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Near West Design Review Committee tables MetroHealth park proposal

COMMUNITY INPUT SOUGHT TO DETERMINE FATE OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS

PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN

Sunday, March 19, 2022; St. Nicholas Belarusian Orthodox Church building, 3518 Scranton Road, SW: A proposal by neighborhood resident Bob Gardin seeks to save this building from demolition. MetroHealth medical center proposed to demolish the building as part of a plan to create a neighborhood park. Gardin’s proposal calls for buildings on the site to be incorporated into the park for possible community use. The building was last used by EarthAngels as a wholistic health center.

Near West Design Review Committee tables MetroHealth park proposal

COMMUNITY INPUT SOUGHT TO DETERMINE FATE OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, April 2022)      At its March 9th meeting the Near West Design Review Committee voted 9-0 to table a proposal by MetroHealth Medical Center to update the MetroHealth Campus Transformation Plan to create a 3.5-acre park that would involve the demolition of two buildings on the site.

   Prior to making the motion to table the proposal by MetroHealth, Near West Design Review Committee member Jenice Contreras talked about the importance of community engagement with residents as to how they would like to utilize the park and what residents hope to see in the park. She, along with committee member Kerry, also said that MetroHealth should bring a full demolition package to the Near West Design Review Committee like other applicants have done when planning to demolish a building. Contreras said MetroHealth should explain why the buildings should not be saved and explain more detail about the design and programing ideas for the park as other committee members (Kerry, Pasquale Esposito & Esbeey) had requested. Committee Member Gideon Hart asked that MetroHealth also consider incorporating the St. Nicholas Byelorussian Orthodox Church into the park to provide park amenities in the church. Committee Member John Rakauskas supported exploring moving the St. Nicholas Byelorussian Orthodox Church to another site.

   The update to the plan proposed creating a 3.5-acre park space that would lie between Scranton and W. 25th Street just south of South Point Drive. MetroHealth’s proposal for the park involved demolishing two buildings on the site of the proposed park – the former St. Nicholas Byelorussian Orthodox Church at 3518 Scranton Road and the Farnsworth house at 3517 W. 25th Street.

   A counter proposal from the Jones Home Historic District Committee presented to the Near West Design Review Committee by committee member Bob Gardin called for saving the two buildings and incorporating them into the design of the park. Bob Gardin and Alan Forman produced a document in 2019 on behalf of the Jones Home Historic District that was submitted to the MetroHealth Transformation Planning Committee in 2019 calling for incorporating buildings on the site as part of the park. The proposal includes a history of the two buildings researched by Jones Home Historic District member Alan Forman. The historic district lies directly across W. 25th Street from the two buildings.  In the chat of the virtual meeting people discussed possible uses for an indoor community facility in the park. 

    In presenting a case to the Near West Design Review Committee for approving the park proposal and demolishing the two buildings, MetroHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Akram Boutros said he sees the park as a down payment to the community on a promised future 12-acre park that would be completed after the outpatient buildings are demolished several years from now. The outpatient buildings currently occupy a large portion of the proposed parkland for the future park.

   In the immediate future, MetroHealth has offered to build a 3.5 acre portion of the 12.5 acre park. Boutros said the timeline MetroHealth was pursuing would have the proposed 3.5-acre portion of the park completed for the August 2022 opening of MetroHealth’s new Glick Center.

   A diagram of the proposed 3.5-acre park shows some benches and tables, some trees, walking paths, and a grass field that Boutros says could be used to pitch a tent for events. The Cleveland Public Power substation remains in the drawings with MetroHealth planners saying they will try to negotiate with the City of Cleveland for its possible removal.

   MetroHealth planners said this design would be temporary and the park’s space would be modified when the entire 12-acre park was ready to be designed. The entire 12- acre park would be between W. 25th to Scranton from MetroHealth Drive to the southern end of Scranton near I-71. The entire park is expected to be completed in 2024. Boutros said the deed to the park would be registered with Cuyahoga County as permanent park space. The completed park would be maintained and policed by MetroHealth Medical Center, Boutros said.

   Boutros said that plans for the park had already been approved as part of the Clark-Fulton Together neighborhood master planning process. Boutros said over 400 people in the neighborhood had voted for the park. He said at no time did the plans for the park presented to the community have structures on it.

   Near West Design Review Chair David Jurca noted that three neighborhood ambassadors who were part of the neighborhood planning process wrote in the chat that the demolition or possible incorporation of the buildings into the park had not been discussed as part of the planning process. One said that whenever the demolition of the buildings was brought up, it was put on the back burner during the master planning process.

   Boutros countered that because residents had approved having a park and diagrams showed there were no buildings in the park, they had approved the demolition. Bob Gardin said this was misleading. He said of course people are going to say they want a park. Gardin said, “It is not an all or nothing situation.” 

   Gardin noted that all the buildings on the site – the Farnsworth house, and two churches and their parking spaces only take about 6% of the total 12-acres proposed for the park. He said you need parking for a trailhead if people come to the park to walk their dogs, for example. Gardin noted that residents wouldn’t want park visitors to be parking on neighborhood streets. Gardin cited churches being included in the campus at Case Western Reserve University and being reused in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Gardin said of MetroHealth planners, “They never made an attempt to repurpose the buildings or even offer that option to the community.”

   Boutros said MetroHealth does not have any interest in using the buildings. They will remain as is. Gardin proposed seeking requests for proposals for reusing the buildings after the rest of the 12-acre park is complete. Boutros said MetroHealth paid a half million dollars for the St. Nicholas Byelorussian Orthodox Church building. Boutros said no one wants to pay that price and reuse the building.

   Prior to the vote to table the proposal for the park, the Near West Design Review Committee discussed and voted on a resolution from committee member John Rakauskas that would approve the creation of the temporary park in the area from South Point Drive up to the boundaries of the lots for the two buildings. This would leave time for the community to weigh in on the fate of the two historic buildings at some future point as well as the other church south of those buildings at the same time in the future.  When asked, Boutros said if the entire 3.5-acres were not approved as is for the temporary park, MetroHealth would wait until the entire 12-acres were ready to be converted to parkland at the end of the process. Boutros said, “I could use more parking space, and we will just keep it as is.”

   After Boutros’ comments, the committee voted down Rakauskas’ proposal by a 5-4 vote.

   At the end of the meeting after the proposal for the park was tabled, MetroHealth staff asked the Near West Design Review Committee to schedule a special session be held within a week to keep MetroHealth on schedule for the proposed August completion of the park. The committee discussed the possibility of a special session and decided that it would not be appropriate.

   Some committee members reasoned that MetroHealth should be given time to come up with a thorough plan that explains the reasons that demolition is necessary, seeks community input, examines other possible uses for the buildings on the site, and better explains design and programming for the park.

   The MetroHealth Park proposal did not appear on the agenda of the next scheduled meeting of the Near West Design Review Committee on March 23rd. The next meeting of the Committee is on Wednesday, April 6th.

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