June 18, 2017
CLEVELAND, Ohio - The proposed 17-acre park at Irishtown Bend, now a weed-choked eyesore on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River opposite downtown, could feature a zip line, “boulder scramble,” a stage, picnic pavilion, and farm terraces. Or it could be filled with a rolling lawn, natural meadows, a farmer’s market and a “water treatment garden.”
Consultants designing the park have prepared two dramatically contrasting visions that they’ll formally unveil and describe in detail in a public meeting between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, at the St. Ignatius High School Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland.
The meeting is not intended to present an either-or choice, but to dramatize different possibilities as a way of clarifying a direction for the park, and to identify what some of the most popular and desired elements might be, and how they might be mixed and matched.
“We are at a critical juncture in this process,” said Tom McNair, executive director of Ohio City Inc., the nonprofit community development corporation co-leading the planning effort with LAND Studio, the Port of Cleveland and the City of Cleveland.
“We want to have as many people show up and participate as we can,” he said. “The visions that people will see on Tuesday are going to shape the future direction that this whole hillside is going to take.” Tuesday’s meeting is the latest step in a six-month design process that began in April.
Goal: A vision wanted by the public
The goal is to provide Cleveland with a vision for the park that’s compelling enough to generate the political and financial will to stabilize the Irishtown Bend hillside, a necessary precursor to the eventual park that will occupy the space.
McNair and other planners said in an interview at the Port’s offices Thursday that detailed proposals could be ready for presentation to the city’s planning commission by Sept. 1.
The planning effort represents the most serious effort ever to turn a huge liability into what could be one of the city’s greatest assets.
For decades, the 17-acre Irishtown slope has threatened to slide into the Cuyahoga River and block industrial shipping that supports thousands of jobs in Northeast Ohio.
Once the site of a 19th century shantytown populated by poor Irish immigrants, the hillside is blanketed today by Japanese knotweed and inhabited by an extensive homeless encampment along the river’s edge.
The Port of Cleveland estimates that stabilizing the hillside could cost $49 million. There are no estimates for the cost of the park. Funding both projects will require extensive civic collaboration, said Freddy Collier, the city’s planning director.
Money and collaboration needed
“It does take inspiring vision to be able to see what’s possible and then to have the will to make it happen,” he said. “That doesn’t just rest on the city’s shoulders, it rests on a number of different actors.”
Collier said the park project is a high priority for the city because it has the potential to be a regional attraction, to boost the economic growth in Ohio City, and to serve residents at all socioeconomic levels, including those living in the Riverview Tower of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, which overlooks the site of the new park.
Collier compared Irishtown Bend to San Antonio’s famous River Walk, or to the newly re-landscaped riverbanks along the Scioto River in Columbus, and said the Cleveland project offers bigger possibilities.
Capitalizing on geography
“We have much more potential here in Cleveland to capitalize on our topography and really leverage the investments taking place in this town,’’ he said. “We see this as a huge opportunity.”
Among other things, the park would command spectacular views of the Cuyahoga River and the downtown skyline. And it would include recreational paths connected to the Towpath and Lake Link trails, enabling users to walk or bike from Wendy Park at Whiskey Island on the Lake Erie shoreline, to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and points south.
The planning study is being funded with an $80,000 grant from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, plus $10,000 each from Ohio City Inc. and the Port.
LAND Studio, the nonprofit design and planning agency that led the recent renovation of Public Square, is contributing $25,000 donated by the Joseph and Nancy Keithley Foundation to enhance design quality.
The design is being led by the San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm of CMG, and by the Cleveland office of Michael Baker International, an engineering firm.
Part of the study will define how West 25th Street could be redesigned to accommodate a bus rapid transit line the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is considering, and how to make the street a more gracious experience for bikers and pedestrians.
The study will also examine how the park could enhance the development potential of properties on the west side of West 25th Street, and the positive economic impact it could have on the entire city.
Active and playful
Of the two proposals to be discussed, the one entitled “Neighborhood Portals” calls for a fairly dense arrangement of active spaces built around geometric pathways including switchbacks that zigzag down the slope.
A zip line could be part of the package, along with a slide built into the hillside and a custom-designed playground.
Placid and organic
The other proposal, called “City Theater,” offers a more bucolic, organic vision with large, uninterrupted meadows and lawns, and a linear park shaded by trees along West 25th Street at the top of the slope.
Common to both plans is a realignment of Franklin Avenue, which descends the hillside east of West 25th Street.
Today, Franklin Avenue is offset to the north of the Franklin Boulevard intersection. The planners are proposing to move the avenue further south to create a four-way intersection with the boulevard, which intersects West 25th Street from the west.
More prominence for Ohio City Farm
The proposals contemplate better integrating the Ohio City Farm, one of the largest urban farms in the nation, which occupies the top of the hill just east of Riverview Tower, with the public spaces around it.
And both plans would have dual entry plazas off West 25th Street, one at Franklin Avenue and the other at West 25th Street just south of the Detroit Superior Bridge. But each plan would emphasize one versus the other as the principal park entry.
Participants at the meeting will get a chance to weigh in on the contrasting ideas.
Author: Steven Litt