CSU starts process for skyline-altering master plan

Cleveland State University’s 85-acre campus at the edge of
downtown features several buildings that are prominent as
viewed from the East Side. Will they stay prominent? Will
they be redesigned? Or will they be joined by more promi-
nent campus buildings? Those questions will be answered
by a master plan process starting later this year (CSU).

A lot can change in just six years. That’s especially true when it comes to a university that’s continuing to make the transition from a regional commuter school to more of a nationally prominent residential institution.

And when that university is also trying to reconfigure its athlethic facilities, privatize its parking and capitalize on Cleveland’s international standing as a medical center, then it’s time to take a fresh look at its campus.

So Cleveland State University (CSU) has issued a request for qualifications from urban planning and design firms to create an updated master plan for what is currently an 85-acre campus. According to the Dodge Reports, CSU is requesting qualifications for planning services to be submitted by 2 p.m. July 24 to Jeremiah Swetel, CSU’s executive director of facility services.

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The plan is essential for securing funding, be it from public- or private-sector sources, for any capital construction projects at the state university that has 12,248 undergraduates and a total enrollment of 16,327. That’s compared to 10,132 undergraduates and 15,293 total enrollment since Fall 2000. CSU President Harlan Sands has called for the master plan as he juggles multiple challenges regarding its facilities.

This was from CSU’s last master plan, conducted in 2014. Al-
though a few facilities resulted from this plan, such as the new
Washkewicz College of Engineering, other projects didn’t hap-
pen, like moving the athletic fields closer to Interstate 90 and
developing the old athletic fields with student housing (CSU).

While Swetel didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking more information, two sources familiar with CSU’s facilities did. They’re familiar with the reasons for updating the university’s master plan for the first time since 2014. And, although they were not permitted to speak publicly about CSU’s upcoming work, they say that the master plan’s findings could be skyline-altering.

Because CSU is at the eastern edge of downtown Cleveland, any changes to buildings of 10 stories or more or new buildings of similar size will be noticeable if built in and near CSU. So, for example, if the 21-story, 363-foot-tall Rhodes Tower were to be significantly renovated or even replaced, it would alter the skyline.

Changing or replacing the campus’ tallest building, including the library and main classroom building, is reportedly going to be one of the possible projects considered. This connected complex will turn 50 years old next year and is in need of renovations and modernization.

And when CSU completed its last campus master plan in 2014, it had recently made some significant investments in improving its facilities as a residential school. The university converted the 22-story Fenn Tower into a 438-bed residence hall in 2006. Five years later, it traded the 438-bed Viking Hall for the slightly larger and brand-new 600-bed Euclid Commons, 2450 Euclid Ave.

Although no new on-campus student housing was built by CSU
since its last campus master plan, several private developments
were built for students. One of those was The Edge apartments
built in 2017 on Euclid Avenue at East 18th Street (Clayco).

The 13-story Viking Hall was CSU’s first dormitory, originally built in 1971 as a Holiday Inn but converted in 1986 to dorms. Viking Hall, 2130 Euclid, was razed in 2011. But CSU still has only two on-campus residence halls totaling just 1,038 beds. University staff say it needs more. By the way, the city’s zoning code allows for buildings to be built as tall as 600 feet in and near the campus.

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There are nearly a dozen privately built and managed apartment buildings around the CSU campus, many of them designed with students in mind — such as the 2017-built, 11-story The Edge building on Euclid at East 18th Street. But only one of the private complexes is CSU-approved housing — the 2012-built Langston apartments on Chester Avenue. Rents are increasing quickly at downtown’s off-campus housing.

More students continue to come and, increasingly, they are coming from out of state, especially from more expensive East Coast cities and Chicago. The students are seeking a good education in an urban setting but without the burdensome tuition. In August 2017, CSU welcomed its first-ever 2,000-student freshman class.

“This new milestone further highlights the transformation Cleveland State has undergone over the last decade,” said then-CSU President Ronald Berkman. “We are now a destination university with a growing national reputation for offering students tremendous academic quality and excellent career connections in a vibrant urban environment.”

The future of the Wolstein Center is in doubt as CSU enters a
new campus master plan process. The Downtown Cleveland
Alliance also identified the underused arena as a potential
major development site on its Web site (DCA).

Adding new residential offerings and possibly achieving them through a public-private partnership will likely be a focus for the updated master plan, the two sources said. The question is, where could the new housing be located in an already well-built up campus and its downtown hinterlands?

Part of the answer may lie at the site of the Wolstein Center. This 13,610-seat arena was built in 1991 to serve a fast-growing college basketball program as well as the Cleveland Crunch professional indoor soccer team, concerts and nationally prominent speakers.

But when the Cleveland Cavaliers moved downtown in 1994 to the new and larger Gund Arena (now Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse) and the Crunch folded, the Wolstein Center never achieved its promise. Today, the Wolstein Center burdens CSU with a $1 million-per-year operating deficit.

Replacing the arena with a smaller facility has been on CSU’s to-do list for at least five years. It sits at the center of a 9.3-acre parcel that if, utilized more effectively, could accommodate a smaller arena of about 5,000-7,000 seats surrounded by new student housing. A local model is Case Western Reserve University’s outdoor DiSanto Field which is ringed with dorms, bleachers and a parking garage.

Krenzler Field hosts soccer and, here, lacross games and prac-
tices against a backdrop of downtown’s skyline. This and two
other athletic facilities were proposed in 2014 to be relocated
closer to Interstate 90 so that this near-downtown site could
be developed with student housing (CSU).

Another CSU athletic facility the master plan will likely take a hard look at is Krenzler Field. The soccer and lacrosse field features a removable, air-supported dome. It neighbors on Chester the Viking Softball Field and the Medical Mututal Tennis Pavilion. Krenzler Field was renovated in 2018 for $2.9 million.

But as lacrosse and especially soccer have increased in popularity, including the possibility of a professional outdoor soccer team playing in Cleveland, the 1,500-seat facility may be too small. A larger stadium could be part of the master plan and incorporate facilities for softball and tennis. The 2014 plan had these athletic facilities moved closer to Interstate 90 but, like the Wolstein Center’s replacement, it never happened.

One of the reasons why the athletic facilities sat on the back burner is because the university has been reviewing a new parking privatization plan. It could net CSU more than $50 million up front and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming decades from investing those funds. CSU has seven parking garages and 16 lots totaling 4,131 parking spaces.

Additional parking and public transportation facilities could be in the offing. Access to CSU on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s trains and buses from the eastern suburbs is slow and all routes require at least one transfer to reach CSU. Improved transit circulation downtown would create a more connected neighborhood for CSU’s residential students.

Could enhanced public transportation be a
part of CSU’s master plan? CSU may revisit
a plan for a downtown rail loop to improve
transit access to CSU from the eastern sub-
urbs and create a more connected downtown
for CSU’s residential students (GCRTA).

One way to accomplish those things is to revive a $120 million plan from 20 years ago to extend the light-rail Waterfront Line south from the lakefront, through CSU’s and Cuyahoga Community College’s campuses to create a loop of downtown Cleveland, according to the nonprofit group All Aboard Ohio.

Last but certainly not least is an exciting new effort to boost CSU as a center of medical innovation. Earlier this year, CSU hired Forrest Faison III, former U.S. Navy Vice Admiral and served as the 38th Surgeon General of the Navy and chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery from 2015 to 2019.

He was named senior vice president for research and innovation/chief healthcare strategy officer at CSU. Faison will oversee a broad effort to unify and expand the university’s educational, outreach and scholarship efforts in all aspects of health care, while spurring the continued growth of Cleveland as a center for medical innovation.

“(Faison’s) leadership will also be critical to further our efforts to create the health care programs, technologies and workforce that will improve the lives of people throughout the community and enhance the continued advancement of the regional economy,” said CSU President Sands in a written statement.

Campus master plans are only as good as the follow-up to
implement them. How might this latest master plan by CSU
change downtown Cleveland’s skyline and improve the
urban educational and campus life experiences for its
growing student population? (Ian Meadows).

Until recently, there has been only one publicly funded medical school in Northeast Ohio — the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) far away in Rootstown, between Akron and Youngstown.

So CSU joined with NEOMED to create the NEOMED-CSU Partnership for Urban Health, which has its physical presence in the 2015-built, $48 million Center for Innovations in Medical Professions Building at the southwest corner of Euclid Avenue and East 22nd Street.

As a result of Faison’s hiring, look for a significant new medical school and research buildings to be included in CSU’s upcoming master plan, said one of the two sources. The new medical school and research facilities could feature thousands of students and research jobs and be a magnet for many millions of dollars of state and federal funding for education and research.

CSU’s strengthened effort in the healthcare field is intended to provide a steady and voluminous supply of students and interns for Greater Cleveland’s large medical institutions. And it will likely strengthen the region’s already robust healthcare research scene.

END