Up to $10M coming to Irishtown Bend Park

Grilling area at Irishtown Bend Park next to West 25th Street

If enough funding can be found, Irishtown Bend Park would line the east edge of West 25th Street in Ohio City, north of the Riverview Towers Apartments toward the Detroit-Superior Bridge seen in the distance. If a challenge grant announced today is matched by 2024, half of the funding will be in place to start building the park (Plural). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Mandel Foundation offers challenge grant

In a project beset with hurdles — primarily centered around money — the effort to move forward on developing the 23-acre Irishtown Bend Park in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood got a big financial boost today. That boost came from a $5 million challenge grant from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. If enough donations are received by the end of 2024 to match the challenge dollar-for-dollar, it could generate up to $10 million.

Activities, responsibilities and costs for building the park are divided into two categories. The first part is the stabilization of the hillside above and along Irishtown Bend, a turn in the twisting Cuyahoga River below West 25th Street and south of the Detroit-Superior Bridge. Because this portion of the river is an important shipping channel that must be kept open and navigable, stabilization of the hillside and construction of a new bulkhead along the west bank of the river is being overseen by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.

The port authority has enough money in hand to start the hillside stabilization work — a mix of local, state, and federal funds totaling about $24.4 million. But that’s half the amount of money needed to finish the work. Once the hillside work is completed, construction of the park itself can begin. It is being led by public space designer LAND studio and Ohio City Inc., a community development corporation. That is the work which the Mandel Foundation is supporting with its pledge.

“So far, nearly $17 million has been raised for the park – this includes the Mandel award, but not its matching funds,” said Jamie Dalton, vice president of Falls & Co., which is handling public relations for the park project’s sponsors. “The total cost for the park is $45 million. This amount covers the community’s vision for the park — and we plan to carry out what the community is expecting and excited to see.”

Vision plan for Irishtown Bend Park

An overhead view of the proposed Irishtown Bend Park from Columbus Road, across the bottom of the image, north and next to the existing Ohio City Farm, and West 25th Street to Detroit-Superior Bridge at right (LAND studio).

Donations that match the Mandel pledge would bring the total to $22 million available for the park’s construction, or roughly half of the total projected cost, Dalton said. Inquiries regarding donations to support the challenge grant should be directed to Deanna Palermo, LAND studio’s director of foundation relations, at dpalermo@LAND-studio.org.

“The Mandel Foundation believes in the growth and vitality of Cleveland’s neighborhoods, which ultimately spurred our decision to invest in this project through a significant challenge grant,” said Jehuda Reinharz, Mandel Foundation president and CEO. “The efforts to increase leadership through the involvement of all residents bordering the location of Irishtown Bend Park closely aligns with the Foundation’s commitment to investing in community leaders to promote inclusive communities of choice.”

The vision for Irishtown Bend Park is made possible through a strong public and private partnership. LAND studio, Ohio City, Inc., Cleveland Metroparks, West Creek Conservancy, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), City of Cleveland, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), Cuyahoga County, the State of Ohio, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) are among those working together to advance Irishtown Bend Park.

“The Mandel Foundation remains committed to community engagement and the neighborhoods of Cleveland,” said Mandel Foundation Board Chair Stephen Hoffman. “The empowerment of community residents to champion and lead efforts in park planning ensures the sustainability of the Irishtown Bend Park project and the long-term economic and community benefits for Cleveland’s near West Side.”

Riverfront promenade at Irishtown Bend Park

Riverfront promenade that would also be a part of the region’s trail network, linking the completed sections of the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail, that was built on the former Conrail railroad which dates to 1855. That was just a few years after Irish immigrants escaping the Great Hunger began arriving in Cleveland and settled mostly on the West Side, including on this hillside (Plural).

The plans for Irishtown Bend Park prioritize equity through diversity, accessibility, and inclusion and were shaped by the resident-led Committee of Champions, which puts residents of neighboring CMHA properties at the center of park planning. When complete, Irishtown Bend Park will enhance community health and connections, expand the city’s green space, promote economic growth, and establish the missing link between the 101-mile Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and Lake Erie. The park is planned to be built on the site of a 19th-century Irish shantytown.

“Irishtown Bend Park is nationally significant and is being watched by cities across the country,” said Greg Peckham, executive director of LAND studio. “The park will be a climate-resilient landscape, designed to combat the negative impacts of climate change on people and the environment. We will plant more than 1,000 trees, improve river habitat, and create a natural space in the heart of the city for residents that for generations have been able to see the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie but have never been able to get there.”

“Irishtown Bend Park will fundamentally reshape how our neighborhoods interact with our waterfront. This is a space designed with the community, for the community,” said Tom McNair, executive director of Ohio City, Inc. “This grant is a huge step towards turning this once-in-a-generation opportunity into reality.”

Mid-slope trail at Irishtown Bend Park

 Several trails are planned at different elevations across Irishtown Bend Park, including this mid-slope trail. This view looks north toward the proposed high-rise Bridgeworks apartment-hotel development at left and the the Stonebridge Condominiums to the right of it (Plural).

Unfortunately, hill stabilization work has been delayed by a lone holdout property owner, investors Tony George and his son Bobby. As other property was being amassed for the park, the father-son team bought a parcel with an abandoned, decaying building on it for $248,200 and has reportedly asked the port authority for more than $4 million for the property. The port authority has offered $360,000 for the property. Costs to stabilize the hillside with George’s building preserved would increase by more than $6 million, according to port officials.

The port authority filed an eminent domain action against George, claiming the property needed to be acquired in the public’s interest to keep the hillside from collapsing and blocking river traffic. George sued the port, contesting the validity of the eminent domain action. Last June, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John Sutula granted a preliminary injunction against the port authority which sought a quick-take of the property with compensation but without a court trial.

“Public agency exercise of quick take authority and procedure are permitted only during a war or similar time of public exigency, or for the purpose of making or repairing public roads… The Cuyahoga River is not a road,” Sutula wrote in issuing the injunction. Discussions between the Georges and the port authority reportedly continue toward a negotiated settlement.

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