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Cleveland’s riverfront development makes a splash, leaves hope for Tower City revitalization

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Posted at 3:43 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 19:00:08-04

CLEVELAND — Cleveland’s got a close look at some big ideas that city and business leaders have for the city’s riverfront, playing a big role in the ongoing Vision for the Valley planning that’s already been happening.

“Our intention is to create a true 15-minute riverfront neighborhood, with thousands of homes, new offices, increased retail and hospitality options, and community facilities,” said Bedrock CEO Kofi Bonner.

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Renderings show how Canal Road could look drastically different, connecting the river to Tower City.

Bedrock owns Tower City and about 30% of the land that is included in the 25-30 year development plan for a revitalized and better-connected waterfront in the heart of Downtown Cleveland. They’re working with the City of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and Rocket Community Fund to try to make their vision a reality.

The development happening nearby right now is often too expensive for many people to afford. That has inspired some developers to include micro-units in their projects that have a lower monthly rent, even if they cost just as much per square foot as some luxury units.

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Renderings show a re-imagined riverfront that right now is populated largely by empty parking lots and underused buildings.

It's also inspired Millennia Companies to redevelop the Centennial building on Euclid and East 9th Street into a massive amount of workforce housing above two large historic bank lobbies.

Rocket Community Fund Vice President of Strategic Investments Laura Grannemann says they’ve already been working with various community groups to address housing issues in Northeast Ohio and they hope whatever eventually gets developed on the river can help.

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The Millennia Companies has said that passing Senate Bill 39 is a large part of how it expects to complete its renovation of The Centennial at the corner of Euclid and East 9th Street.

“Especially around housing affordability and ensuring that Cleveland residents have a stable and safe and accessible housing experience,” said Grannemann. “So that will continue to grow alongside the growth of this plan.”

There’s no firm timeline for when work might start or cost for the project because private developers would have to partner with public entities to get financing and make sure the infrastructure nearby can support the new construction.

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Plans for development have drastically different designs for the parking lots behind Tower City and next to the river.

“To me, this project is a tool. It’s not just a bricks-and-mortar side of it,” said Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. “How do we transform this into not just being bricks and mortar, but a tool to address those underlying issues of inequities, disparities, and race.”

Jackson says taxpayer dollars will be used alongside private investment in the ways they already are in other construction projects throughout the city.

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Across the river from Tower City, Scranton Peninsula could be developed in the next few years and Cleveland Whiskey has already started renovating a building under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.

Negotiations around a federal infrastructure bill in Congress make it likely that federal money could eventually help fund the project, as long as the preparatory work is already done.

“We all need to organize ourselves to position Cleveland as best as we can to be able to access the infrastructure funds that will be coming ultimately from the federal government,” said Bonner.

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Ohio Senator Rob Portman played a key role in crafting the bipartisan infrastructure bill that is part of a much larger focus on infrastructure in the United States. Cleveland is trying to position itself to get some of that investment.

That’s why he says it’s up to Bedrock and the other community partners to get the due diligence work done now so their project would be a good candidate for funding as it becomes available.

Success flowing uphill

Directly, the riverfront plans don’t address the struggling and largely empty Tower City retail area, which still holds a special place in Henry Riggins’s heart.

“It was everything when we were younger,” said Riggins. “Especially when they opened up the Disney Store and the Warner Brothers Store, and the movie theater. It was everything.”

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Renderings show what the inside of Tower City could look like as more businesses come back and the area becomes more of a marketplace than simply a retail center.

That’s why Riggins was happy to hear Bedrock also has separate plans to bring in new businesses, that Bonner said they’d announce over the next 30 days.

“We’ve been able to find at least three African American-owned businesses that are Cleveland’s that we are happy to work with and they’ll be coming into Tower City and there are about 10 other leases that will be coming in,” said Bonner.

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Tower City roughly two hours after Bedrock announced there are a string of new leases in the works for the Cleveland hub.

The hope is to restore the City Center to the hub it once was while making sure historically disadvantaged populations benefit from the success too.

“It doesn’t really matter what color you are or where you come from so if everybody’s dollar can be accepted, then everybody should have an equal playing field to make that dollar too,” said Riggins.

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