Introduction: The Spine of Investment and Development in Cleveland
The Euclid Corridor is a compact zone of concentrated investment including and connecting the region’s two largest employment centers—Downtown Cleveland and University Circle. Straddling Euclid Avenue, the oldest road on the city’s east side, the District has a storied history. It was a Native America trail prior to European settlement in the 18th century. During its early years, it was the principal route to “the West” from Buffalo and the East Coast and remains today a portion of US 20, a transcontinental federal highway. During the decades before the Civil War Euclid Avenue was a well-documented route to freedom on the Underground Railway.
Following the Civil War, Euclid Avenue became “Millionaire’s Row,” home of Cleveland’s most successful industrialist. At its peak, Euclid Avenue was reputed to be the most beautiful street in America as well as one of its wealthiest.
During the firsts two decades of the 20th Century, Downtown Cleveland became the region’s premier office and retail center and the Avenue experienced yet another transformation. Historic Public Square saw the development of the Terminal Tower Group (now known as Tower City Center), a pioneering mixed use development which was, at the time, the world’s second largest excavation project—after the Panama Canal. The Terminal Group’s office tower anchored the south and east sides of Public Square and funneled people into the adjacent hotel, offices and department store through a sophisticated network of below-grade connections. The Terminal Tower soon became the symbol of Cleveland and was, for several decades, the tallest building between New York and Chicago.
To the east, Playhouse Square changed rapidly from a neighborhood of mansions, churches and exclusive clubs to a compact, walkable, mixed use office, retail, and entertainment district. Centered on four palatial vaudeville/movie houses and one legitimate theater, Playhouse Square was simultaneously a high-end retail center for the city’s “carriage trade,” a popular entertainment center for city’s working class residents, and a playground for the “smart set” that defined “style” during Cleveland’s Jazz Age.
Five miles to the west, University Circle became the city’s cultural center. With two universities and two professional arts institutes, an art museum, a symphony hall, a teaching hospital and a City Beautiful park network, University Circle was as one of the country’s first planned “cultural campuses,” and anchored prosperous neighborhoods in Cleveland and three adjacent suburbs.
The first half of the 20th Century was less favorable to the middle section of Euclid Avenue between University Circle and Playhouse Square. With the advent of the automobile and the opening of exclusive suburbs in “the Heights,” wealthy families abandoned Euclid Avenue and left their mansions to face an uncertain future. Some of the buildings were converted for use by museums and other non-profit organizations. Some were demolished for apartments, offices, retail, factories and parking lots. A few remained as private residences into the middle of the century.
A new trajectory for the east and west ends of the Avenue’s middle section slowly emerged during the second half of the 20th Century as two institutions dramatically expanded their modest campuses. On the eastern end the Cleveland Clinic grew from a group practice in single medical building several blocks west of University Circle to become a global medical powerhouse and the city’s largest employer. Its campus now dominates development along 20 blocks of the Avenue and abuts the Circle. Together the Circle and the Clinic create a single institutionally-anchored, transit-oriented innovation district. On the western end, Cleveland State University grew from a Fenn Tower, a converted residential men’s club, to a contemporary urban university campus stretching along 13 blocks of the Avenue, west of Playhouse Square.
The blocks at the center of the middle section had a longer gestation period. This area is known today as Midtown Cleveland and includes the blocks on both sides of Euclid Avenue between East 30th and East 79th Streets. The years following the abandonment of Millionaire’s Row were uncertain ones for Midtown’s real estate. While individual property owners found new uses for their own properties, no one dominant real estate trajectory emerged to define this section of the Euclid Corridor. Industrial, commercial, residential and institutional uses all vied for frontage along the popular Euclid Avenue street car line. This jumble of competing uses created a deep uncertainty in the market that only recently has been dispelled. Under the leadership of Midtown Cleveland, Incorporated, the district has emerged as a planned mixed use district that takes full advantage of its proximity to the region’s major employers as well as its access to the region’s freeway, freight rail, and transit networks.
The case studies below briefly describe the history and real estate trajectory of the major development districts along Euclid Avenue. Taken together, these cases chronicle the remarkable story of one city’s persistent effort to create along a single street a development district that is both a beautiful place and a powerful economic engine for the city and its region.
Euclid Avenue’s rebirth is the story of a set of Public Private Partnerships that were created in the decade following Cleveland’s default in 1978. Building on the success of Cleveland’s first such partnership—University Circle, Incorporated—Clevelanders established the robust partnerships that have championed the redevelopment of Public Square, Playhouse Square, the Campus District surrounding Cleveland State University, and Midtown. The story of Cleveland’s efforts to make Euclid Avenue once again a truly Great Street is the story of these partnerships and the collaborations between them.
At the end of each Case are a set of three to five “Take Aways” describing some of the important lessons we in Cleveland have learned from working together on the Avenue’s rebirth. They are presented concisely in the hopes that they will be of use to those faced with addressing similar development challenges in their own communities.
These insights include both those that are held by many of those who have participated in the Avenue’s partnerships and those that are more personal to the author. The list is by no means an exhaustive: Any one of us will have a different short list of “lessons to live by” that we have developed over our years of working this territory. Despite these differences, there is broad agreement between the actors along the Avenue that partnership, collaboration, and our shared sense of purpose and commitment to quality have been critical to our success.
The Heart of the City—The Heart of the Region
Rendering by James Corner Field Operations
- 10-acre park surveyed in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland, who intended it to be the region’s largest public square.
- Historic downtown retail center and the region’s major transit hub.
- Reconfiguration and reinvestment first proposed in 1975: Concept Plan for Cleveland, by Lawrence Halprin
- Renovated following US Bicentennial: 1976-1984
- Center of downtown corporate investment in the 1980s and 1999s: SOHIO Building, Key Corp, Tower City Center, Renaissance Hotel
- Site of programmed annual regional civic events: Fourth of July Cleveland Orchestra concert; Christmas Lighting
- Featured in the movie A Christmas Story
- Major reconfiguration and reinvestment proposed in 2013: Public Square Redesign by James Corner and Land Studio
- 1. Invest in the Core of your Core: It’s your region’s shared Center. Downtown is your community’s heart. Start with your heart.
- 2. Create Quality and They will Come: People and investment are attracted to quality, connected public spaces. Authentic quality sells places as well as products.
- 3. Celebration matters: Every project that enhances your core enhances your region. Celebrate your city by bringing people to its heart—not just once, but several times a year. Build your community team by celebrating what you have accomplished together.
Tower City Center:
Developing and Transforming an Historic Mixed Use District
- Pioneering mixed use development district: Hotel, Office, Department Store, “Union” passenger rail station and transit hub.
- Developed as the “Terminal Group” by Cleveland’s Van Sweringen brothers between 1918 and 1928. Was a model for Rockefeller Center that opened a decade later (1939)
- Last passenger train left the in 1977. Remains the center of GCRTA light rail system.
- Hotel closed in 1978. Cleveland-based Stouffers Hotel acquired and extensively renovated it. Hotel sold to Renaissance International in 1993 and upgraded further.
- Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises acquired train station and rail yards and the US Post Office building in the early 1980s. Renamed the Terminal Group and its iconic Terminal Tower “Tower City Center,” a mixed use development anchored by a retail mall in the converted passenger station.
- Forest City began Tower City Center development in 1986 and completed it 4 years later.
- First phase opened in 1990 and included The Avenue retail mall in the passenger station, the MK Ferguson Building in the renovated Post Office building and a consolidated light rail transit center and parking are in the rail yard beneath the Center.
- GCRTA reconfigured rapid transit center as part of the Tower City first phase.
- Second phase opened in 1991 and included two contemporary office towers and the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
- Forest City and GCRTA connected the Center to the new Gateway Sports District with a pedestrian walkway completed in 1994.
- Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse completed in 2002 on land Forest City sold to GSA. Courthouse connected to Center by pedestrian walkway.
- Department store closed in 2002. Forest City acquired the building and later sold it to Dan Gilbert, Founder and Chairman of Quicken Loans, for the Horseshoe Casino first phase. Casino opened in 2012 and was connected to the City Center by pedestrian walkway in 2014.
- 1. Mixed Use Matters: Well-designed mixed-use developments can survive real estate cycles and major market shifts. A successful mixed use development is like a good mutual fund—it minimizes long-term risk through diversification.
- 2. Local Corporate Leadership Matters: Locally led private investment can create a lasting commitment to value and attract investment from outside your region. Leverage the civic aspirations of your local business leaders: They are often motivated to make things better close to home.
- 3. History matters: People are drawn to a past recaptured and repurposed for the future. Build on your legacy of unique, quality assets. Remember: they don’t build them like they used to.
- 4. Transit matters: Retail depends on people to survive: Connect your retail development to transit to create vital “desire lines” to and through your development. Water the retail with people.
- 5. Design matters: Find the best firms (local and national) and demand that they do their best work. After all, it’s your home town. Be proud of it, and expect the same of everyone you hire to work with you.
Playhouse Square Theater District:
Creating a Regional Entertainment Magnet
- Playhouse Square was established as the city’s premier retail district and popular entertainment center in the 1920s.
- Retail was anchored by two high-end department stores surrounded by a tight cluster of specialty stores.
- Entertainment was anchored by four opulent vaudeville/movie houses built adjacent to each other on a single block between East 14th and East 17th streets: The Allen, Ohio, State and Palace. A legitimate theater, the Hanna, a block away on East 14th
- Both retail and entertainment were supported by the robust street car system on Euclid Avenue.
- The five theaters were built within Class A office towers. Together they provided continuous bands of ground-level store fronts that seamlessly connected entertainment with retail uses—to the benefit of both.
- Theater uses declined with the loss of their designation as “first run movie houses,” the growing popularity of television, and the development of suburban competitors. The four movie houses were shuttered between May 1968 and July 1969. The Hanna remained as the district’s sole operating theater.
- Threatened demolition of the Palace, State and Ohio theaters in 1972 led to the formation of the broadly-based grass-roots and civic leadership coalition to save and repurpose the theaters as the heart of a regional entertainment district.
- Cleveland architect, Peter VanDijk, first proposed connecting the three threatened theaters to create a single integrated theater center.
- The Concept for Cleveland (1975) built on VanDijk’s work and called for renovating the entire Playhouse Square District and connecting it to Public Square with a trolley line.
- The Playhouse Square Foundation was established and partnered with the city, county, state and federal governments to renovate the three theaters between 1982 and 1990.
- The Foundation added the Allen Theater to the Center in 1999. A year later it added the Hanna Theater.
- Today PlayhouseSquare Center is the country’s second largest theater center (behind Lincoln Center)
- The Center’s five theaters draw more than 1 million visitors a year to downtown Cleveland and have catalyzed private development in the adjacent Playhouse Square District.
- Playhouse Square offers a robust mix of entertainment, office, housing, hotel and restaurant uses that together contribute to its vitality.
- The District is seamlessly connected at the sidewalk level to the adjacent Campus District and Gateway Sports District—to their mutual benefit.
- 1. Connect your downtown theaters and sports facilities to create a vital entertainment district: Cities often view public assembly facilities (theaters, arenas, stadiums and convention centers) as freestanding developments. Playhouse Square demonstrates the power of creating a Place, not just a Project.
- 2. Develop a mix of uses and strive for “critical mass”: The Playhouse Square Foundation, the City and Cleveland State University focused on developing a density of mutually- supportive uses that together have made the Playhouse Square District a destination for different users (office workers, theater goers, students, residents, shoppers, diners and hotel guests) that bring people to downtown Cleveland every day and every hour. To create long-term vitality in your downtown, attract a compact, walkable mix of uses with complimentary and mutually-supportive demand patters.
- 3. Leverage your beloved buildings and place: The rebirth of Playhouse Square has been an affair of the Civic Heart. A popular outcry prevented the demolition of four historic theaters and provided the energy behind the decades-long renovation of the theaters and the rebirth of the District. This civic initiative gave downtown a vital new magnet that draws people from the region back to its core. Never underestimate the power that your shared history and values have to move the mountains in your community.
- 4. Understand what worked when it worked: The original Playhouse Square was developed in the 1920s as a dense and tightly integrated mixed use district that successfully drew people to downtown Cleveland for two generations. The reborn Playhouse Square builds on that history. With a different mix of uses that meet today’s markets, the Square has once again become a vital mixed use district. Learn from your past as you invent your future.
- 5. It takes Vision and Patience: At the center of Playhouse Square’s rebirth is a shared vision of what it could become. From the beginning a dedicated group of local visionaries have led the community in the pursuit of “the dream” and have demonstrated the patience and persistence that were needed to see it through each successive phase. Whether building a city or building a cathedral, communities move over time in the direction of their shared vision.
Cleveland State University and the Campus District
Attracting, Educating and Retaining our Next Generation
- Cleveland State University is an urban state university with an enrollment of more than 17,000 students, eight colleges and over 200 academic programs.
- The University founded by the YMCA as Fenn College in 1929.
- Fenn College acquired by the State of Ohio and, in 1964, became Cleveland State University,” one of three urban state universities in Northeast Ohio.
- With state support, the University developed its core campus on the north side of Euclid Avenue from East 18th Street to East 30th Street. The design was Brutalist Modern and retreated from the life of the street with plazas, blank walls and deep building setbacks.
- In the 1980s the University extended its campus to the north, south and west to accommodate new athletic field, a convocation center and two graduate schools— business and urban studies.
- Housing to accommodate the needs of undergraduate and graduate students was limited to a few university-owned buildings. Both the University and the state saw CSU as a commuter school with limited demand for on-campus housing.
- The University’s “retreat from the street” began to change in the 1990s with the development of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs on Euclid Avenue and East 17th Street, adjacent to Playhouse Square.
- The University’s relationship to its surrounding neighborhood changed markedly in the 2000s. The University adopted a new campus master plan and embarked on a $65 million construction project intended to transform the campus from a mostly commuter school into a residential campus.
- Since 2006, the University has leveraged the Health Line BRT investments made on Euclid Avenue and has renovated or built along both sides of the avenue. Projects include:
- Student Housing in the renovated Fenn Tower, original home of the University
- The new Parker Hannifin Hall for Graduate Studies
- Administrative offices in the renovated Howe Mansion
- A new student center and Julka Hall, housing the College of Education and the School of Nursing.
- The Center for Health Professions on the site of Viking Hall, a Holiday Inn converted to student housing in the 1980s.
- Located the Dramatic Arts program in Playhouse Square’s renovated Allen Theater and an adjacent office building.
- Simultaneously the University partnered with the City and private developers to create “college town” a concentration of university-oriented apartments and ground- level retail in both new and renovated buildings to the north and south of the original campus.
- 1. Capture your Student Market: College and university students generate significant seasonal buying power that can support off-campus retail and housing. They’ve got to eat—and sleep and spend: Invite the students to do so in your community.
- 2. Connect your Gown to your Town: Increasing numbers of students are attracted to urban campuses that give them their first taste of “real cities.” Strive to meet this emerging demand by working with your colleges and universities to build places and amenities that will draw students to your city. Integrate campus and off campus seamlessly. Strive for continuous street life, good public transit and bike lanes that connect students to the surrounding city. Learn from Ann Arbor and Madison: Design your off-campus districts to attract young minds and retain them in your community after they graduate.
- 3. Connect your community’s assets: Limited budgets require innovative partnerships. Playhouse Square, Cleveland State and the Cleveland Playhouse discovered this reality: Playhouse Square needed a use for the Allen Theater, Cleveland State needed a new home for its theater program, and the Playhouse needed a partner to share the expenses of running a resident theater. None could afford to go it alone. Working together they crafted the “The Power of Three,” civic partnership that extensively renovated the theater, created a new home for the University’s theater department, and found a vital and compatible partner for one of the country’s oldest regional resident theater companies. Use your civic partnerships to find symbiotic solutions to your wicked problems.
Transit-Oriented Re-investment in an Under-Performing Commercial/Industrial District
- Midtown is two-square-mile commercial and light industrial district on both sides of Euclid Avenue from the Cleveland State University campus (East 30th Street) to the Cleveland Clinic campus (East 79th Street). It is a successful example of transit- oriented commercial/industrial reinvestment that has been guided by Midtown Corridor, a well-established business-oriented local development corporation working in partnership with the public sector.
- Euclid Avenue is one of the city’s oldest streets. It was the original stage coach route to Buffalo. Dunham Tavern (ca 1843) dates from that era and is the oldest building in Cleveland.
- In the late 19th Century, Euclid Avenue was “Millionaires Row” and featured several miles of Victorian mansions by the city’s emerging industrial elite.
- Most mansions were demolished or repurposed by the 1920s. The district became a mix of apartments, commercial uses and heavy industries served by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
- Industrial and commercial uses began to decline following World War II. Disinvestment was accelerated by the movement of industrial firms to suburban parks served by truck. Freight rail service ceased to offer competitive site advantages. Passenger service to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s East 55th Street Station ended in 1965.
- The University-Euclid Urban Renewal Plan was adapted in the early 1960s and called for developing the eastern end of the Corridor (from East 79th to East 55th Streets) as a modern “Commerce Park” for light industrial uses. No plans were prepared for the 25-block area from East 55th to East 30th and the Cleveland State University campus.
- The urban renewal plan for the area was set aside following the Hough riots in July 1966. Modest efforts were made by the Hough Area Development Corporation (a local CDC) to revive the plan and develop the “Hough Industrial Park” between East 55th and East 65th. HADC acquired the Pennsylvania Railroads freight yard at East 55th Street in 1978 with the intention of developing the first phaseofthe park.
- Under Mayor Voinovich, the city acquired the HADC property in the early 1980s with funds from President Regan’s stimulus program. The city subsequently worked with Pierre’s Ice Cream to develop an expanded plant on this site. Freight rail access was a critical factor in Pierre‘s decision to stay and expand in Midtown.
- Mayor Voinovich reached out to other local business leaders in the Midtown area. Led by Mort Mandel, Chairman of Premier Industrial, local businesses established Midtown Corridor Inc. (now known as Midtown Cleveland) to collaborate with the city and promote the corridor as an industrial/commercial district.
- Midtown’s leadership noted the importance of logistics to their decision to stay and invest: In addition to freight rail, the district had direct access to I-90 (to the north) and I-71 and I-77 (to the south) and was on a major bus route connecting the region’s two major employment centers—downtown Cleveland and University Circle.
- In 1981, the city partnered with GCRTA and NOACA (the Metropolitan Planning Agency) to study transit improvements to the “Dual Hub Corridor” between downtown and University Circle. These studies focused on the feasibility of relocating GCRTA’s existing east side fixed rail rapid transit line onto Euclid Avenue from an alignment to the south of the Corridor.
- The rail alignment options proved financially infeasible and were abandoned in favor of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The Health Line BRT began operation in 2008.
- The Health Line project provided funds to improve Midtown’s transit service and transform its overall “curb appeal,” thereby linking it—both functionally and aesthetically—to the two growing employment centers to the east and west.
- Private developers have responded to this investment as well as to the inherent locational advantages of a district that is conveniently connected to regional and national markets. Multiple commercial, industrial and residential projects have and are being developed along both sides of the HealthLine.
- Local business leadership remains a critical success factor. Midtown Cleveland has aggressively marketed the District bringing together public and private actors to insure that the District continues to develop as a unique, high quality place to live and work.
- Logistics Matter: The District’s accessibility to multiple transportation modes is, and will continue to be, it’s major locational advantage in the regional market place. Midtown has excellent freeway and transit access. Freight rail connections are available along the NS line. Bike lanes line both sides of Euclid Avenue. Access is critical to location: You have to be able to get “here” from “there.”
- Committed Local Leadership Matters: Midtown Cleveland is an organization of local corporate and civic leaders committed to the long-term success of the District. They have guided area redevelopment for almost 30 years, through the terms of four mayors and several city council representatives. Urban development is a journey that takes time and needs a steady hand on the tiller.
- Well-Designed Infrastructure Matters: The design of the improvements that Health Line project made to the Euclid Avenue right of way established Euclid Avenue as a “hot” development district and set a high standard for the design of new development projects along the Avenue. The infrastructure improvements visually connected Midtown to Downtown Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic, and University Circle and enabled it to position itself as an integral part of these growing employment centers. Curb Appeal sells development districts as well as houses.
University Circle and the Cleveland Clinic:
Northeast Ohio’s Premier Innovation District
- University Circle is Northeast Ohio’s premier cultural and educational district. It encompasses approximately 550 acres at north and south of Euclid Avenue at the eastern edge of the City of Cleveland.
- The Cleveland Clinic is today one of the largest private medical centers in the world and a leader in cardiac research and care. It has steadily expanded its campus, growing to cover 140 acres on both sides of Euclid Avenue.
- Together University Circle and the Cleveland Clinic campus occupy almost 700 acres are the site of approximately 50,000 jobs, making this district the region’s second largest employment center.
- University Circle emerged as a center of higher education in the 1889s and 1890s when Western Reserve University, Case Institute of Technology and the predecessor of the Cleveland Institute of Art all moved to the Circle.
- University Circle became a cultural center during the first half of the 20th Century with the development of the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; the Cleveland Botanical Garden; and Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra. University Hospitals and the Western Reserve Historical Society both moved to the Circle while the Cleveland Clinic opened its doors several blocks to the west of the Circle on the south side of Euclid Avenue.
- The second half of the 20th Century was a period of institutional expansion and the establishment of University Circle, Incorporated in 1957 as the city’s first community development corporation. The city adopted the University-Euclid Urban Renewal Plan in the early 1960s and proceeded to implement in in partnership with UCI for the next 40 years.
- The Circle is well served by public transit. In addition to the Health Line BRT, GCRTA’s Red Line rapid transit and numerous bus lines connect the Circle to the rest of the county and beyond.
- In the past two decades, University Circle has seen continued institutional investment, with renovation and expansion of Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland Institute of Music. The Veterans Administration consolidated its regional medical centers into the Louis Stokes Medical Center on the northern edge of the Circle and the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art has moved from the Cleveland Clinic campus to a prominent site at its center.
- During this period, the Cleveland Clinic expanded it medical center and added several research buildings and developed two new hotels to meet the demands of its patients and visitors.
- Paralleling this institutional development has been the development of new housing and retail uses to support the both the Clinic and Circle institutions and take better advantage of the markets they create.
- University Circle and Cleveland Clinic together are emerging as a true “Innovation District as defined in the Brookings Institution’s recent report: The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America:
- 1. Strengthen your anchor institutions: Commonly referred to as “meds and eds,” your medical centers, college and universities, and cultural institutions anchor their adjacent neighborhoods and bring a steady flow of employees, students, patients and visitors to your city. Encourage them to stay, grow, and invest in the community that surrounds them. Keep your anchors close—don’t let them get out of town.
- 2. Leverage the markets that anchor institutions bring to your city: Anchor institutions are major attractors of talent to your community. Understand the needs of these markets and collaborate with the institutions to create the places and spaces that will draw people to your city and encourage them to stay. Build the housing, retail, and amenities that will make your community—and not just its institutions—a powerful talent attractor. Anchors are also Magnets: Take full advantage of their power to attract and retain talent.
- 3. Connect your anchor institutions to each other and to the wider community: Connected to one another, anchor institutions are the building block of Innovation Districts. They attract, support and incubate talent and can provide the platform for the creation of an “innovation ecosystem” in your community. Invest in the connections—pedestrian, bike, transit, street scape, fiber systems, and gathering places—that enable and encourage connection, innovation, and wealth creation. Economic, physical, and networking assets matter in the knowledge economy. Grow your local economy by strengthening and connecting your networks.
Field notes by Hunter Morrison, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium and former Cleveland City Planning Director (1981-2001)