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March 2009 Archives

In preparation for the 2010 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau will open its first Cleveland office on Wednesday. The downtown Cleveland field office will be in the US Bank Centre at Playhouse Square.

Update: census takers will face new challenges when they begin work next year.

The City of North Olmsted is conducting the Great Northern Multi Modal Transportation Plan, which will "include recommendations and alternatives for encouraging transit usage, creating bicycle linkages, promoting pedestrian orientation and enhancing the streetscape through physical improvements."

Work on the railroad quiet zones in Brook Park is complete, and City officials are awaiting approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

A new developer has assumed control of the proposed assisted living facility on Idlewood Drive in Brooklyn. The City's Planning Commission will discuss the project at its April 2 meeting.

The Geauga Park District agreed to purchase the Pine Brook property, a 718-acre wetland in Montville Township. The District will pay $1.75 million over the next four years, and will be reimbursed by selling wetland mitigation credits at the newly-established wetland mitigation bank.

Ohio officials today announced that 149 transportation infrastructure projects in 87 Ohio counties will receive a total of $774 million in federal stimulus funds. The largest single investment was for the Innerbelt Bridge project in Cleveland, which will receive $200 million. The other major project in Cuyahoga County to be funded is the Opportunity Corridor, which is slated to receive $20 million.

Amanda Woodrum of Policy Matters Ohio is the author of Committing to Commuters, a new report about state of public transit in Ohio. In an Akron Beacon Journal op-ed, she wrote about the state's lack of investment in public transportation and the need for a dedicated funding source. An editorial in the paper agrees with her conclusions.

Larger than anticipated declines in sales tax revenue have led to a $12–13 million budget shortfall at RTA. If the agency cannot find $9 million to offset the losses, it will have to cut 200–300 jobs and reduce service by by 9–12%. General Manager Joe Calabrese has asked Ohio and NOACA officials for assistance, and is exploring ways to redirect federal stimulus funds. The agency is not considering further fare increases.

The Levin College Forum at CSU will host a discussion titled "Building our Future Beyond Foreclosure" on April 23. It will "highlight existing civic visions and plans for the Northeast Ohio region and the state." Panelists will include David Beach, Lavea Brachman, Andrew Jackson, Robert Jaquay, and Wendy Kellogg.

In an editorial published on Sunday, the Plain Dealer expressed its desire for more information about Cuyahoga County's development agreement with Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. for the planned Medical Mart and convention center. Yesterday, the paper announced that it had reached a deal with the Cuyahoga County Commissioners. The County will release the tentative agreement at least one week prior to finalizing the document.

The Federal Highway Administration approved the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Ohio Department of Transportation's Innerbelt reconstruction plan. Project Manager Craig Hebebrand said that the study includes no surprises. ODOT will hold a public hearing about the plan on April 21, and will accept public comments (PDF) through May 21.

Construction of several residential developments in Cleveland will soon be underway. Work on the Circle 118 townhouses in University Circle began last week, and a ceremonial groundbreaking for the nearby 27 Coltman condominiums in Little Italy will be held on Friday. Construction of the University Lofts condominiums near Cleveland State has also started.

Northeast Ohio water quality experts continue to suspect that increases in the area's Canada Goose population are contributing to the high bacteria counts at Lake Erie beaches.

Leaders of the Fund for Our Economic future expect that the recession will prevent the organization from raising the $30 million it was able to collect in earlier phases. Member organizations may not be able to contribute as much because of substantial declines in the value of their endowments.

RTA will use some of its federal stimulus money to initiate the planning and design a four-mile line along Clifton Boulevard in Cleveland and Lakewood. The entire project will cost an estimated $14 million. New articulated buses will enter service along the corridor this fall.

The retail consultant who last year proposed a retail strategy for Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland has refined his suggestion to include a collection of upscale outlet stores. Reactions to the concept have been generally favorable.

The proposed zoning overlay for downtown Independence will appear on the May ballot as Issue 5. Mayor Kurtz recently spoke about the plans at a meeting of the Independence Homeowners Association.

Neighbors of John Carroll University remain concerned about the school's plans to grow, and recently presented their own vision to University Heights City Council. Meanwhile, Shaker Heights neighbors of the University want more information about the plans. University officials say that they are keeping Shaker Heights informed.

North Royalton City Council has begun discussing whether to allow the construction of wind turbines. Hudson City Council decided to forbid wind turbines, but will review requests to install solar panels on a case-by-case basis.

In the second event in the City Club's "Water–Our Region's Biggest Asset" series, NEORSD Executive Director Julius Ciaccia and Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski spoke about the past, present, and future of the region's water infrastructure (MP3, 55.0 MB). The third and final installment of the series will be held on April 22.

The Asher family's Weston Inc. will partner with Gilbane Development Co. of Providence to redevelop a one-block area of the Warehouse District. Their plans for the seven-acre site include building 700,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail, 250 condominiums, 150 apartments, a 150-room hotel, and parking garages with 2,400 spaces. The area was previously part of Bob Stark's proposed redevelopment.

The U.S. EPA's annual publication of Toxics Release Inventory statistics reveal that Ohio businesses emitted 3.89% fewer toxins in 2007 than in 2006. Factories and power plants in Ohio continued to emit more air pollution than any other state. Nationwide, toxic releases declined by 5% in 2007. A provision in the recent appropriations bill reinstated stronger reporting requirements, reversing a 2006 Bush administration rule.

The restoration of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Public Square is continuing. The work is scheduled to be completed this fall.

A topping out ceremony was held on Thursday for the University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, under construction on 53 acres in the Beachwood portion of the Chagrin Highlands. The facility is part of the hospital's Vision 2010 strategic plan.

The U.S. Census Bureau's annual county population estimates show that Cuyahoga County lost 11,262 people between July 2007 and July 2008. However, the rate of decrease slowed for the second consecutive year. The County's rate of population change peaked at -1.32% in 2006, was -0.97% in 2007, and was -0.87% in 2008. The other four counties in the Cleveland MSA continued to gain population, but their increases did not completely offset the decrease in Cuyahoga County. The metropolitan area's population fell by 6,594 between July 2007 and July 2008. Population losses slowed across the Midwest, while increases slowed in the South and West. Some attribute the changes in migration patterns to the poor economy.

The Ohio Senate passed the two-year transportation budget bill, but removed some of Governor Strickland's proposals. Funding for the 3-C Corridor was retained. A compromise bill is expected to emerge from a joint Senate-House conference committee. The Governor's office says that another provision in the Senate bill threatens $96 million in federal stimulus funds.

Update: in an editorial, the Plain Dealer backs the commuter rail plans.

A conceptual plan (PDF) by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority calls for relocating the East 55th Street Marina to nearby Gordon Park. The existing marina would be displaced by the planned relocation of the port. The proposal has been met with mixed reactions.

Update: the Cleveland City Planning Commission was mostly positive about the proposal. The Port Authority will hold public meetings to gather additional input.

Ohio House Speaker Armond Budish is urging ODOT to assign $200 million in federal stimulus funds for repairs to the Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland.

Policy Matters Ohio's annual foreclosure report says that the 85,782 new foreclosure filings in Ohio last year were a record high. Cuyahoga County had the most filings for the fourth consecutive year, but the number of filings in Cuyahoga County was 7.3% lower in 2008 than in 2007. The largest increases in foreclosure filings were in the state's rural counties.

The water quality improvement bill passed by the U.S. House last week includes an increase of funding for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, raising the authorization from $54 million to $150 million per year over the next five years.

Leaders in North Olmsted and Westlake are ready to enter the second phase of a study on creating a water district. The cties are contemplating a switch in water providers, from Cleveland to Avon Lake. Mayor Clough says the cost to buy water would be 75% less.

Update: a Plain Dealer editorial says that attempting to obtain "federal money to get out from under the Cleveland water system smacks of a political ploy."

Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair continues to lobby for changing the NOACA Governing Board's weighted voting provision.

Forest City Enterprises executives advanced a two-pronged strategy for the Medical Mart and convention center, presenting refined plans for a new riverfront facility at Tower City Center, while challenging the suitability of the Mall site. Simultaneously, the Plain Dealer began questioning Merchandise Mart Properties Inc.'s projections for the number of conventions the Medical Mart will attract and its financial benefits to the area. MMPI responded to the newspaper (PDF), Forest City (PDF), and the Cuyahoga County Commissioners (PDF). The company endorsed the Mall site and rejected the Tower City site, saying that a number of concerns made the location a "non-starter". Today, Cuyahoga County and MMPI reached an agreement in principle for the financing of the convention center and Medical Mart. A final site selection is expected in a few weeks.

Update: Forest City is not giving up. The company stated its position in letters to MMPI and the County Commissioners and launched a special website.

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese released the full list of parishes that will close or merge over the next 15 months. In the eight-county Diocese, 29 churches will close and 41 others will merge to form 18 new parishes. In Cuyahoga County, 38 churches will close or merge. Most are in the City of Cleveland. The Plain Dealer mapped the downsizing plans, while WKSU and WCPN looked at the adaptive reuse of former church buildings. WCPN also devoted Monday's Sound of Ideas program to a discussion of the Diocese's plans.

Hudson Mayor William Currin, chairman of the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association, wrote in a Plain Dealer op-ed that now is the time for regional cooperation in Northeast Ohio, and announced the new Regional Prosperity Initiative. The new initiative promotes regional land use planning and revenue sharing as ways to achieve a prosperous future.

In this month's issue of Next American City, Ariella Cohen writes about the recession's impacts on American cities, and uses Cleveland as an example of the challenges and opportunities facing municipal officials.

Cleveland State University envisions redeveloping about 25 acres at the northern part of its downtown campus. The North Campus Neighborhood Project would add approximately 800 beds, a baseball stadium, parking structures, and a small amount of commercial development. The University issued an RFP (PDF) yesterday.

The Cleveland Institute of Art will break ground in May on the expansion of its McCullough Center on Euclid Avenue. It will be the first project underway in the Uptown development in University Circle. When construction is completed in 2010, the Institute will consolidate its campus and sell or lease its East Boulevard location.

Backers of the Canal Basin Park District Plan say that the greenspace and trail network would be a transformational green project. The City of Cleveland is seeking federal stimulus funds for its implementation. A complementary proposal, Flats Connections Plan, calls for converting old infrastructure into more trails and greenways in the Flats. GreenCityBlueLake has a virtual tour of the plans.

Last week, NOACA approved allocating $43.6 million of federal stimulus funds for 21 infrastructure projects in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina counties. The largest awards were $14 million for the reconstruction of Bainbridge Road in Solon and $4.2 million to widen State Route 611 in Sheffield. An additional 32 improvements were named as reserve projects. NOACA also selected four projects to receive $9.8 million in federal CMAQ funding, including $6.25 million for replacement RTA buses.

Costco has received permits to build a 147,244-square-foot store at the new Plaza at SouthPark shopping center in Strongsville. The store is scheduled to open in November. When completed, the shopping center at I-71 and Royalton Road will have 300,000 square feet of retail space.

The City of Westlake reached an agreement to purchase a 30-acre site on Center Ridge Road for $1.65 million. A 240-unit apartment complex had been planned for the site, but the developer's option to purchase the property recently expired. The City has not announced its plans for the land.

The designers selected in 2007 have begun working on the planned pedestrian bridge for North Coast Harbor in Cleveland. Their first goal is to create around five conceptual alternatives for review. The project is scheduled to break ground in 2011.

City View Center in Garfield Heights landed in receivership after owner City View Center LLC defaulted on its loan. The investor group purchased the troubled shopping center from the McGill Property Group in 2006 for a reported $100 million.

Update: the Plain Dealer described the situation as going "from fairy-tale development to nightmare".

Leaders of emergency and safety departments in Lake and Geauga counties have mixed reactions to regionalism initiatives.

Leaders in North Olmsted and Westlake are pleased with the economic development opportunities created by the completion of the Crocker-Stearns connector. The City of North Olmsted has begun the process of rezoning and redeveloping the Stearns Road corridor south of the new construction.

MOCA was scheduled to unveil the designs for its new University Circle building this month and enter the public phase of its fundraising campaign, but delayed the announcement because of the recession. The museum has raised about half of its target.

As of yesterday, the State of Ohio had received over 20,000 proposals for investing federal stimulus dollars. The Akron Beacon Journal identified the suggestions for the Akron area. Several application deadlines have already passed, and the state encourages applicants to submit proposals as quickly as possible. In addition, the Ohio Senate unanimously approved spending $360 million of stimulus funds on brownfield remediation, trails, parks, and other items. The Ohio House is also expected to pass the bill. NOACA will receive nearly $44.2 million in stimulus funds, which will be divided proportionately among its five-county service area. The agency's RTIS will select the projects that will be funded.

Last week, the Ohio House passed a two-year transportation budget bill that would allocate $7.6 billion, plus $2.2 billion in federal stimulus funds. It includes $250 million for the 3-C Corridor passenger rail proposal. The Ohio Senate is now debating the plan. GreenCityBlueLake describes it as "a once in a generation opportunity to rebuild our transportation system", while WKSU commentator Paul Gaston provides a historical perspective.

Now that an engineering study has verified that the foundation of the Cleveland Convention Center is strong enough to support the proposed new convention center, Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland have begun discussing the purchase of the existing facilities. County leaders want the City to donate the site for the project, but Mayor Jackson feels that the City should be compensated. Officials said that a deal will be reached this month.

Meanwhile, Forest City Enterprises executives were in Chicago yesterday to promote their revised proposal for the Tower City site. Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. representatives were not convinced that Forest City's construction estimates were accurate. Positively Cleveland's Dennis Roche encourages leaders to pick a site and build the Medical Mart.

In a Plain Dealer op-ed, Tom Bier writes that Greater Cleveland suburbanites and Cleveland politicians need to do more to support downtown Cleveland: "Downtown must, absolutely must, become lively and attractive, and all possible resources must be poured into achieving that. "

On April 16-19, participants in the McGregor Foundation's Greater Circle Seniors Design Charette will generate ideas for affordable senior housing at four sites in Cleveland's Glenville, Fairfax, and Buckeye-Shaker neighborhoods.

A Plain Dealer editorial on regionalism in Northeast Ohio says that "collaboration and reform are nothing less than economic imperatives" and that local autonomy is "a luxury governments cannot afford and taxpayers cannot tolerate."

The New York Times Magazine focused national attention on Cleveland with a feature about how the foreclosure crisis has disrupted life in Slavic Village. National and international media outlets have used the neighborhood to highlight the weight of the problem, and many expect that the repercussions experienced in Cleveland will soon be felt in cities across the country. The Plain Dealer, meanwhile, posted maps and databases of the more than 45,000 foreclosures in Cuyahoga County since January 2006, and published a story about the implications of low housing prices. While Cleveland neighborhoods no longer have the nation's highest foreclosure rate, Cuyahoga County remains in the top 35. Rust Wire has a photo essay of the impacts on Cleveland's St. Clair-Superior neighborhood.

Update: Charles Buki says that the New York Times article illustrates the need to rethink community development processes and reimagine cities.

On Thursday, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson made his fourth annual State of the City Address, titled "It's Our Time (PDF): Bucking National Trends and Building for Tomorrow". He spoke optimistically about the budget, quality of life issues, economic development, and the regional economy. He also called for a more regional approach to education. WKYC has video of the speech, and WTAM posted the audio. Cleveland Magazine's Erick Trickey liveblogged the event.

The Ohio Great Lakes Compact Advisory Board held its first meeting last Thursday. The 28-member board is scheduled to make recommendations to the governor and general assembly by June 2010.

The second Inrix National Traffic Scorecard found that peak hour traffic congestion in American cities was nearly 30% lower in 2008 than in 2007. Authors attributed the decline to increases in gas prices and unemployment. They also noted that a relatively small decrease in traffic volumes had a large impact in reducing urban congestion. The Cleveland MSA was the least congested of the nation's 25 largest metro areas, and was ranked as number 38 among the 100 metro areas surveyed. It was number 36 in 2007. Half of the region's ten most congested spots are along the Innerbelt freeway.

Lakewood City Council dropped a proposal that would have allowed residents to raise chickens, due to concerns about regulation, noise and odors, and the need to focus on other issues.

The City of Solon hired EnviroScience Inc. of Stow to design and oversee the restoration of the southern branch of Sulfur Springs. The stream runs through a 14-acre preserve that was acquired by the City and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in September.

Citing the need to be fiscally responsible, the Cleveland Clinic announced that it will delay the start of construction of planned new medical centers in Twinsburg and Avon. CEO Toby Cosgrove said that the Clinic remains committed to the facilities.

Update: the Twinsburg Bulletin has more details.

Solon's new master plan may call for tearing down three shopping centers and replacing them with new retail and mixed-use construction that would stand closer to the street.

As predicted, Osborn Engineering today told the Cuyahoga County Commissioners that the foundation of the existing Cleveland Convention Center is sound and that it would be feasible to reuse it for a new facility. The presentation is available online (PPT). On Monday, Cleveland City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling the Mall site the "most advantageous" location for the Medical Mart and new convention center. Meanwhile, Steven Litt examined Forest City Enterprises' revised proposal for a convention center at Tower City, and is concerned that the site may be too small. A Plain Dealer editorial says that the Forest City concept deserves to be considered.

Update: Osborn's Convention Center Foundation System Study (PDF, 13.3 MB) is also available.

The Ohio EPA, the Village of Kirtland Hills, and property owner Jerome Osborne, Sr. have been discussing plans for rehabilitating an 8,700-foot stretch of the Chagrin River. In 2007, 20,000 cubic yards of material was moved from the stream bed to an adjacent property without authorization.

Some Cleveland Heights residents are concerned about the City's lack of public review for proposed residential demolitions.

A Plain Dealer editorial urges state leaders to restore proposed cuts to the Ohio Urban University Program, saying that "the research done by the Levin College and the others is a bargain."

Update: an Akron Beacon Journal editorial also says that the program deserves to be saved.

The final public meeting about plans for the Canal Basin Park District in Cleveland will be held on March 11. The open house will be held at the Bridgeview Apartments from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials say that the state will receive about $935 million in federal stimulus funds for highway construction projects.

As anticipated, North Ridgeville City Council voted to ban future planned community developments. Council members said that the City's requirements had been too lenient.

The Fund for Our Economic Future officially unveiled the $300,000 EfficientGovNow grant program on Monday. Local governments in a 16-county Northeast Ohio area can apply for funding of government collaboration and efficiency projects. The deadline for submitting project abstracts is April 15, and final proposals are due by May 31. Finalists will be announced on July 1, and public voting will end on July 31. WCPN's Eric Wellman spoke with the Fund's Chris Thompson, and WKYC's Tom Beres spoke with Brad Whitehead about the program.

Heritage Ohio, a statewide historic preservation and downtown development organization, launched a redesigned website and Ohio Downtown Revitalization, a new weblog.

The outdoor advertising industry is using a pair of 2007 studies conducted in the Cleveland area in their efforts to gain authorization to install digital billboards elsewhere in the nation. A study of Cuyahoga County statistics (PDF) by Tantala Associates says that "digital billboards have no statistical relationship with the occurrence of accidents." A study of Cleveland drivers (PDF) by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute says that "digital billboards seem to attract more attention than the conventional billboards" but that "no conclusions can be drawn regarding the ultimate safety of digital billboards."

The Ohio House may pass a $7.5 billion state transportation budget this week. It includes funding for the 3-C Corridor, a proposed passenger rail line connecting Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The Ohio Senate does not have a vote scheduled.

(via Ohio Passenger Rail)

The Plain Dealer continues its series on the Year of the River with a look at the Cuyahoga River's ongoing environmental recovery. While it still fails to meet eight of the U.S. EPA's 14 criteria, the river is becoming cleaner and healthier.

A coalition of local environmental and community organizations will hold the Northeast Ohio Environmental Justice Town Hall Meeting on March 7 at Cleveland State's Levin College of Urban Affairs.

Some members of Cleveland City Council are pursing landmark designations for churches that the Cleveland Catholic Diocese intends to close as part of its restructuring. The designation would disrupt the Church's plans to remove stained glass windows and other architectural details from the buildings.

Update: City Council may expand its landmark law to cover the interiors of historic buildings. City Council will also consider legislation intended to slow down the potential destruction of closed churches.

The Plain Dealer examined the 2007 Census of Agriculture's figures for the seven-county Greater Cleveland area. The region lost 100,000 acres farmland between 2002 and 2007, 20% of the total supply. Cuyahoga and Summit counties saw some the most rapid drops in Ohio, while Lorain and Medina counties experienced some of the state's highest losses of agricultural land.

The Edgar Farm in Valley View, one of the farms in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, will be offered for lease through the Countryside Initiative later this year.

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