UPDATE 11/30/21: On Friday, Nov. 19, it was announced that the Cleveland Metroparks was awarded a $985,000 grant to design the east side lakefront park. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded the grant through the National Coastal Resilience Fund.
An ambitious, $300 million plan to to redevelop Cleveland’s east side lakefront with trails, beaches and a new offshore island took a critical step forward Friday morning. That’s when the Cleveland Planning Commission approved the Cleveland Harbor Eastern Embayment Resilience plan, also known as CHEERS, which would add more than 80 acres of new parkland and better connect residents with the water.
“This is the culmination of more than a year of work to create what we believe is a transformative plan for the east side of Cleveland,” said Sean McDermott, chief planning and design officer for Cleveland Metroparks. “This is a model for progress through partnership.”
East siders in the Glenville and St. Clair Superior communities have long been disconnected from the lake, unlike west siders who have historically been able to enjoy Edgewater Park, especially amid its resplendent comeback under the Metroparks. Area residents are separated from the lake not only because of the I-90 highway, which forms a palpable barrier, but also because of poor community access points and a rocky, concrete shoreline that prevents them from touching the water.
Now that the CHEERS plan has been approved, it moves onto the engineering phase. Initial estimates are that it will cost somewhere in the range of $300 million, planners said.
Freddie Collier, the city’s planning director, cited cooperation among agencies as a touch point in the project, which includes the city, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Port of Cleveland, Ohio Department of Transportation, Metroparks, Famicos Foundation, and Black Environmental Leaders. “This aligns with the citywide plan,” he said of CHEERS. “The goal is to build on our assets, foster communities of choice, have a diverse environment, and of course, increase sustainability.”
The city is also working on a proposal for a large, mixed-use development at East 55th along the lake, he said. It would include high-density apartment or condominium buildings, townhouses, and mixed-use amenities such as shops and cafes.
The CHEERS plan is intended to be a “two-fer” in that it will not only open up access to the lake but will also foster a natural solution to the extreme weather caused by climate change. The proposed offshore island and natural shoreline will be beautiful natural amenities, but they’ll also effectively create a buffer protecting I-90 and other infrastructure from storms coming in off of the lake.
Khrys Shefton, director of real estate development with Famicos, told the commission that the stakeholder group developed the plan with feedback from more than 600 residents. They passed out literature at community events, held “walkshops” where residents gave feedback, and gave out “Embrace the Lake” coloring books to kids and families. “We’ve been able to bring together all sorts of people, residents who live very close by but don’t get the opportunity to experience our lake in this way, to explore pinch points and barriers,” she said. “We used the walkshops as an opportunity to get residents out on the lake.”
Mary Morton, a planner with WRT, a Philadelphia-based planning and design firm involved in the project, said the goal of the project was to create a signature park in the city that would attract locals as well as visitors. “We wanted to create an immersive natural experience in the heart of the city,” she said.
Here are some of the highlights of the new plan:
· New parkland: Using 1.7 million cubic yards of dredge material over 10 years, the CHEERS project would create a new offshore island that would improve safety on I-90 and other roadways as well as creating a dramatic new east side park. The island, which would be accessible via a pedestrian bridge from the mainland, would act as a buffer from storms hitting the shoreline.
· Natural experiences: The project would create new natural spaces, restore aquatic and terrestrial habitat, and add “6,000 linear square feet of softened shoreline.” New trails and greenways would provide better access and protect wildlife.
· Improved access: The project would strengthen neighborhood connections and access points like East 55th and 72nd Streets, connect with existing trailways like the lakefront bike trail, and offer new multi-purpose trails for visitors.
· Community interaction: The lakefront plan would finally give residents places to actually touch the water. It would keep what people already love (such as fishing and picnic areas) while also becoming a new, go-to destination on the east side. Marginal Road would be renamed Lakeshore Drive and redeveloped into a new parkway on the lake.
Some of the new spaces that are slated to be incorporated into the project include The Gordon Hills (a sledding hill with views of downtown and the lake); The Habitat Loop (an immersive trail and natural experience); The Launch and The Shore (think water sports like kayaking, as well as a place where you can get in the water); The Eastern Fishing Cove, which is just as it sounds; and The Lawn, a large green space for picnics, sports, and lounging.
Bike and pedestrian trails would also be incorporated into East 72nd Street. East 55th is slated for The Midway, a protected cycle track that would ultimately be part of a citywide network. Although there is no timeline yet, planners estimate that the project will take years to complete, and that it will be done in phases. Yet Coffman said that the Metroparks will not wait for the full plan to be realized before improving the east side parks now, and cited the improvements they’ve made so far, including the new comfort station at East 72nd Street.
To view the CHEERS study, go here: https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/about/cleveland-metroparks-organization/planning/cheers-cleveland-harbor-eastern-embayment-resilien
Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.