throughout the day, planners and residents alike emphasized that the future park should:
- Feel welcoming to residents of CMHA's Riverview Tower on West 25th Street next door, and to residents of the agency's Lakeview Terrace apartments nearby, just north of the West Shoreway.
- Be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
- Capitalize on skyline views from West 25th Street and up and down the slope.
- Create connections between the park, its related trails and neighborhoods to the west via intersecting streets including Bridge, Church and Franklin avenues.
Other ideas aired during the day included creating artistically designed playgrounds for children, and connecting the park to the unused lower level of the Detroit Superior Bridge, which once carried streetcars.
McNair said the planners are working with social service agencies to resettle the homeless who now live on Irishtown Bend in flimsy tents with soggy bedding amid trash-strewn campsites.
"What we don't want to see happen is some form of construction to begin and have an issue where we're pushing people out of here," he said.
Frank response to planners
That sounded good to a heavyset man who identified himself as Frank, and who walked past the planners on Riverbed Street Monday on his way to seek lunch at an area church.
Frank, who gave his age as 47, cradled his sleeping bag and clothes in his arms, and said he was a Marine Corps veteran who served in Honduras and in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
He said he had "a felony background" and couldn't find work because of that history.
When asked if he knew what the planners were up to, he said: "They're about to build a metro-park," he said.
When asked to give his thoughts about that, he said: "Everybody here would pretty much have to vacate. It's pretty much time, I guess."