CLEVELAND — Long been an institution of the Cleveland Division of Police, the department’s highly visible and highly regarded mounted unit is in need new home. Members of Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration and the City Council’s Public Safety Committee discussed the potential sites for the mounted unit’s new stables on Wednesday morning, a project that could top $6 million.
The Cleveland Police Mounted Unit was founded nearly a century ago but still remains one of the division’s most recognizable community relations asset. The horses and mounted officers can often be seen at large sporting events, festivals and citywide events. Where the mounted unit goes, the people are bound to follow.
The mounted unit’s current stables, located off of East 38th Street are more than 70 years old. For the last several months, city leaders have been taking a deeper dive into selecting a site for the new stables. Because of the unit’s needs – and especially the needs of the horses – the city is somewhat limited in its selection of available properties within a three-mile radius around Public Square, which is where the unit tends to be deployed the most.
Although the city’s site selection committee identified more than a half-dozen locations for the new stables, only two locations have received strong consideration: Kirtland Park and a plot of land off Thackeray Avenue near East 55th Street.
Councilwoman Dona Brady, who routinely rides horses in her spare time, was insistent that the Kirtland Park site should be the city’s preferred location because of its central location and quick access to Public Square. Brady also expressed concern about the amount of riding the unit will have to do on or near busy city streets.
“I think you already decided it was going to be Thackeray before we even talked in the council president’s office because that is the impression that I got,” Brady said. “What you’re really not thinking about is that the Kirtland location is centrally located east and west. I don’t ride on pavement. I know that we have to have our horses on pavement when we get into a site or if there is an issue but I don’t ride horses on pavement as a rule. Those streets are very very dangerous. You do not want horses going down East 55th or any of those streets. Depending on what time of day it is, it could be very, very dangerous.”
Members of the mounted unit told the public safety committee that, generally, the unit uses a trailer to transport the horses to downtown events. Members of the city’s site selection committee said the Kirtland Park site’s topography presents engineering and construction challenges, driving up the potential cost of the project. Additionally, the boundaries of the property, which resembles a bow-tie, will make the future use of the stables far less efficient.
Public Safety Director Michael McGrath said the Thackeray Avenue site will blend better into the surrounding neighborhood, further enhancing the community relations aspect of the mounted unit.
“Kirtland is more of an island. You have the railroad tracks, lake and the freeway. Thackery is more assimilated into the neighborhood and neighborhood engagement,” McGrath said.
However, Councilwoman Brady brought up the fact that the Thackeray Avenue site is flanked by dilapidated and blighted industrial properties.
“Nearby, there’s a cement dump. It is a dump. l I don’t know what you’re going to do about that. It is 40 feet high and filled with concrete that has probably been taken up by the city and dumped there,” Brady said. “It’s not a pleasant area to look at as the scenery outside of our new mounted unit.”
Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, who initially had reservations about the Thackeray avenue site, voiced her support of the location.
“I think everyone knows this project is in my ward. I do support it. I will say that up front,” Cleveland said. “I will admit that I had to be brought along gently kicking and screaming.”
According to cost projections compiled by the city’s site selection committee, building on the Thackeray Avenue site would be roughly $600,000 less expensive and $2 million less expensive if the city opted for an expanded facility that could be used if the city were to partner with a non-profit.
“I’m least concerned about cost. I want the most humane treatment for these animals,” Councilman Matt Zone said. “I think that should really drive this project as to making sure that the treatment of these animals and the situation and the environment that they are in is the best situation possible.”