We're just days into 2023, and there's already one candidate for the best news of the year: The end is near for the ugly Jersey barriers along Superior Avenue on Public Square.
It's been a long time coming, and the early-stage design plan submitted last week by LAND Studio, working with the nonprofit Group Plan Commission, is just the start of a process that will take most of 2023, and potentially longer, to complete. But as Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, who helped get the ball rolling in March 2022 when his administration asked Cleveland City Council to authorize the permanent replacement of the "temporary barriers" with "modern and removable bollards," said in a statement at the end of last year, "We are one step closer to the Public Square that Clevelanders deserve."
The Group Plan Commission, which works to develop and improve signature public spaces in Cleveland, announced at the end of December that it had reached its goal of collecting $3.5 million for repairs, renovations and removal of the concrete Jersey barriers. Cleveland City Council last March approved $1.5 million for the rehabilitation, while Cuyahoga County kicked in $1 million and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority contributed $500,000. Other funders of the project: KeyBank, The Sherwin-Williams Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, Bedrock, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rocket Mortgage and JACK Entertainment — all key stakeholders downtown.
Public Square is one of the pillars of the commission's work, along with improvements to the downtown Mall and the long-sought pedestrian bridge to link downtown with a lake that Cleveland all-too-often ignores.
The initial, $50 million Public Square renovation, designed by James Corner Field Operations and completed in 2016, just before the city hosted the Republican National Convention, was an immediate hit. It was aesthetically pleasing, drew critical praise as the country turned its eyes to Cleveland that summer and, most importantly, created a unified, 6-acre pedestrian space that helped Public Square live up to its name. If you spent time on Public Square right after the renovation was unveiled, you couldn't help but be excited by its potential to provide a true gathering place for people and events, creating excitement in the middle of a city that needs it.
That momentum was slowed substantially in 2017, when the barriers were erected in response to homeland security concerns. Although the barriers were obviously ugly and immediately panned, they became part of the status quo in Public Square, and the administration of former Mayor Frank Jackson never made a concerted effort to remove them and take full advantage of the space's renovation. (Big surprise.)
The LAND Studio plan submitted last Thursday, Jan. 5, to the Downtown/Flats Design Review Committee involves replacing the concrete barriers with modern, stainless-steel bollards. The Bibb administration says the square's redesign will create permanent crosswalks and curb extensions in the center. It also will narrow the middle portion of the roadway to one lane in each direction, a measure aimed at bolstering pedestrian safety. One other nod in that direction: There will be 3- to 4-inch raised "tabletop" crosswalk for pedestrians to cross between the northern and southern portions of the square.
Cleveland's Planning Commission was scheduled to begin its review on Friday, Jan. 6, which will kick off a process that inevitably will offer some changes and fine-tuning of the design, and eventually will lead to the selection of a bollard manufacturer. Nora Romanoff, LAND Studio's associate director and Public Square project manager, told cleveland.com that the process of ordering bollards from a manufacturer could take up to 30 weeks and noted that supply chain issues affecting construction industries could affect timing of the project.
There's no rush at this point, and we'd prefer to make sure the review is methodical and well-considered so the update of Public Square returns the space to its full promise. This is also an example of saying what you'll do and then actually doing it. Bibb during his campaign for office pledged a renovation, then worked expediently to introduce legislation to make that happen. City Council did its part, working quickly and constructively. The nonprofit partners and corporate community made planning and funding happen. In this case, at least, we can have nice things.