PHOTO BY BRUCE CHECEFSKY
Wednesday, April 5, 2023; Cuyahoga Riverfront Master Plan Presentation, Market Garden Brewery, 1947 W. 25th Street: Deb Janik, Senior Vice President for Business Development at Bedrock, shares the objectives of Bedrock’s proposed master plan for the riverfront.
by Bruce Checefsky
The Cuyahoga Riverfront Master Plan, a Bedrock development project along the Cuyahoga River, emphasizes connections between the river and downtown, with pathways for biking and improved public transit. The 35-acre vision includes 2,000 new residential units, 850,000 square feet of office space, additional parking, and a 12-acre park. The Dan Gilbert-owned company says the project would take 15-20 years and cost $3.5 billion, contingent on a public-private partnership.
David Adjaye, an internationally celebrated architect and notable for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the National Cathedral of Ghana developed the plan based on repeated visits to Cleveland and meetings with city officials and stakeholders. Adjaye faced controversy in Ghana last year, where his firm has its offices, for $21.4 million paid for the construction of the National Cathedral in Accra that was allegedly not approved by Ghana’s Parliament.
Deb Janik, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Bedrock, gave a public presentation to a packed crowd at the Market Garden Brewery on W. 25th Street, the second of three public meetings scheduled this year.
During her presentation, Janik said that leveraging innovative infrastructure will change the perception of public spaces and improve the outcomes of a new plan. Access to the public space is critical and must be equitable for all Clevelanders and visitors to the city to integrate existing opportunities and create economic growth.
“We want to involve our minority and female-owned and small businesses,” said Janik. “Cleveland as a community partner can drive this opportunity on the riverfront.”
The Cuyahoga Riverfront project was launched in 2021, followed by an 18-month due diligence period with the City of Cleveland to develop the master plan, emphasizing urban connectivity. During 2021 and 2022, Bedrock conducted over two dozen meetings with civic partners and stakeholders, state officials, and the governor’s office. The support is there for a transformative plan to utilize the riverfront.
A similar river plan in Los Angeles County released in 2022, prepared by Gehry Partners LLP and OLIN, included a Frank Gehry-designed set of elevated platform parks over the rivers and a $150-million cultural center on the riverbank. The Los Angeles River Master Plan received public criticism for failing to prioritize essential needs for affordable housing, decent jobs, and local businesses and for safeguarding against green gentrification.
Janik said a Cuyahoga Riverfront Master Development Agreement could be reached this summer with the City of Cleveland and council members. Bedrock plans to secure approval by the third quarter of 2023 and start moving dirt by the end of the year. The overriding vision is to create a bowl-shaped community with a riverfront base that connects Carter Road Bridge to Hope Memorial and the Inter Belt.
“The Cuyahoga River is the arterial of life of the community ever since Cleveland was founded, up to today,” said Janik. “The bowl concept is great because it connects to the river and provides a great feel for the space.”
To accomplish its goal, Bedrock has to navigate the site from Public Square to the Cuyahoga River with a series of plazas, terraces, and pocket parks with elevators, ramps, and stairs down a 93-foot elevation drop, which would open up to green space on the riverfront, creating a new neighborhood with new buildings where people can live, work, and play. If successful, the plan will connect people to Irishtown Bend Park, Whiskey Island, Flats East Bank, Progressive Field, and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“When you get there, we want you to be there,” she said.
Bedrock has a purchase agreement with Sherwin Williams for the Breen Technology Center and the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station which will provide site access from the western edge. Janik reported that Bedrock is working closely with its partners to preserve the B&O property because of its importance to the history of Cleveland. The project is expected to take 15 to 20 years to complete and will move as fast as the market can dictate. It will also depend on public partnerships to finance the multi-billion-dollar expansion. When asked about the project budget and funding, Janis said the complete buildout would exceed $3 billion over the next few decades.
“It will have to be a public-private partnership. We will make that work and be respectful of the demands that our public partners have. I have no doubt we can reach a fair and equitable agreement that will allow us to move forward,” she said.
The Detroit News reported that between 2005 and 2015, Quicken Loans, founded and owned by Dan Gilbert, had the fifth-highest number of mortgages ending in foreclosure, and half of those properties were left blighted. He plans to invest $500 million in the Detroit neighborhoods over the next ten years. Forbes Billionaires List estimates Gilbert’s wealth at roughly $47 billion, which makes him the 25th richest person on the planet.
Cleveland, regarded by many as the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in 2008, had higher foreclosure rates again last year than anywhere else in the country. Over six million American households have lost their homes to foreclosure since the Great Recession.
A recent study published in Sustainability, an international, cross-disciplinary, scholarly, peer-reviewed, and open-access journal, cited that politicians are frequently unable to resist the allure of the iconic building or the fashionable urban project that will improve the city’s image.
“Waterfront redevelopment has been linked to the desire of cities to gain prestige and be competitive in a globalizing world, and projects often fail to account for all competing interests and desires once the allure of the most investor-prone use becomes apparent. The visibility and potential returns on investments on these sites attract promoters but also speculators,” said the authors of The Fit of Urban Waterfront Interventions: Matters of Size, Money, and Function.
“Sometimes a project fails because of bad project management. Although it is often hard to discern what exactly goes wrong, inappropriate timing of the investments, insufficient public outreach, or poor phasing of the project may contribute to its failure.”
Urban riverfront interventions fail the same way others have failed before them: they are too large, too monotonous, too costly, or fail to address existing needs, according to the study. To get urban riverfront interventions right, leaders must acknowledge the local context and morphology of the river valley, select uses and functions that work for a diverse crowd and provide multiple benefits, including restoration of the natural connectivity.
“I like the vision, but I am skeptical,” said Tremont resident Jason Adams. “Cleveland has failed with the development of its waterfront. Vision is one thing, execution another.”
Jennifer Temple, from Irishtown Bend and block club chairperson, was surprised to see dirt being moved in her neighborhood so soon, especially since no one from Bedrock reached out to her or the block club.
“We are all for it as long as the infrastructure is there. We need part of the traffic studies,” said Temple.
Norm Plonski, the owner of Hoopples on Columbus Ave, overlooking the Cuyahoga River, stood in line waiting to ask Janik a question after her presentation ended. He wanted to know about the site for a casino, which she did not mention.
In 2011, Gilbert and Caesars Entertainment Corp Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman paid $85 million for the 16 acres between Huron Road and the Cuyahoga River, where they planned to build a $600 million casino. The first phase opened in the former Higbee department store because Huron Road was not open back then. As of December 2020, JACK Entertainment’s ownership changed, and it no longer has any affiliation with Gilbert.
“I wonder if there are any plans to build a casino,” said Plonski, referring to the original 16 acres for the casino, which now sits in the middle of the proposed masterplan.
“They are not telling us.”
Bedrock did not respond to a request for comment.
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