Making Change: Changing the Lakefront Character

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Ontario Stone Corporation on Whiskey Island is one busy place. The company trucks off about 2000 pounds of stone on any given day. It's just one of several business - including Cargill Salt, Sand Products Corporation and Great Lakes Towing - that rely on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River for their commerce. That's why Bill Toth, sales manager at Ontario Stone Corporation, doesn't understand why anyone would want a bike trail on the waterfront

Bill Toth: To put a park out on a desolate place... that would take infrastructure, fixing of water, and roads going to (the) Whiskey Island park site - takes innumerous amount of money to do that... and for what reason? People aren't even filling Edgewater Park, why would they want to come down to be in (a) desolate place?

Toth says he's heard that eventually the city and county want to turn all of Whiskey Island into one large park, not just the northern end, as the current plans call for. That doesn't sit well with him, or any of the industries on Whiskey Island's south side. Jim Cox represents the Flats Industry, a group of 45 industrial companies. He says getting rid of those businesses would mean a loss of tax dollars.

Jim Cox: You simply can't drive out industry in order to make a park that will only be used during the warmer weather. The businesses down here operate twelve months a year and they have jobs that provide good benefits, good salaries. It's something that shouldn't be lost.

The thing is, at the moment there are no plans to push businesses off Whiskey Island to make room for parks. There's been talk - but as City Planning Director Chris Ronayne points out, there's been talk about a lot of options - so far no actual blueprint has been drawn up and even the plans that are out there are hardly set in stone.

Chris Ronayne: Is every element as planned fixed in 2004 going to be implemented? No. It's going to be a work in progress, there's going to be land use changes.

Over the next six months the city will continue holding public meetings to help formulate a lakefront design, but that plan will really be nothing more than a guide... a guide for the next 50 years.

Chris Ronayne: But as we lay it out over 50 years, it builds a baseline for the zoning we need to protect our waterfront, repairing buffer zones, to create promenades, to suggest that when developers want to develop, you know what? The waterfront is the people's place.

The only certain change right now, Ronayne says, is reconstruction of the Shoreway from Edgewater to the Cuyahoga River. The state approved full funding of the project to the tune of $50 million just a few weeks ago. This means the planning and engineering can soon begin to convert what is now basically a highway into a boulevard with a median; trees and pedestrian access to the lake.

For Bob Garden, president of the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition, rebuilding the Shoreway is another reward to his group's 23-year effort of promoting Cleveland's waterways.

Bob Garden: I don't know if I mentioned that the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition, its first major project was to bring awareness to this area that we're standing at now, North Coast Harbor. We envisioned a park on what was at the time Pier 34, which later became the North Coast Harbor.

Garden says the coalition - in conjunction with Eco-City Cleveland and Cleveland State University - has been conducting a slew of studies on transportation options, land use, and public preference. And they've collected examples of best practices from other cities that have successfully revamped their waterfronts. Based on these studies, Garden says a new lakefront doesn't have to mean recreation will push out industry, nor does it mean that the lakefront will never be amenable to recreation. He says confusion about plans for the waterways is due to the mixed messages coming from city hall and the county commissioners. He says the region's leaders must get on the same page about this issue for any plan to move forward.

Bob Garden: Well sure, it's very important. Not only so we have the constituents behind us for funding on a state level and support for any levies. Also so that the two can work together and agree on what exactly what our priorities are for development in the area.

In March the Waterfront Coalition will co-sponsor a public meeting at CSU where both city and county officials will explain their respective visions. Garden says the meeting is a chance for the various entities to work toward a common goal, so a redesigned lakefront - in whatever form it ultimately assumes - will become reality sooner rather than later. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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