Paving for opportunity along a new corridor

Opportunity Corridor at East 79th Street with downtown Cleveland in the distance.

Slicing through mostly urban prairies depopulated of residents and employment over the last 50+ years, the Opportunity Corridor promises to repopulate what has been called The Forgotten Triangle. This Oct. 2, 2021 view looks west from East 79th Street with downtown Cleveland in the distance. Aerial views are from a video posted here (Taco Slayer Aerial). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Opportunity Corridor: remaking 1,000 acres of Cleveland

A few days after the ribbon is cut at 2 p.m. Nov. 3 for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) new Opportunity Corridor Boulevard, the first traffic will enter the roadway and its parallel multi-purpose trail. That traffic will pass through 1,000 acres of what was a crowded, uneasy mix of neighborhoods and heavy industries until the 1970s. Today, it is a mostly peaceful setting that has gone back to nature.

It has been derisively dubbed The Forgotten Triangle. Its residential population and industrial workforce had all but vanished, leaving behind a mostly empty shell. It got its triangular description due to the arrangement of its principal streets — Kinsman Avenue, Woodland Avenue and Woodhill Road.

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But that setting is no longer being forgotten. As a result, its surroundings aren’t likely to remain peaceful for long. It’s not just about roadway traffic either. As early as this winter, everything from a huge new warehouse to apartment buildings will start breaking ground along the $331 million, 3-mile roadway.

The Opportunity Corridor Boulevard was built in three sections over the past six years. Construction outside of the roadway’s lanes will continue until next spring, including landscaping, painting and other features (ODOT).

Put simply, the Opportunity Corridor is the most expansive remake of Cleveland’s urban landscape so far in the 21st century. And it will have implications for the city for decades, if not centuries.

Originally proposed in 2000 by University Circle-area stakeholders like the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and University Hospitals Health System, the road was to be called the University Circle Access Boulevard (UCAB). The concept was embraced by ODOT as part of its Urban Core highway reconstruction efforts, primarily focused on the Inner Belt/Interstate 90 through downtown Cleveland.

ODOT embraced the UCAB as a means to ease traffic congestion at I-90’s downtown interchanges with Carnegie and Chester avenues. Those are the primary access routes for motorists going to and from the west and south sides of the metro area for University Circle — Ohio’s fourth-largest employment hub.

Opportunity Corridor at East 55th Street with the RTA station at left.

Looking east from East 55th Street, this is where the Opportunity Corridor turns Interstate 490 into a landscaped, multimodal boulevard. It will have a multi-purpose path along it and rebuilt rail transit infrastructure including a modernized rapid transit station seen at left. The connecting roadway leading to the right ramps up to East 55th (Taco Slayer Aerial).

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How Opportunity Corridor became more than a road

But Cleveland officials didn’t like the UCAB name or the optics of well-paid medical professionals zipping along a fresh ribbon of pavement through the rotting remnants of one of the city’s most impoverished areas. Many of its residents can’t even drive on the roadway. More than half of the households in the affected portions of the Broadway/Slavic Village, Kinsman, Buckeye-Woodhill and Fairfax neighborhoods don’t have a car, Census data shows.

The project was re-branded as the Opportunity Corridor and the city undertook a comprehensive effort to restore jobs and housing to land along the boulevard. The city cleaned up industrial pollutants, vacated side streets, consolidated properties and redeveloped areas along the proposed roadway.

And the new roadway has been refashioned to accommodate more than just cars. Along its entire length is a multi-purpose path for cyclists, strollers and joggers. It was added in 2019 to the county’s Cuyahoga Greenways Network plan which identifies hundreds of miles of existing and future bike routes just in Cuyahoga County.

Plus, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) has invested $50.3 million into rebuilt stations, renewed tracks and modernized signal systems just in the Forgotten Triangle area in the last decade. The goal is to ensure that whatever housing and employment is added to the corridor will be accessible to everyone.

Thus, some of the upcoming residential developments along the Opportunity Corridor have as much to do with access to the GCRTA rail stations as they do to the new road. An example is at the East 55th station which serves the Red (Airport-Windermere), Blue (Waterfront-Warrensville/Van Aken District) and Green (Waterfront-Green/Shaker Road) lines.

Redevelopment plan for the St. Hyacinth neighborhood.

Slavic Village Development is acquiring property to redevelop the neighborhood surrounding the St. Hyacinth Church (at lower left) with new townhouses and multi-family buildings. The Opportunity Corridor and East 55th Street rail station are just out of view beyond the top of the image (Slavic Village).

Transit-oriented development along an ODOT project

Rebuilt a decade ago for $9 million, the East 55th station had its direct pedestrian access was cut off from an enclave surrounding St. Hyacinth Church, 6114 Francis Ave., by the new boulevard. The roadway slices through the area in a subgrade cut. So ODOT constructed a pedestrian bridge over the road to restore the access.

“There’s a lot of vacant property around the rail station,” said Chris Alvarado, executive director of Slavic Village Development, a community development corporation. “We’re in the property acquisition phase to densify housing in the area north of Francis Avenue and west of East 64th (Street), or within about a quarter-mile of the RTA station. Our vision is to create a mix of apartments and townhouses with ground-floor retail.”

He said Slavic Village Development is working with another community development corporation, the Famicos Foundation, to secure Low Income Housing Tax Credits in 2023 for the first phase of development. Planned is permanent supportive housing in partnership with The Haven Home which provides housing for women and families, Alvarado said.

Slavic Village attempted to develop affordable and/or transitional housing with limited parking on a 1-plus-acre piece of land inside the new access roadway that links the Opportunity Corridor with East 55th Street. That large piece of open land is next to the rail station and would be an ideal location for a transit-oriented development, Alvarado said.

But ODOT didn’t see it that way, citing difficulties with vehicular access to that site. City officials reportedly didn’t push back against ODOT’s opposition. So there currently are no plans to do anything with that property. Alvarado acknowledged that there are many other vacant pieces of land in the St. Hyacinth neighborhood he would like to see developed first.

Opportunity Corridor at East 79th Street, looking east.

Looking east from East 79th Street, the Opportunity Corridor ducks under the busy Norfolk Southern tracks and turns northeast toward University Circle. At the center of the image, beyond the tracks, is the Miceli Dairy Products Co. plant. It is one of several large and growing food-related businesses in the corridor (Taco Slayer Aerial).

Creating commercial opportunities along the corridor

Farther east along the new roadway, the city’s acquisition and consolidation of properties was especially necessary for what may be one of the largest projects in the corridor — the Northeast Ohio Food Hub. The facility was proposed to be located at the Cuyahoga Valley Industrial Center, a former steel mill site off Interstate 77 and Pershing Avenue.

But there is more room along the Opportunity Corridor for the massive cold storage building that could serve grocery store and restaurant customers up to 450 miles away. And the food hub would also mesh well with other food-related businesses already in the corridor, such as Green City Growers, Miceli Dairy Products Co., Orlando Baking Co. and the Rid-All Green Partnership.

“The (Cleveland) Department of Economic Development has been engaged in the acquisition and assembly of property in and around the Opportunity Corridor in order to make property available for future development,” said Richard Switalski, administration bureau manager for the Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects.

He made those comments at the Sept. 3, 2021 City Planning Commission meeting in which the panel voted to vacate several streets for the Northeast Food Hub. Vacated was a portion of Rawlings Avenue between East 75th Street and East 79th Street, a portion of Holton Avenue between East 75th Street and East 79th Street and a portion of East 78th Street from the south line of Holton Avenue.

Original site plan for Northeast Ohio Food Hub in Opportunity Corridor.

The Northeast Ohio Food Hub and Weston Group submitted this cold storage warehouse proposal to the city for approval. It featured a large, suburban-style retention basin at the southwest side of the development. The city urged more innovative, space-saving systems of handling stormwater runoff and rezoned the west side of East 79th Street for mixed-use development (CPC/Weston).

Warehouse may be ‘Largest east of the Mississippi’

“Various independent parcels will need to be consolidated and certain streets need to be vacated,” Switalski added. “This is meant for the use and construction of the cold storage unit that Atlantic will be putting in. I think it’s going to be the largest (cold storage facility) east of the Mississippi (River). They hope to be breaking ground before the end of the year.”

Switalski didn’t respond to a follow-up e-mail from NEOtrans seeking more information, including clarifying Atlantic’s identity and role. Neither did Ed Asher, president of Weston Development which is overseeing the Northeast Ohio Food Hub project.

Plans submitted to the city show a 205,000-square-foot warehouse structure in the first phase, followed by a 70,000-square-foot second phase. Both would be built south of the Opportunity Corridor, between East 75th and 79th streets. Although the number of permanent jobs were not disclosed, the facility is shown with 235 parking spaces for employees. Another 41 spaces for truck trailers also are proposed.

In May, the city approved rezoning for the Northeast Ohio Food Hub while adding Urban Form Overlay zoning. The move pushed the food hub site away from East 79th and preserves a narrow strip of land along the west side of East 79th for mixed-use development. That strip is north of the GCRTA’s Blue/Green Line rail station and south of the Opportunity Corridor.

Specifically, Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. plans to construct in that strip several buildings with multi-family residential above retail and other neighborhood commercial uses. The goal is to put affordable housing within walking distance of the new job sites planned along this section of the Opportunity Corridor. It will also provide a more comfortable walking experience for transit riders using the rail station, BBC officials said.

The City of Cleveland's land use plan for East 79th Street near Opportunity Corridor.

This is from a 2019 land use plan for the East 79th Street corridor adopted by the city, showing how it expects property to be used along the north-south street (at right). It shows pedestrian-oriented mixed-uses on East 79th with warehouses and other large commercial uses away from East 79th. The Opportunity Corridor is across the top of the image and the Green/Blue light-rail transit line along the bottom (CPC).

Lots of open spaces may fill up quickly

On the east side of East 79th, owners of the nearby McTech Inc. construction company won design approval last summer from Planning Commission for its planned Construction Opportunity Institute of Cleveland. The owners would lease 8 acres of land from the city with an option to purchase.

Originally, they had intended to include asphalt and concrete plants as part of the institute, but representatives of the neighborhood and nearby businesses said the smell from those plants would hurt the area’s further growth as a food hub. Instead, a 48,000-square-foot training facility is planned on a small part of the property. An athletic facility, library and dormitory could be added in later phases.

And to the west of East 75th, the city intends to build its new 170,000-square-foot Cleveland Police Department headquarters for 700 police officers and civilian employees. Conceptual site plans show about 360 parking spaces will be provided in surface parking lots. Approximately 30 of those spaces would be for public parking. It is assumed that many non-police officer HQ employees would commute by public transportation.

Nearby is the East 79th Red Line rail station that GCRTA rebuilt last year for $8 million. The Green/Blue Line station, located a few blocks farther south along East 79th, is due to be replaced starting in 2022 for $6.5 million. Over the last two years, GCRTA replaced the Green/Blue Line tracks from near East 55th Street to Shaker Square for $18 million, offering a smoother, faster ride.

New Opportunity Corridor bridges over the rebuilding Blue/Green light-rail lines.

More than just road infrastructure has been built in the Forgotten Triangle. Transportation agencies spent $331 million for the Opportunity Corridor roadway and multi-purpose path and $50 million for improved rail transit infrastructure over the past decade. In 2020, the new roadway and path was under construction over the Blue/Green light-rail tracks that were being replaced for the first time in 40 years (GCRTA).

Opportunity starts with quality housing, jobs access

The next station east on the Blue/Green line is Buckeye-Woodhill where ground was broken yesterday for the first phase of Woodhill Station, a roughly $40 million, 120-unit apartment building on the former site of the Buckeye-Woodland Elementary School, 9511 Buckeye Rd. Marous Brothers and the Community Builders Inc. are constructing the mixed-income building, just uphill from Buckeye’s intersection with Opportunity Corridor.

This development is necessary to not only put housing along transportation routes. It is also necessary to relocate residents from one of the city’s oldest public complexes — the 80-year-old Woodhill Homes. Located just east of Opportunity Corridor, the Woodhill Homes will be demolished and replaced with modern housing thanks to a $35 million grant from the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Financing is still coming together however for the second phase of Woodhill Station that will push that development to the northwest corner of Buckeye and Woodhill roads. This phase will deliver a $25 million, 69-unit, mixed-income apartment building led by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. It is across the street from the GCRTA rail station that was reconstructed in 2012 for $3.3 million.

Other recent rail transit infrastructure projects include the $4 million expansion of the East 105th-Quincy Red Line station, which was funded 80 percent by ODOT as part of the Opportunity Corridor project. A longer trackside station platform and a second stairwell/elevator entrance were provided.

This is also where the first sections of the Opportunity Corridor roadway were built. The work started in 2014 with the four-year rebuilding and widening of East 105th Street from Chester Avenue south to Quincy Avenue, in the service area of the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corp. The next section was built from 2016-18 — just a 0.6-mile segment from Quincy to East 93rd Street.

Vacant for nearly 25 years, the Victoreen Building rots away on Woodland Avenue.

Sometimes the built environment becomes so thoroughly neglected that it cannot be part of a rebirth. In fact, its mere existence repels it. So structures such as the large Victoreen Building on Woodland Avenue are being torn down and its soils remediated of more than a century’s worth of pollutants. It offers neighborhoods a chance to start over (Architectural Afterlife).

Removing physical impediments to redevelopment

Along the Opportunity Corridor, obsolete and neglected structures are being cleared and the soil cleaned of pollutants to provide clean-and-green sites for housing and employers. Just east of the East 105th-Quincy intersection, the three-story Gibson-Homans Co. plant, 2370 Woodhill Rd., is being razed for $239,000 by owner Harper Industries, city records show. The maker of roof coatings, caulking compounds and other sealant products relocated to Twinsburg. The plant has sat empty for decades. Its demolition will finally allow the site to be productively reused.

This follows the 2019 demolition by Harper Industries of the Victoreen Building, 10101 Woodland Ave. The five-story, 100,000-square-foot structure had sat vacant for 25 years before it was razed. The clearing and cleaning of this property added 9.5 acres to the city’s industrial-commercial land bank, property records show.

Those efforts offer the promise of opportunity. But the realization of opportunity is under way along the section of the Opportunity Corridor that was built first. The East 105th portion is where the largest developments are planned or underway. Many of these have been reported on extensively here at NEOtrans. Here’s a summary of them:

Innovation Square will create a street presence along East 105th Street.

The first phase of Innovation Square will bring Square 105, an apartment building with a significant street presence along the west side of East 105th Street, between Cedar and Quincy avenues. This area has suffered from significant abandonment since the 1960s. Innovation Square will be a sharp reversal from that trend (City Architecture).

Innovation Square is a mixed-income, mixed-use development totaling 223 residences to be built over three phases. Phase one is a four-story building to be called Square 105 with 82 apartments over a ground-floor commercial space on the northwest corner of East 105th and a westward extension of Hudson Avenue. Investment in phase one is $10 million by McCormack Baron Salazar and Fairfax Renaissance. Groundbreaking could occur this year.

Fairmount Properties' apartment building and Meijer grocery store at East 105th Street and Cedar Avenue.

And if Innovation Square doesn’t impress passersby with its street presence, then perhaps Fairmount Properties’ mixed-use development at the southwest corner of East 105th Street and Cedar Avenue might dazzle. It will feature market-rate apartments above an urban-format Meijer grocery store (Bialosky Cleveland).

Fairmount Properties plans a two-phase development at the southwest corner of East 105th and Cedar Avenue. The first phase would feature a 190-unit market-rate apartment building above a 40,000-square-foot, urban-format Meijer grocery store. The six-story building would rise north of a new four-level parking garage. A similarly-sized apartment structure for phase two could be built just west of the first phase. A cost figure is unavailable. Fairmount wants to starts construction this year.

Cleveland Clinic Foundation's Big 3 projects are about to sprout near Opportunity Corridor.

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s ‘Big 3’ projects are along or near the East 105th Street portion of the Opportunity Corridor. Planned are the 900,000-plus-square-foot Neurological Institute, 400,000-square-foot Pathogen Center and 150,000-square-foot expansion of the Cole Eye Institute. The Clinic also has an agreement to sell its 49,205-square-foot DD Building to Cumberland Development to be refurbished as an office building for tech start-ups (Google/KJP).

Cleveland Clinic Foundation could build more than 1.4 million square feet of new medical facilities starting in the next year. Much of the development — a new Neurological Institute, new Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health and an expanded Cole Eye Institute — is proposed to rise on or near East 105th in an area called the Cleveland Innovation District. The district was announced at the start of this year by the state and JobsOhio, a private economic-development corporation.

As many as 305 micro-unit apartments are planned to rise one block east of East 105th Street as a temporary home for families of patients admitted for long-term care, new eds-and-meds employees, or for longtime hospital workers who want an in-town place to rest their heads between their shifts (Maison).

Stokes West is a mixed-use development one block east of East 105th at Stokes Boulevard, between Cedar and Carnegie avenues on land owned by University Circle Inc. Brent Zimmerman Development LLC and equity partner ACRE are planning a roughly 150,000-square-foot building rising at least seven stories tall with 255-305 apartments. Most will be micro units that are about 250-300 square feet each. Neighborhood retailers will be sought for the ground floor.

The multi-structure Circle Square is already producing University Circle’s tallest building — the 24-story Artisan Apartments, seen at center in back. Its construction started last spring. Next up is the 11-story Library Lofts at lower left, featuring apartments over a new MLK Branch Library (Bialosky Cleveland).

Circle Square is one of the largest developments in Cleveland, eclipsed only by the two-phase Sherwin-Williams HQ and the totality of Cleveland Clinic’s impending projects. At more than 1 million square feet among all phases, Circle Square will create a second downtown for Cleveland just east of East 105th and Euclid Avenue. In it, Midwest Development Partners, White Oak Realty and others are building residential, hotel and/or office towers over retail and neighborhood services. Total investment among all phases will likely exceed $300 million.

Opportunity Corridor has come a long way over two decades from simply being the future University Circle Access Boulevard. Not only did the road change its name, it also broadened its purpose. It became more multi-modal, adding transit and biking components to ODOT’s usual car-centric focus.

But it ultimately became a path that led enough Clevelanders to stop forgetting the Forgotten Triangle and to start asking what could be done with its vast expanses of industrially polluted urban prairie. The answer was opportunity — putting housing, jobs, neighborhood services and transportation in close proximity to each other.

While it may have started out as just a road, it certainly didn’t end up that way.

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