My name is Arthur Hargate, I live in Little Italy in Ward 6 of Cleveland and I am writing to provide public comment on the NorthCoast lakefront plan in response to its presentation to the public on July 27, 2023. I am supplementing and reiterating much of the public comment I submitted in January of this year when this project kicked off.
Please note I do not stand to benefit economically from this possible development. That’s important, because we have learned through painful experiences in Little Italy, University Circle and its host neighborhoods and throughout the City of Cleveland that development proponents that do stand to gain financially are relentless at injecting themselves into the public involvement process so as to stack the administrative record (and overwhelm neighborhood sentiments) with their self-interested development marketing and blustery boosterism.
My hope is that you will be astute in identifying the self-interest involved in the public comment on these projects. My only interest in providing public comment is to advocate for waterfront development that serves and benefits ALL Clevelanders, not just those that extract economic value from our city spaces and cause it to flow out of the community to the suburbs, other areas of the state, other states or even other countries.
Your project team and our civic “leaders” have pointed out the momentum this project is gathering. It will be interesting to see what that momentum actually brings. Despite the project team and Mayor’s gauzy declarations that this project will be a “people’s lakefront” and will be designed with substantial public input, many Clevelanders I know and I remain understandably skeptical for the reasons cited above.
Powerful monied interests in this city who stand to benefit financially from development historically have their sway. Their political and philanthropic donations grease the skids to get projects approved that bring them cash. Their cash brings them easy access and political influence. So, I fear that what we can expect by way of example is what we have experienced: a lot more tax-abated luxury apartments and condos will come to dominate what should be public space, along with other money making enterprises for the well-to-do.
We’ll see then just how “equitable, diverse and inclusive” these economic development schemes for the lakefront really are, because our deep exclusionary history here in Cleveland is to greedily monetize available space for the benefit of the region’s privileged elite to the detriment of the middle-class and the poor. These progressive words being used now by “leaders” are nice, but similar past hollow words and empty promises of community benefits from economic development are indelibly etched into the public’s memory. We’ll see what happens when the regional plutocracy starts swinging their ample weight around.
Will the lakefront be something everyone can access, afford and enjoy, or will it be just a hideous extension of the glitzy downtown playground for the posh, powerful and privileged? We have no sustained and successful track record in Northeast Ohio of actually being broadly “equitable, diverse and inclusive” when it comes to property development, so this will be an interesting experiment in seeing if our “leaders” can actually walk that talk. A great example is what’s happening now at Euclid Beach. That’s exactly the way we have done property development here. Throw out the rabble so the elite can have their access. Developers have invariably gotten what’s good for their profits, especially if development is downtown or in high demand neighborhoods.
While certain aspects of what project information has been brought forward now could make the public cautiously optimistic, and seemed designed and presented to do so, I fear this project will evolve to be yet another gargantuan payday of public money for developers, banks, law firms, outside consultants, construction contractors and generally the region’s power elite.
Unfortunately the presentation on July 27 appeared to be mostly marketing. Giddy applause came from what appeared to be a carefully stacked audience of regional power elites that will profit personally from the public money that will be used to enhance their private fortunes.
It felt much too much like it could be just another disingenuous flimflam marketing campaign for yet another taxpayer rip-off benefiting the wealthy.
Project proponents have been careful to say the lakefront development will be driven by the public? Be serious. This project, like all projects in this city, will be driven by the region’s power elite. This July 27 event seemed like it was well-orchestrated performance art to provide the illusion of public participation. “The Greatest Show on Earth!” came to mind.
If this project were truly being driven by public sentiment then it would be clear to the public how this project would help the poor in this city. It would be clear how the project will help fund underfunded public schools, combat crime, deliver more living wage / family supporting jobs with benefits that are accessible to Cleveland residents. If the public was driving this project it would provide ample affordable housing to purchase, and it would be clear what the tangible benefits to the residents of Cleveland actually were. None of this is clear now.
Some project aspects appeared to cater to public needs. The steps down to the lakefront and recreation areas seem promising. The idea of a public beach is a good one, but this location is suspect for health reasons. I question whether there should even be a development zone for commercial, retail, a large hotel or perhaps a food hall. Why is this needed? What is the justification? Is it just a great opportunity for someone to make a buck? Is this all because the city wants to be able to say it can do big things? Well, we’ve demonstrated clearly over decades we can’t do big things that are even close to being equitable for all Clevelanders.
You’ve asked for public feedback and questions. A few openers:
How much is this going to cost and who is going to pay for it? Nobody is willing to say yet, and that’s a big problem. Even at this stage of project development some idea of cost is a reasonable expectation, but it appears the project proponents can’t risk the public sticker shock that will invariably come. A better strategy must be to get everyone juiced up on the pretty pictures first.
As noted, the area proposed for a beach is truly worrisome regarding water quality. Will people from Cleveland’s neighborhood’s want to access a polluted beach?
Are there less expensive options than this “land bridge?” To your credit, its original absurd scope has been thankfully scaled back. Nonetheless, its cost will almost certainly be astronomical. Why do we need an architectural and engineering marvel? If we are just moving people from Point A to Point B, why can’t we build something entirely utilitarian rather than something fanciful and gorgeous we hope might bring more tourists here someday. (Really, in the dead of winter?). What lessons did we learn from the extravagant mistake we made in trying to move people elegantly with the failed RTA Waterfront line?
The issue of costs is of great concern and the public will need full transparency soon. Especially of concern: what is the outside consultant budget for this project? What is the legal budget? What are the sources and uses of cash? Where are the cash streams of public money flowing? What are the financial projections?
The public will need to know where the money is coming from and how much public cash is projected to go into the pockets of investors, contractors, attorneys, outside consultants, bond counsel, construction firms, millionaire-owned sports franchises and executives vs. what are the community wealth-building economics and opportunities for Cleveland’s residents, especially those that have lived in forgotten neighbors for decades. A true cost-benefit analysis for Cleveland’s residents must be presented.
Project management will be critical. How will this project be managed to prevent the corruption, grift and self-dealing greed typical of Cleveland’s massive boondoggle building projects?
How will minority and women-owned businesses be helped by this project?
How many permanent, living wage jobs will this project deliver, accessible to Cleveland’s poorest residents? How will this project increase funding to Cleveland’s underfunded public schools? How will this help Cleveland rebuild its crumbling and long-neglected neighborhoods?
How will this project help Cleveland protect its most vulnerable population from the climate crisis? How will this project reduce Cleveland’s sky-high rates of infant and maternal mortality for people of color? How will this address Cleveland’s affordable housing crisis?
How will this project decrease Cleveland’s outrageous violent crime wave? How will this project help fix Cleveland’s anemic rapid transit system? How will this project help restore Cleveland’s decimated tree canopy, which could protect its most vulnerable residents from climate crisis heat waves?
Again and most importantly: how exactly will this project benefit the residents of the left-behind neighborhoods in one of the poorest big cities in the United States? That question must be answered clearly and without equivocation.
Why is this currently the big priority of regional “leaders” when so many people in this community are suffering? How precisely will this project do any healing for those that are suffering most now?
The way the project is being talked about reveals our “leaders” expectations. “Improve our value proposition. Expand the tax base. Unlock private investment. “ It’s clear this project is all about making investment opportunities available to the region’s power elite, rather than making investments IN the people of Cleveland.
It’s not clear at all from the project renderings if they are to scale and if the space devoted to public recreation is as spacious as purported compared to the space devoted to a large hotel (apparently for Browns games) and what will likely be upscale housing. What’s the need for office and commercial space? We can’t fill what we have now, and Bedrock looks like it will add even more that may not be needed. Seems like another “Build it and they will come” scam, absurdly “creating a market,” which would only be fair if the business risk was NOT transferred to the public. But that’s what Cleveland’s developers are brilliant at: transferring business risk onto the backs of the public.
These and more pertinent questions must be asked and answered directly. But most importantly:
Who benefits? Who pays? The marketing fluff provided July 27 suggests to this skeptic that the region’s power elite will ultimately benefit, and taxpayers will likely pay…and pay dearly.
To your credit you will be providing project information in more listening sessions and you have provided the mechanism for the public to weigh-in in writing, yet not all people have the technology or expertise to do so. Getting a deep and broad-based spectrum of public opinion is critical, especially the opinions of those who are disenfranchised or unable or unlikely to easily provide you with their opinion.
It appears that your plan is to target and contact those not likely to reach out to you and find out what they think about these projects. I strongly suggest you get reactions from local level block clubs in each Cleveland ward. If Community Development Corporations are called upon to weigh in, their input must be understood to be severely compromised by their routine willingness to preferentially represent the best interests of developers rather than residents.
True public participation requires you to be diligent, serious and responsible about actually listening to citizens and promoting public engagement, not making a mockery of it with the lip service typically given to public involvement historically in development projects in this city that give developers exactly what they want to make out financially while bullying neighborhood residents into frustrated submission. Why is it that developers are treated by the city as VIP’s and given unfettered access to city resources yet residents that live with the negative effects of their greed have so little say about what happens to their neighborhood quality of life?
This public engagement effort for these projects must be real, substantive and not the meaningless “checking of the box” gauzy ephemera that has been the norm with development in Cleveland. I sense that you are taking a different approach with this project, but the past experience of Cleveland’s residents with the city’s heavy-handed methods of development give them good cause to be cautious, skeptical and unfortunately cynical about the true intentions of the city with respect to development and the public’s ability to influence it in any measurable way.
If “racial equity, economic opportunity and climate resiliency” are really the goals of these projects, you have an obligation then to assure that that is possible for ALL residents of Cleveland, particularly those that have historically NEVER been able to enjoy the benefits of development that theoretically “trickles down” to the less privileged. As it is, we know that over 50 years of city economic development policy and practice have preferentially benefitted the very top of the income and wealth social strata.
“Trickle down” neo-liberal, market-centric, “winner take all,” shareholder-focused economic methods in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio over the last half century have turned out to be a cruel joke to the majority of our citizenry, especially poor people. It is said that poverty is a policy choice, and it is crystal clear then that “leadership” in this area of Ohio over the last fifty-odd years has chosen to keep Cleveland one of the poorest big cities in the United States.
As regards the land bridge, the design basis remains deeply flawed. It’s not clear why this option remains the only one now, even if it is less extreme than as was originally contemplated. Why is that? Why is the land bridge the only engineered access option provided? Is it because the Haslam’s proposed the idea to enhance their existing economic self-interest? Is it because it best rewards the private sector’s development interests in land ownership, construction, outside consulting and the legal, public accounting and finance communities? How is it that a land bridge is the best access option for residents of the City of Cleveland, who will undoubtedly foot a large portion of the bill through lavish subsidies to private interests? Is there not a less flashy, less complex and less expensive access option to the lakefront?
And how is one access point the best approach? That may be good for downtown, as downtown has always received highly favored attention and public money to the detriment of mostly eastside neighborhoods, so how is that good for the people that live in the neighborhoods of Cleveland? How will the people in places like Hough, Glenville, Mount Pleasant or Fairfax easily access the land bridge? Does it make sense to have more access points, but with less glitz, glamour and predictably wasteful spending? These are all questions that must be answered sooner rather than later to the residents, tax-payers, homeowners and voters in the City of Cleveland.
In sum, it’s still not clear that the land bridge is financially feasible, neither is it obviously the best idea for lakefront access nor will it preferentially benefit the people that live in all of Cleveland that need help the most.
Therefore, much more thought needs to be given to access options and the land bridge until it is made clear how that is the best option for all the people of this city, and the process so far has been opaque in that regard. It’s not at all clear what the access to the lake should look like, and more importantly it’s not clear that the land bridge concept is even affordable, given the massive slate of tax-payer funded spending facing the city and county ahead.
Critical spending choices will need to be made, and those choices must finally benefit people other than the area’s most advantaged, which has been the habit for the last 50 years. There has also been no discussion at all yet about the opportunity cost. If we do this, what won’t get done? And how will fiscal oversight be managed on this project so the bulk of our tax money doesn’t flow up to already wealthy private sector owners, executives, senior managers and high-priced consultants, as has typically been the case in development projects in this city and county?
Our “leaders” constantly ask the public to “dream big” with incomplete and jaded information. The scope of this project is artificially constrained as it is being framed as the land bridge is required, without any idea of the budget or schedule parameters. Apparently you must have an open checkbook of taxpayer money, as you have acted as if you had for the last 50 years, to squander more public money on yet another highly subsidized boondoggle that we are so accustomed to in Cleveland. The failed MedMart is just one of many obscene examples.
Meanwhile, as noted above, Cleveland remains one of the poorest big cities in the United States, and yet we’re being asked to “dream big.”
Okay, here’s a big dream for the best use of our tax dollars: safe streets, a high performing public school system, an end to homelessness, ample affordable housing, homes that don’t poison children with lead, affordable and expansive rapid transit, inexpensive broadband access for all, effective community policing, better health outcomes for people of color including reduced infant and maternal mortality, abundant LIVING WAGE jobs with benefits for residents of Cleveland close to their homes, a restored tree canopy that protects the most vulnerable citizens from the ravages of the climate crisis, non-profit, philanthro-capitalist institutions that pay their fair share in community benefits to justify the taxpayer largesse of their tax-exempt status and perhaps most importantly, a growing resident population of homeowners in Cleveland.
Decades of economic development projects hoping to deliver a sexy downtown to business, young professionals and tourists (seriously?) and a handful of yuppified neighborhoods for the well-to-do have done little to address the very “blocking and tackling” of what Cleveland’s residents reasonably expect from their government. And now you want us to subsidize even more massive spending that may or may not help the people that need help the most. “Public-private partnership” here has come to mean that public money will be used to grow private fortunes.
My wife moved to Cleveland in 1966 and the city was talking then about developing the lakefront. Fifty-seven years and countless boondoggles and corporate welfare schemes for billionaires from outside the city later, here we go again. No, sorry, I’m not being cynical, anti-Cleveland, anti-development or a NIMBY. I’m being stone cold realistic and pragmatic, given our history here of development that benefits the few and not all Clevelanders.
And sadly, when people push back against giddy civic boosterism benefitting only patricians and the toxic positivity about Cleveland that intentionally ignores critical urban problems, out come the predictable daggers and offensive name-calling. These are the typical reflexive slams against anyone that wants their tax money used for something that benefits ALL the people. It’s nothing but a dodge and a smear by city officials, developers and the complicit press to tamp down talk of unpleasant Cleveland realities and keep the power elites in this city gorging themselves at the tax-payer funded money trough.
Turning to overall lakefront development here are my thoughts.
Should we develop the lakefront? Well, that depends. It depends on what is meant by “develop.”
The answer is a resounding “NO” to more swank hotels, a domed stadium, expensive restaurants and bars, gambling parlors, sports facilities, luxury apartments and anything that expands the deep income and wealth chasm that exists in this community. Anything that perpetuates or increases the endemic racism, inequality, inequity and gentrification we have tolerated in this city must not be entertained. Anything that predominantly delivers more cash to the already rich must be ignored. The idea of lavish public subsidies to the private sector must be expunged at the concept stage of this project. We absolutely SHOULD NOT pay for a domed stadium on the lakefront or anywhere else. If the Haslam’s want a domed stadium, or substantial renovations to their existing cash cow, they have plenty of money to pay for it themselves.
The answer is “Yes, of course” to development if the lakefront can benefit everyone, and especially those who now cannot access it or afford it.
So, what would lakefront development for everyone look like? It could look like a lot of things.
Great cities have an abundance of large parks and gardens, with huge swaths of public land that are solely devoted to public enjoyment, not private profit. Obvious examples jump to mind like Paris, New York and San Diego.
Cleveland’s lakefront must be a people’s lakefront, family-friendly and natural as much as possible, easily accessible by RTA, with FREE transportation from all areas of the city. Expansive PUBLIC land. And perhaps most critical: lakefront amenities and attractions must be AFFORDABLE, and for the most part, ENTIRELY FREE.
The possibilities for the public are endless, energetic and can address the concept of the lakefront being a place for healing.
How about foresting the lakefront? A huge forest. I’m no arborist and not sure if pines would thrive here, but imagine what that would be like and how healing that would be? A beautiful tall pine forest. A massive Park for the People. A bird sanctuary, engineered wetlands, walking and biking paths, fishing piers, more public beach area, fields for sports like soccer and softball, picnic areas, a free music open pavilion, an outdoor theatre for free plays and movies, outdoor nature classrooms, a toboggan run, a cross country ski trail, a downhill ski hill, a skating rink, skateboarding decks, playgrounds, rock climbing areas, a miniature golf course, a fairgrounds area for arts and crafts fairs, a dog park, a sculpture garden, a public vegetable, flower garden and greenhouse, an exercise and fitness course, a Ferris wheel, a kite flying field, tennis, pickleball and squash courts or a roller blading and running course and walking meditation paths, to identify just a handful of people-centric, family-oriented possibilities. Unlike many public areas in the city, public restrooms must be provided in close proximity to all spaces.
The point is the lakefront must not be focused on commercialism and making money for a few. We have plenty of that now in downtown Cleveland, and a lot more is planned and on the way. The lakefront can be FOR THE PEOPLE, ALL THE PEOPLE and as such, we need to find ways for ALL the people to be able to easily access it, use it and be able to AFFORD it.
To the extent commercial ventures are launched at all, they must be accessible and affordable to use and THEY MUST PAY LIVING WAGES WITH BENEFITS TO CLEVELAND RESIDENTS. And the massive construction needed to make this all happen must be awarded to preferentially minority and women owned businesses, domiciled in the City of Cleveland. It’s time to bring to an end the obscene economic extraction that outside entities enjoy; plundering the fiscal vitality of our city’s heritage and natural resources to benefit an elite few.
To the extent any housing is contemplated, it must be affordable and workforce, and it must be housing that people can purchase and own. We have more than enough fancy high-end, rental palaces that are making property owners and managers, developers and landlords fabulously wealthy, feasting on the “can’t lose” backstop of cheap land, extravagant tax abatements, Opportunity Zone and other tax advantages and sky-high rents driven up by their supply side market manipulation.
How do we pay for it all? Easy. Make corporations and the wealthy finally pay their fair share. Eradicate the lavish public subsidies to the private sector. Negotiate community benefits agreements forcing non-profit and philanthro-capitalist institutions to substantially support their host neighborhoods. Stop spending fortunes on outside consultants. Trim the city Mayor and staff travel budget for flitting around the country and world. Make the professional sports franchises open their books and take a much smaller piece of the tasty financial pie they suck out of our city.
The “bottom line” or “net net” is simply this: lakefront development must be as natural as possible, family-oriented and benefit all the people, and especially those that have suffered the insidious indignities in this community of forced segregation, racism and poverty.
It’s finally time to invest heavily in Cleveland’s people, rather than catering myopically to assuring developers’ profits in Cleveland, Ohio.