Downtown-lakefront land bridge has momentum, funding

Lake Erie Plaza was a wide pedestrian bridge lined with statues
and vendor spaces over the lakefront railroad tracks. But it was
built for the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936-37 and dismantled
soon thereafter. A land bridge of similar design or even wider
may be sought by city officials and others to link the downtown
malls and North Coast Harbor including its museums, new
development and a long-planned transportation center (PD file).

If the city has its way, a $65 million land bridge linking Downtown Cleveland’s malls to the lakefront could soon be the centerpiece of a multi-faceted plan to enhance the area around North Coast Harbor. Developments surrounding the proposed land bridge include expansion of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center, Cumberland Real Estate Development’s next phases as well as a multi-modal transportation center.

The City of Cleveland has $25 million in city, county and state funds left over from an earlier plan to link downtown and the lakefront with a flamboyant, curving, skinny and ribbon-like pedestrian bridge designed by “starchitect” Miguel Rosales. The bridge’s cost had ballooned to $33 million. Instead, the Cleveland Economic Development Department is pursuing a land bridge envisioned more like the statue-festooned and storefront-lined promenade that linked downtown to the Great Lakes Exhibition of 1936-37. In fact, the land bridge could be even wider — as wide as the malls themselves. City officials seem confident they can get it built by 2022.

To do so, the city is seeking another $40 million from a variety of public and private sources. The land bridge, also dubbed “Mall D,” would replace the now-closed pedestrian bridge that has connected Mall C (above the Huntington Convention Center, north of Lakeside Avenue) with First Energy Stadium and Cleveland Municipal Stadium before it.

Because of this connection, the Cleveland Browns are reportedly contributing funding to the land bridge and possibly to a partnership with Cumberland’s lakefront development plans. The amount or conditions aren’t yet known and the Browns aren’t revealing anything yet. So far, Cumberland has built on the lakefront the two-story Nuevo Modern Mexican & Tequila Bar restaurant and the three-story, 16-unit Harbor Verandas apartment building at the foot of East 9th Street.

Cumberland Development’s Harbor Verandas apartments over
retail are the latest phase of lakefront investments to turn North
Coast Harbor into more of a year-round setting (KJP).

Next phases for Cumberland and its partner Trammel Crow apparently include redeveloping two former Port of Cleveland warehouses into shops and restaurants. Full build-out shows 1,000 apartments, 80,000+ square feet of offices and 50,000 square feet of retail space. It also reportedly involves partnering with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center on proposed museum expansions that would, among other things, connect their buildings with an enclosed, climate-controlled walkway.

Additionally, the latest of many iterations of a Lakefront Multi-Modal Transportation Center is part of the land bridge plan, sources said. The transportation center would unite Greyhound buses, Amtrak trains, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) buses and trains and possibly other regional transit agency buses.

Looking east toward East 9th Street from near the Amtrak train
station, and possibly from below where a new land bridge/Mall D
could be built, the Greyhound bus station portion of the planned
Lakefront Multi-Modal Transportation Center is seen. The Shore-
way is to the left and the rail tracks are to the right (CPC).

The 700,000+ combined annual passenger boardings (includes an anticipated 20 percent boost thanks to more convenient transfers between trains and buses) at this hub in downtown Cleveland would, for context, exceed the 619,000 enplanements at Akron-Canton Regional Airport in 2017. It would also exceed the attendance of 526,000 people at Cleveland Browns home games last year. With that kind of 24-hour, 365-days foot traffic, it could certainly attract a cafe, newsstand and possibly a convenience store that would also be supported by existing and planned lakefront tourism, housing and maybe a hotel.

The most recent plan has a refurbished Amtrak station and new Greyhound station built along and south of the Shoreway. The Greyhound station was assumed to be built in such a manner so that it could support a small building built above it, such as for a hotel, offices or residential. The transportation center at full build-out is estimated to cost less than $70 million. The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which oversees federal transportation spending in Greater Cleveland, has included the Lakefront Multi-Modal Transportation Center in its current funding priorities.

The city’s most recent plan for a Lakefront Multi-Modal
Transportation Center with a possible location for the newly
proposed land-bridge/Mall D concept added (CPC/KJP).

In 1998, one of the most exciting variations of the lakefront multimodal transportation center was proposed (See the 1998 plan’s Executive Summary here). Called the North Coast Transportation Center, it featured an enclosed station over the Norfolk Southern/Amtrak and GCRTA tracks plus a roadway for buses with a green roof that was nearly as wide as Mall C to the south. It could even feature meeting spaces to expand the convention center. In other words, it would provide indoor and outdoor pedestrian linkages between the central business district and North Coast Harbor.

Other transportation linkages are possible with this site. For example, the public transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio has proposed a waterside terminal in Cleveland (possibly in the harbor) where high-speed catamarans could take passengers to Port Stanley or Shrewsbury to board Ontario’s planned high-speed trains and be in downtown Toronto in less than four hours.

The 1998 plan for the North Coast Transportation Center that
would also feature a green roof and thus serve as Mall D over
the tracks and end at a boulevard that would have replaced
the Shoreway highway. A new lakefront hotel and parking
garage was also envisioned in this amazing plan (GCRTA).

Realizing the 1998 transportation center plan would cost about $200 million in today’s dollars. But the $25 million already in hand could be used to fund the design/engineering and environment approvals. Then the city would be in a position to apply for and secure a no-match federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing loan (for which there is still $29 billion in direct loan authority remaining) to pay the entire cost of a transportation center. A $200 million loan would cost the city about $10 million per year. By the way, the $10 million per year to service debt that built First Energy Stadium in 1999 ends in 2028.

“Seems like a no-brainer” to debt-finance the land bridge incorporated with a transportation center, said one planner involved with the city’s lakefront projects who spoke off the record. “But everyone is waiting around for a grant. We need to just do it and pay it back over time.”


3 thoughts on “Downtown-lakefront land bridge has momentum, funding”

  1. I'm glad the "Starcitecht" bridge was abandoned. All that is needed is something aesthetic and functional. Starchitects are egomaniacs who build over-priced and often ugly structures, many of which will never be renovated.

  2. It would be great to see the land bridge do double-duty by being constructed as an expansion of the convention center on the lower levels, and an extension of the mall as the rooftop.

  3. It would also be great if the land bridge design from the 30's was truly incorporated, statues and all, with a modern-flair. I really like the idea of some sort of Art-Deco revival in modern architecture, and this could be a great opportunity to dream about what that might look like.

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