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Big progress announced for Irishtown Bend stabilization and future park with skyline views

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A project to stabilize the Irishtown Bend hillside and create a new park on top of it with spectacular views of the downtown skyline and the Cuyahoga River is gaining money and momentum.

On Friday, the board of the ClevelandCuyahoga County Port Authority awarded a contract not to exceed $3.3 million for detailed design work that could lead in 18 months to firm estimates for the cost of stabilizing the hillside, plus construction contracts that could be put out for bids.

Without the work, the hillside could collapse, blocking industrial shipping and rupturing a major sewer line.

Named for a 19th-century Irish immigrant settlement, Irishtown Bend is a long-vacant, weed-choked hillside that descends from behind buildings on West 25th Street to a muddy curve on the Cuyahoga River, where bulkheads have decayed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated in 2009 that stabilizing the slope could cost from $80 million to $219 million, but that number is coming down. A subsequent analysis by the Port in 2015 put the figure at $49 million.

Advocates of the project also said that government agencies and foundations have committed nearly $20 million to stabilize the hillside, build new bulkheads, design the park in detail, and build a riverfront trail.

Proponents said they have most of the 17 acres needed for the park under control by collaborating organizations, including subsidiaries of the nonprofit West Creek Conservancy. Roughly $4.5 million worth of land has been donated.

“I think it’s been extraordinary,’’ said Tom McNair, executive director of Ohio City Inc., which is spearheading the project, along with LAND Studio, the Port, West Creek, Cleveland Metroparks and the City of Cleveland. He called the collaboration “nothing short of miraculous.”

The Port’s action Friday awarded the Cleveland firm of Osborn Engineering with a contract to design stabilization measures including re-grading, new bulkheads and “geotechnical” structures.

The board also designated Riverbed West LLC, a subsidiary of West Creek, as the recipient of the grant and co-manager of the project.

West Creek owns key pieces of land along the river and other parcels which it purchased from the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority recently with a $1.4 million Clean Ohio grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Of the construction dollars committed so far, $7 million has been earmarked by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to rebuild a major sewer line, which is beginning to buckle under pressure from movement in the hillside.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, meanwhile, has awarded $3.3 million for construction of a future trail that would complete the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail along the riverfront.

The Lake Link Trail is a spur of the 101mile Towpath Trail, nearing completion in Cleveland in 2021, and part of a growing regional network connecting Cleveland to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Grace Gallucci, executive director of NOACA, called Irishtown Bend “a vital connection to
the trail network.”

She also called stabilizing the Irishtown hillside “the highest priority for the region when we talk about transportation” because the Cuyahoga River supports what she described as $3 billion a year in economic activity.

NOACA is waiting to hear from the U.S. Department of Transportation on its second attempt to win a $15 million grant under the INFRA program, short for Infrastructure Rebuilding America.

Change could soon be visible on the hillside.

By this fall or winter, park advocates said, two structures off West 25th Street will be demolished, opening up skyline views for the first time and revealing the potential of the future park.

Those buildings are the now vacant former headquarters CMHA and a residential building that’s been vacated, known as Big 8.

Once the buildings are gone, “you’ll be able to stand at the top and see what it [the park] can be,’’ said LAND Studio Executive Director Greg Peckham. “It’s inarguable it should happen.”

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