It cost $200 million and disrupted downtown business and traffic in Cleveland for more than three years…but backers of the Euclid Corridor Transit Project say it's paying off in development and renewed activity along its 8-mile expanse. Ideastream's Brian Bull looks at what's happened since construction crews hung up their jackhammers and hard hats in fall 2008.
I hop on the Green Trolley outside the Idea Center this brisk, snowy afternoon. I’m taking it down Euclid Avenue towards Public Square.
A sign above the windshield says “SMILE AND RIDE FREE”. I check with the driver….
"My smile good?"
"Yes you are, thank you very much…" she says.
As we coast down Euclid, fellow rider Nakia Roundtree is still smiling.
After living in Columbus for 12 years, she's back and rediscovering Cleveland…and likes what she sees downtown.
"You see a lot of folks moving into Cleveland," explains Roundtree. "So you see lots of renovations which are now housing, apartments, you've got the Embassy Suites. In Cleveland, historically, people have moved out into the bedroom communities. So now I think you see more of resurgence into downtown. Working, living…thriving."
That puts a smile on Joe Marinucci's face, too. He's President of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, a major player in the Euclid Corridor project. He says it was the culmination of 30 years’ discussion, on how to connect University Circle with the downtown.
"We now have hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested solely in the downtown component of the corridor," begins Marinucci. "But if you add in Midtown, add in University Circle and the Clinic area, there's probably six or seven billion dollars' worth of investment that's occurred.”
Another partner was Cleveland's Regional Transit Authority (RTA).
General manager Joe Calabrese recalls skeptics who said the newly-created "Health Line" - the so-called rapid bus transit service that replaced the Number 6 route - would not be any more popular with riders.
Calabrese says time has proven them wrong.
"Ridership is up about 68 percent on the health line," he says. "It went up 48 percent the first year. People can now choose to live downtown, and work at University Circle, work at the (Cleveland) Clinic, work at University Hospitals. And take the Health Line back and forth.”
Naming the route “the Health Line” was very intentional. Planners envisioned a medical industry cluster growing up around it. And it’s beginning to, says Aram Nerpouni. He’s president of BioEnterprise, a biomedical development group.
"There was something like 250,000 square feet of lab and mixed use office space that's opened over the last 18 months along the Corridor," says Nerpouni. "And there should be another 250,000 square feet of space that comes online in the next 18 months."
And people are talking about new developments on top of that, including a potential 28-story apartment and office building in University Circle.
But to work that smile analogy a bit more…there's a few gaps in the grin…including the stretch of Euclid that from 9th to 12th streets.
Several large buildings and stores here are boarded up. Some critics blame the shuttered businesses on the construction and detoured traffic during the Euclid Corridor project, including tailor Joe Scafidi.
"There was a clothing store in the old BP building, 200 Public Square. Very nice store. People were friends of mine. They closed up because of the construction. They couldn't get customers there."
That phrase - "We had to destroy the village...in order to save it," - comes to mind. Jackhammers busting up concrete, construction crews tearing out old sewer pipe, trucks rumbling, porta-potties on the sidewalk...Mike Lang remembers it well.
"Any business that was hanging on, they couldn't survive because there was no traffic, people wouldn't walk on the street…you really couldn't, very easily."
Lang is proprietor of M Lang Clothing and Cocktails, which has remained on Euclid for 24 years. Today, he says it’s the best ever. He figures the last few remaining bits of blight will disappear once Cuyahoga County officials establish a new headquarters at 9th and Euclid.
"There's so much interest in so many of these empty buildings with hotels and condos, and multi-use….the old Cleveland Athletic Club…thank God people are looking at that. And there is development and people are investing millions and millions and millions of dollars into many structures that would've been empty for decades to come."
Back on the Green Trolley rolling down Euclid, Nakia Roundtree keeps smiling.
"I'm actually going to lunch," she says, laughing. "I've a got a ton of options open to me…this is the old arcade…you've got stuff in the new arcade…we've got Fourth Street…"
Not to mention Zack Bruell’s new restaurant, Cowell & Hubbard, the new Irish pub Parnell’s, and chain eateries like Chipotle that’ve emerged recently. So it looks like the Euclid Project has delivered hoped-for spikes in retail, commercial development, and housing.
And other cities have taken notice. -- The RTA says inquiries have come in from Cincinnati, Nashville, and even Disney World to learn how this ambitious project came about.
That gives Roundtree a little civic pride…
"We gotta love Cleveland," she beams.