GCRTA and a private developer will seek funding for a bridge cap over the Red Line transit tracks, station and greenway south of Abbey Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. This view looks southward from Abbey next to Columbus Road (KJP). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.
Pedestrian plaza to link existing, future developments
In Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) and a private developer will seek federal funding for a bridge cap over the Red Line transit tracks, West 25th Street train station and the Red Line Greenway to improve pedestrian connections to existing and future developments. GCRTA’s board on Tuesday will vote on a staff recommendation to authorize the pursuit of funds to plan for and construct the bridge cap to support a pedestrian plaza and provide a second stairwell/elevator entry, called a station head house, to the rail station below. GCRTA’s board typically approves staff recommendations.
GCRTA’s authorization to pursue the bridge cap will be presented to the board as an amendment to a development and use agreement (DUA) executed in 2021 by GCRTA and Cleveland-based private developer AJAPPJR, LLC whose principal is Jori Maron. AJAPPJR plans a mixed-use, transit-oriented development (TOD) in an 85-by-700-foot strip of land along Columbus Road south of Abbey Avenue, uphill from the Red Line tracks and greenway trail. Per the DUA, the proposed development will feature a minimum of 125 housing units totaling 135,000 square feet and a commercial component of 47,200 square feet, totaling a projected investment of more than $60 million. The site is zoned multi-family with building heights limited to 35 feet.
“This TOD project will enhance neighborhood connectivity with the West 25th Street Rapid Station and promote increased use of the Red Line as well as nearby GCRTA bus lines, including the MetroHealth Line,” noted the GCRTA amendment, with the last part referring to a proposed bus rapid transit line on West 25th from Ohio City to Old Brooklyn. “The developer’s concept plan includes a bridge cap over GCRTA’s Red Line — and the Red Line Greenway — which is essential to achieve the connectivity that GCRTA’s overarching objective for the TOD project.”
This is a conceptual development master plan for the Ohio City transit oriented development site being pursued jointly by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and private developer AJAPPJR, LLC. The proposed bridge deck, pedestrian promenade and second access to the Red Line station train platform will halve the walking distance between the rail station and the planned MetroHealth Bus Rapid Transit station from nearly 900 feet to less than 450 feet (GCRTA).
As proposed, the bridge cap will be constructed next to and south of Abbey, although the proposed amendment to the DUA is silent on the potential size of the bridge cap. GCRTA and AJAPPJR will jointly design the bridge cap but the design work will be initiated by the developer. The amendment to the DUA provides some guidance as what features might be included in the bridge cap. This is the first proposed amendment to the DUA. Additional amendments are anticipated in the future as the project develops. GCRTA acknowledged that, if the amendment is not executed, it would “likely terminate” the TOD project.
“The bridge cap will support the creation of a new plaza and related green space, together with links to the west side of the TOD,” the proposed amendment notes. And it will include “A pedestrian promenade connecting to the bridge cap (and) the addition of a second head house for the West 25th Street Rapid transit station, including a design which integrates the station into the TOD. However, this element is intended to be primarily designed, funded and constructed by GCRTA. The connections with the bridge cap will be jointly designed and approved by (the) developer and GCRTA.”
In its four-year capital budget approved by GCRTA’s board earlier this year, the transit agency anticipated an $11.2 million reconstruction of the West 25th Red Line station for 2027. GCRTA has rebuilt all 18 of its Red Line stations since 1990 so they are handicapped accessible. The West 25th station was the first to be reconstructed along Cleveland’s 34-mile rail system dubbed “The Rapid” and is showing its age.
GCRTA and AJAPPJR will also jointly create a new corporation that will buy property, including GCRTA land along Columbus south of Abbey to near Willey Avenue. GCRTA will have a non-recourse, non-dilutable ownership position of at least 4 percent in that new corporation. Funding from that partnership will provide GCRTA with a local funding share to revitalize the existing West 25th station, expand it with the second station head house, plus maintenance and operating funding.
Overhead view of the proposed transit oriented development site, planned adjacent bridge cap over the Red Line tracks and greenway, and surrounding areas including the West Side Market at upper left. North is at the top of the image (Google/KJP).
“The TOD project will provide GCRTA with significant revenue, including 50 percent of the fair market value of the property at time of conveyance, followed by continuing revenue for the life of the TOD project,” the MUA amendment read. “The first amendment will provide for GCRTA’s ownership interest to increase to 10 percent if the grant application is successful.”
The DUA originally required the developer to submit plans to city review panels by Oct. 31, 2022. That deadline passed without any plans submitted although Maron gathered neighborhood input last year for the future project in private meetings with the Duck Island Block Club. GCRTA and AJAPPJR agreed to extend this submission deadline for as long as necessary in order to seek public funding for the project. GCRTA has been seeking development of its land near the West 25th station for more than five years in a story first reported by NEOtrans.
Under the proposed amendment, the developer will not have any interest in GCRTA-owned property to the west of the Red Line near the TOD site where numerous real estate projects have been built or planned. However, AJAPPJR may partner with private interests on the west side of the Red Line adjacent to the TOD site to jointly seek pedestrian connections to the bridge cap.
“The developer will be responsible for the day-to-day cleanup and maintenance of the bridge cap and pedestrian promenade, in conjunction with the owner and/or developer of the project or projects on the west side of the Red Line adjacent to the TOD site — either on pro rata basis or as otherwise agreed to between owners and/or developers,” the amendment noted.
A pedestrian plaza and greenspace at the East Liberty bus rapid transit station in Pittsburgh was built in 2015 in part by repurposing a former bus ramp above the transit line. The plaza is now surrounded by dense, mixed-use developments (Google).
GCRTA may also sell unrestricted air rights — known as the right to develop real estate above a property owned by someone else — to the developer for the bridge cap supporting the new plaza and green space for fair market value if the grant requirements allow it. GCRTA will be responsible for the capital repair expenditures for the bridge cap and pedestrian promenade. GCRTA says capital repairs are anticipated to be funded primarily from connection fees paid by the developer and the owner and/or developer of any projects in the west side of the Red Line.
Immediately west of the Red Line along Abbey, an apparently vacant, single-story commercial building owned by local investor Tom Gillespie is proposed to make $104,750 worth of exterior repairs and cleaning with a portion coming from the city’s storefront renovation program, according to plans submitted to the city. The goal of that project is to make the property more attractive to prospective retail tenants.
Just south of that, Harbor Bay Ventures of Greater Chicago has envisioned a high-rise second phase to its 512,000-square-foot Intro development at West 25th and Lorain Avenue. But high interest rates and tightened lending among major financial firms has prompted Harbor Bay to put on “temporary hold” plans to pursue construction of phase two. Across West 25th from Intro, Maron is pursuing a $62 million redevelopment of the vacant, 237,136-square-foot Voss Industries plant into apartments, offices, retail, restaurants and active sports — a project which appears to have a higher priority and imminence than the joint TOD project with GCRTA.
Ari Maron, a principal involved with the TOD and Voss projects, opened but did not respond to an e-mail from NEOtrans seeking more information prior to publication of this article. GCRTA Public Information Officer Robert Fleig also opened but did not respond to a NEOtrans e-mail which, in addition to seeking to further comment, also requested a copy of a site diagram referenced in the DUA amendment.