In an awakening Cleveland, some ideas to transform our city: James Levin

CLEVELAND — As Cleveland awakens from its COVID-19 slumber, I suggest that now is a suitable time for reinvention and re-imagining. I have made a list of intriguing and promising places and venues whose transformations could trigger a New Cleveland.

1. The streetcar level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge. Why not a pedestrian/bike friendly walkway open year-round, with vendor booths, events and eateries? This venue links the developments on West 25th to the warehouse district and downtown, as well as Irish Bend and the towpath. One day, this walkway will be iconic to Cleveland; no tourist will come to Cleveland without taking “the walk on the bridge.”

2. The old Coast Guard Station at Whiskey Island. This venue with its views of downtown, the sunset, and the old Station’s lighthouse is special. Why not a café year-round, a bed and breakfast in the tower, a dog park, an indoor/outdoor music venue? Why not water taxis from the Browns stadium and the Flats?

3. The Superior Viaduct, a stone’s throw north of the Detroit Superior Bridge, begins on West 25th Street and ends abruptly, overlooking Jacobs Pavilion. During summer evenings, the sunset glow and view of Lake Erie, downtown buildings, the bridges and warehouses conjure an ineffable Cleveland magic.

4. The Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Unique in this world, a set of cultural gardens founded as a celebration of diversity and peace. What could be more relevant to this world today? Why not celebrate all of the gardens and the cultures year-round? Close Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to motor vehicles on weekends, and invite vendors (selling foods and presenting the arts and crafts of each nationality), with regular performances of ethnic and national music, theatre and poetry?

James Levin

James Levin, founding director of the Cleveland Public Theatre, is executive director of LegalWorks Inc. (Steve Wagner, Steve Wagner Photography)

5. Burke Lakefront Airport. Why does this stretch of land remain as a commuter convenience for a handful of private planes? Let us commit to liberating this expanse of land, which could feature a vast array of commercial, cultural, residential and recreational assets to benefit the entire city. Let’s look to Chicago, which overcame inertia and Federal Aviation Administration regulations to transform a private airport into an internationally appealing tourist attraction.

6. Scranton Peninsula. The tract of land just south of and across the Cuyahoga River from Tower City is occupied by century-old brick factories and warehouses wrapped by the river, presenting an array of charismatic brick buildings reeking of authentic Rust Belt cool. Let’s imagine a pedestrian-only village of retail and performance spaces, cafés, and housing, with water taxis connecting it to the Flats and Whiskey Island.

7. The Old Aquarium at Gordon Park sits south of the Shoreway, atop the Gordon Park hill. This area, with its baseball and soccer fields (already blessed with plenty of parking spaces), could be a hub of sports and recreation on the East Side. If renovated, the Old Aquarium itself — a massive, circular temple — could anchor the rejuvenation of Gordon Park.

8. The BridgeTender’s House at Carter Road Bridge, currently dilapidated and shrouded by shrubs and tall grass, consists of a three-story tower and a ground-level series of rooms. With its river access and proximity to downtown, it could be a nexus connecting Public Square to Scranton Island and the “far” side of the Flats. The possibilities here to offer commercial and cultural possibilities are endless.

If these projects (a list scaled down due to word and space restrictions) drew the attention and resources from government, foundations and business that they merit, Cleveland would make major strides to be the harbor of creativity it espouses to be.

James Levin is the founding director of the Cleveland Public Theatre; the co-founder of the Ingenuity Festival and the Gordon Square Arts District; and the founder of the Cleveland World Festival. He is now executive director of LegalWorks Inc.

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