Shoving ye spades into the leitir

Local, regional, state and federal officials assembled today near Merwin’s Wharf in the Flats, across the Cuyahoga River from the unstable hillside that will host Irishtown Bend Park to celebrate the start of construction of hillside stabilization work. That will precede construction work on the park itself, due to get under way in 2025. Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack kicked off the ceremonies (KJP). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Officials break ground for Irishtown Bend Park

Today was a hooley 175 years in the making. Hundreds of people celebrated today on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, across the waters from the lietir, or hillside where work is already starting to stabilize a slope on which Irish immigrants settled under difficult circumstances long ago. Today, their struggle is about to be memorialized with the $100-plus million Irishtown Bend Park.

Although more than 1,000 Irish came to Cleveland in the 1840s in the first of several potato famines, a later famine that nearly wiped out the population in County Mayo brought a surge of people to Cleveland. By 1870, 10,000 Irish immigrants called Cleveland home, or 10 percent of the city’s population. Many lived in slums on the near-West Side, including the Angle, or Irishtown Bend, named as such because it was alongside a large curve in the meandering Cuyahoga.

By the 1900s, most Irish residents and other immigrants had left the area. The neighborhood fell into decline and was razed in the 1950s. Fill material was placed on the hillside in the 1960s which combined with a weak clay layer deep beneath the surface, creates the conditions for a catastrophic landslide that would block commercial shipping to upriver industries.

Today, horns blew from vessels on the river and triggered a community celebration and the start of excavators operating to stabilize the hillside. The project is reality now after more than a decade of work and collaboration. The $60 million hillside stabilization project sets the stage to transform the hillside into a 23-acre public park and community amenity that will bring the project’s total to in excess of $100 million. The Port of Cleveland has been leading the effort to stabilize Irishtown Bend since 2010 and credited multiple community stakeholders in getting to this point.

Construction equipment is on site at the future Irishtown Bend Park. But before work on the park’s features can start, an 18- to 24-month construction project to stabilize the hillside above the Cuyahoga River must be completed. A groundbreaking ceremony for that work was held today (Phil Bowman).

“Today, we add another pivotal marker to the history of Irishtown Bend,” said Port President and CEO William Friedman. “This project would not be happening without the extensive teamwork and financial support of a variety of government and non-profit entities. The danger that this hillside could catastrophically collapse into the shipping channel and impact our $4.7 billion million maritime shipping economy and the 22,000 jobs it supports was very real.”

“Protecting this shipping channel is critical to keep our economy flowing, but also a priority for the Port is maximizing the potential of Cleveland’s waterfront – balancing tourism, public access, recreational uses and, of course, vital job-creating industrial uses. All these things mean economic growth and an improved quality of life,” Friedman continued.

The massive construction project is expected to take 18 to 24 months, officials said. More than $14 million in federal dollars are supporting the project, and Friedman credited Senator Sherrod Brown for being a steadfast advocate on behalf of Greater Cleveland.

“So many of us have fought for so long to get this project done, and today we finally begin this new chapter for our lake and for Cleveland,” said Senator Brown. “The Irishtown Bend project will play an important role in the continued economic resurgence of Northeast Ohio, connecting communities with the lakefront, protecting vital waterways, and encouraging future economic and maritime development.”

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).

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said “No big project in Cleveland gets done in a vacuum. This is a prime example of what can be accomplished when the private and public sectors align on equitable initiative in support of all Clevelanders. Partners are critical, and I’d like to thank every agency here for looking at the big picture and planning for the future.”

“Today is an exciting day, as we watch years of planning turn into action,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne. “The Cuyahoga River valley is seeing a tremendous amount of investment including the completion of the Towpath Trail, the construction of Canal Basin Park, and now the vision for the future of the Veterans Memorial Bridge. The protection and stabilization of Irishtown Bend is critical to our economy and I am thrilled that we’ll soon see a new public space, where nature and the Cuyahoga River can be enjoyed by residents for decades to come.”

Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack said he is looking forward to the years ahead, when the stabilized hillside is home to a new park with extensive views of the river and Cleveland’s downtown skyline.

“This project will dramatically change the Cleveland landscape,” he said. “It is a symbol of Cleveland’s history and a positive reflection of where Cleveland is going. This is so much more than a major infrastructure project, it is also the foundation for equitable access to new high quality public green space for Cleveland residents, including thousands living in public housing, and visitors of all different backgrounds.”

Looking northward along West 25th Street at the planned Irishtown Bend Park in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. The view is from the top of the Cuyahoga River valley with downtown Cleveland on the other side (Plural).

Friedman recognized Grace Gallucci, executive director and CEO of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordination Agency (NOACA), a metropolitan planning organization, for being stalwart in her efforts that helped secure at least 40 percent of the funding for the project.

“This project is crucial to economic development and quality of life in the region, and that’s why NOACA contributed nearly half of the necessary funding to bring it to fruition,” Gallucci said.

In addition to NOACA and the city, county and federal governments, Friedman acknowledged other key partners and funders including the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, the West Creek Conservancy, Ohio City Inc., LAND studio, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several state agencies including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Public Works Commission.

The first step in the stabilization process will be to remove fill material placed on the hillside in the 1960s, which will reduce the forces causing the slope failure when combined with the natural geology of the site. That slope failure has eroded and caused the 2007 closure of Riverbed Road and threatens a key sewer line that services Cleveland’s West Side, which will be repaired as well. The project also includes installing more than 2,100 linear feet of bulkhead at the river’s edge.

In addition to the more than $14 million in federal funds, the project includes $14.5 million from the State of Ohio and a total of nearly $19 million from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Goettle Inc., a Cincinnati-based company with expertise in deep foundations, earth retention systems and marine construction, is the lead contractor on the stabilization project.


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