MetroHealth Park plans reviewed at community meetings
by Chuck Hoven
Plain Press, May 2022 The temporary 3-acre park proposed by MetroHealth Medical Center for an area just across Scranton Road from its new Glick Center was the subject of a community meeting held at the Family Ministry Center on Fulton Road on April 6th. The meeting was called after the Near West Design Review Committee tabled MetroHealth’s Park proposal at its March 9th meeting. A central issue in the tabling of the park proposal was concern about two historic buildings — the Farnsworth House and St. Nicholas Byelorussian Orthodox Church – that MetroHealth proposed to demolish as part of the plan for the 3-acre park.
At the March 9th meeting, committee members suggested that MetroHealth should come back to the committee with a thorough plan that explains the reasons the demolition is necessary; seeks more community input on its plan; examines other possible uses for the buildings on the site; and offers a better explanation of the design and programming for the park.
Community activist and Near West Design Review Committee member, Bob Gardin, disputed MetroHealth’s claim that since the community had seen plans for the park and said they wanted a park during the Clark-Fulton Together community planning process, and that the community was for demolition of the historic buildings. Gardin said it was not a fair process, and that whenever the issue of repurposing the historic buildings as part of the park was brought up to the Clark Fulton Together Team, “it kept being pushed to the back burner.”
The target area for Clark Fulton Together planning included most of the Clark Fulton neighborhood and a small portion of the northern part of the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood. While all of the proposed park is in the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood, the majority of the neighborhood south of the park was not part of the target area for the Clark Fulton Together Plan. Paid ambassadors from the Clark Fulton Together Plan solicited input from those in the target area. Brooklyn Centre residents south of the park report not being included in notices for these meetings.
The April 6th community meeting was attended by about 40 people. Cleveland’s Planning Director Joyce Pan Huang spoke briefly at the beginning of the meeting. Huang outlined three important factors she hoped would result from the meeting: more neighborhood conversations, more green space, and the retention of culture and heritage.
Gregory Zucca, Executive Director of MetroHealth’s CCH Development Corporation, spoke to the crowd about MetroHealth’s plans. He said, when plans are completed for MetroHealth’s transformation of its 52-acre campus, it will include 25 acres of green space. He noted the formation of an EcoDistrict as part of the planning process and spoke of neighborhood engagement during the two-year planning process.
Zucca said the green space created by the park would have space for neighborhood events. He said plans called for a welcome plaza which would feature better pedestrian connection from W. 25th Street to the new Glick Center on Scranton. He said there would be paths through the new park that he hoped would eventually connect to the broader West Side and to the towpath trail. Zucca said he viewed the park as a neighborhood commons. He said the park would feature some of the culture of the neighborhood and offer a respite area for patients, visitors, and employees. He said the park could also be a site for pop up shops and farmers’ markets.
Zucca said MetroHealth would like the proposed 3-acre park between Scranton and W. 25th across from the Glick Center to be completed and operational by the end of the year. He said the park would eventually become part of a larger 12-acre park that would run from MetroHealth Drive to I-71. The larger park would involve hiring a landscape architect to design the park. Zucca said local nonprofit Land Studio would be involved in the master planning process for the park.
Zucca then offered some concessions to those calling for preservation of three buildings that were slated for demolition as part of MetroHealth’s plan to build a larger 12-acre park. MetroHealth’s original park plans involved tearing down the Trinity Church Complex to make way for its larger future 12-acre park. Zucca proposed that the Trinity Church Complex, just south of the proposed 3-acre temporary park, could be repurposed as part of the 12.5-acre larger park scheduled to be completed by 2025. He noted that the Church faces toward the neighborhood on W. 25th Street and could be used as a buffer and anchor to the park and create a safer environment.
Additionally, Zucca said MetroHealth would now offer to preserve the dome of the smaller St. Nicholas Byelorussian Orthodox Church and use it as a central point in the initial stage of the park.
Zucca said MetroHealth’s position is that it doesn’t think all three buildings are needed and that MetroHealth does not have the staffing capacity to offer programs in all three buildings.
Bob Gardin countered saying “No one expects Metro to offer programs in the buildings.” Gardin suggested that MetroHealth seek proposals from area nonprofits to offer programs in the buildings and lease the buildings to those organizations. Gardin suggested that MetroHealth could create green space by getting rid of the parking lot and fences and softening the Cleveland Public Power substation by planting some grass on its roof.
While Gardin welcomed MetroHealth’s proposal to save Trinity Church, he asked, what is the harm in waiting to see if organizations would come forward with proposals to operate programs in the Farnsworth House and the Byelorussian Church?
Near West Design Review Committee
A week after the community meeting, on April 13th, the Near West Design Review Committee met again to review MetroHealth’s proposal for the 3-acre park.
At the meeting, Greg Zucca noted to the committee that MetroHealth was now proposing to preserve for community use Trinity Church Complex which has 20,000 square feet of space. Zucca said Trinity is currently being used by Turner Construction while it is building the new hospital, but it would be available for the future 12.5 acre larger park.
Zucca said MetroHealth is not considering using the other two buildings (Farnsworth House and St. Nicholas Byelorussian Church) and having private development or requests for proposals for use of those buildings is not being considered. Zucca requested that the Near West Design Review Committee approve a proposal to demolish the Farnsworh House and the St. Nicholas Byelorussian Church.
Walter Jones, MetroHealth’s Senior Vice President for Campus Transformation, asked that the committee also consider final approval of the complete design and construction of the 3-acre park. He said MetroHealth hoped to complete the 3-acre park by the end of the year. The park, he said, would try to incorporate a bike path and would provide locations and a pad for two Regional Transit Authority Shelters.
Michael Tobin, Vice President of Communications, Government and Community Relations at MetroHealth Medical Center, said the community engagement process was time well spent. He said he felt most people at the community meeting were supportive of MetroHealth’s compromise proposal.
Near West Design Review Member Bob Gardin said he didn’t get the impression from the Community Meeting that residents approved of the demolition of the historic buildings. Gardin asked that members of the committee take some time to tour the two buildings to determine their condition. Gardin also called for a traffic study to determine the impact of the loss of South Point Road and to look at placing a traffic light at W. 25thand Daisy.
Near West Design Review Chairperson David Jurca said MetroHealth should address its justification for demolishing the two buildings and what it planned to go in the space where the buildings are now located.
MetroHealth representatives said the buildings take up 25% of the space proposed for the initial 3-acre park. The Farnsworth House has no useable plumbing. The two buildings have not been occupied since MetroHealth acquired them. They said the church appeared to be in better shape than the house but does not have any purpose for MetroHealth. They said demolishing the two buildings now would make for a smoother construction process for the new park.
Committee Member Kerry said she is hearing two different versions of sentiment at the community meeting: one is that the community is opposed to the demolition, the other is there is a minority opposed to demolition. She asked about the format and method of collecting community sentiment.
Zucca said two individuals expressed very vocal opposition. Several others, he said, were open to compromise. Zucca said he worked closely with the five neighborhood ambassadors. He said neighborhood ambassador Rodney Lewellan reached out to neighbors and found them generally supportive of the compromise. Zucca acknowledged that not everybody is supportive. It is not unanimous, but there is a lot of support from the community.
Kerry called for sustainable demolition of the buildings and preserving elements of both buildings that can be saved.
Gardin said he did not think there was justification to demolish the buildings. He said their demolition was not required to build the park and there would be plenty of green space without demolishing the historic buildings.
Committee member John Rakauskas said he would like more information. He said he would like to see the big picture of how Trinity Church would fit into the overall master plan for the park. The proposal for the small park does not include Trinity Church, he said.
MetroHealth responded that Trinity Church would be part of the future 12-acre park and they were currently in the process of hiring the overall park planners.
City of Cleveland Planning Director Joyce Huang, who had attended the community meeting, weighed in on her perception of the meeting. She said there were a broad range of perspectives expressed at the meeting. In reading the room she estimated that 80% desired a park and were receptive to saving one building, but not all. She said there is a cost. She said she takes the prospect of demolition very seriously and felt the smaller church is beautiful. Huang then offered her support to MetroHealth for the demolition of the two buildings.
Rodney Lewallen, a committee member and one of the neighborhood ambassadors, said the ambassador team was now 80% in favor of demolishing the two historic buildings with one of the five members supporting opposition to the demolition.
Councilwoman Jasmin Santana said she hoped that MetroHealth had learned a valuable lesson about keeping the community informed about its plans. She said she felt frustrated that the community wasn’t notified earlier about the demolition plans. She said she had conferred with MetroWest’s Director, and he had voiced support for the demolition. Santana spoke of the lack of recreational areas for children in the neighborhood, and then offered her approval of the proposed demolitions.
Lewallen said he was a huge supporter of saving Trinity Church. He said the focus of the community should be on: “What do we want Trinity to look like? What kind of programming do we want?”
Committee member Esbeey offered a resolution for the Near West Design Review Committee to vote on. The resolution called for approval of the demolitions with the condition that there be a plan to document the historical elements of each building and that the developers opt to remove reusable materials from the buildings and submit their salvage plan to do so.
The Near West Design Review Committee voted 7-2 to approve the demolition proposal. Voting against the proposal were Bob Gardin and John Rakauskas.
Another resolution to approve the Conceptual Design of the 3-acre park was proposed by Committee Member Jenice Contreras. That resolution passed by a 7-1 vote, with Bob Gardin voting against the proposal.
The next step in the approval process for both the demolitions and the new park will be to present the plans to the City of Cleveland Planning Commission for approval. The next meeting of the Planning Commission is May 6th at 9 a.m. As of the time the Plain Press is going to press, the agenda for that meeting had not yet been made public.