Cleveland City Planning Commission approves $300 million ‘CHEERS’ vision for new lakefront park areas on city –

First look: Cleveland Metroparks unveils plan for 80 acres of new parkland along Cleveland lakefront
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland City Planning Commission on Friday unanimously approved a plan developed by Cleveland Metroparks and other public agencies to use clean, recycled sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River to create 76 acres of new parkland between the East 55th Street Marina and Gordon Park on the city’s East Side.
The project, which could cost roughly $300 million, would include 150 acres of land and water. Wetlands, hills, lawns, numerous trails, and an area to launch paddle craft are all part of the vision, crafted by a team led by the Philadelphia-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm of WRT.
“There is so much to love about this project,’’ said Lillian Kuri, a member of the commission just before Friday’s vote. “I hope this is a shining star, or a north star, for many other large civic projects that can get done.”
New renderings illustrate the latest concept for Cleveland Metroparks' CHEERS project, which would transform Cleveland's East Side lakefront.Courtesy Cleveland Metroparks, WRT
The lakefront concept, which emerged from a yearlong, $251,000 planning project that included extensive public engagement, carries the happy-sounding acronym of CHEERS, short for Cleveland Harbor Eastern Embayment Resilience Study.
The project is aimed at solving problems that have vexed Cleveland’s East Side for decades. One is that the construction of the Interstate 90 Shoreway in the 1940s and ‘50s walled off miles of shoreline, creating a huge disparity between lakefront access on the city’s majority-Black East Side in comparison to the more racially diverse West Side, which is amply served by Edgewater Park.
The other issue is that I-90 hugs the shoreline so closely between Gordon Park and the East 55th Street marina that it’s vulnerable during heavy storms. The highway had to be shut down when it was hit by 20-foot waves during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
CHEERS, which could take 15 to 25 years to realize, envisions using dredged material from the river to thicken the shoreline where the interstate curves too close to the water.
The plan also describes how East Side neighborhoods could be better connected to the shoreline through improvements in bike and pedestrian paths on East 55th Street, East 72nd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
New renderings illustrate the latest concept for Cleveland Metroparks' CHEERS project, which would transform Cleveland's East Side lakefront.Courtesy Cleveland Metroparks, WRT
Metroparks, which has leased and managed the 455 acres of city-owned lakefront reservations in Cleveland since 2013, collaborated on the CHEERS study with the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The five entities each contributed $25,000 to the study. They were recently joined by the nonprofit Black Environmental Leaders Association, which advocates for environmental and economic justice.
Metroparks and its partners unveiled a highly polished draft of the CHEERS plan in April.
At Friday’s meeting, planners including Freddy Collier, Jr., Cleveland’s planning director, described CHEERS as an outgrowth of the City of Cleveland’s 2004 Waterfront District Plan, which envisioned creating a series of landfill islands east and west of downtown to protect the shoreline while using dredged sediment from the Cuyahoga River to create new parkland.
The latest version of the CHEERS plan, shared during Friday’s meeting, calls for creating a new, 36-acre “isle,” just north of the former FirstEnergy coal-fired power plant at East 72nd Street, to form a barrier around protected coves. The isle would be connected to the mainland with a bridge and trails.
New renderings illustrate the latest concept for Cleveland Metroparks' CHEERS project, which would transform Cleveland's East Side lakefront.Courtesy Cleveland Metroparks, WRT
On the mainland side, the plan envisions adding 42 acres to shape the new coves with curved shorelines and soft, natural edges between the 22-acres of the East 55th Street Marina and Gordon Park.
The new park areas would link the marina to Gordon Park and the 88-acre Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, a Port of Cleveland park established on landfill north of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and east of Gordon Park.
The expanded and connected park spaces would, in effect, become the East Side’s answer to Edgewater Park.
New cost estimates shared at Friday’s meeting show that the CHEERS project could cost $302 million. Planners compared the cost as an investment similar to other recent city projects, including the $306 million Opportunity Corridor boulevard.
Next steps for CHEERS include developing buildable plans, based on the concept approved by the planning commission.
Project planners said Friday that they’re hoping to hear in November on whether they’ll be awarded a little over $900,000 from the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The money would be used to create detailed, “shovel ready” designs for the first two elements of the project — an area of additional landfill east of the East 55th Street marina, and a curving barrier for the north side of the isle, which would protect areas of shoreline to the south.
New renderings illustrate the latest concept for Cleveland Metroparks' CHEERS project, which would transform Cleveland's East Side lakefront.Courtesy Cleveland Metroparks, WRT
Metroparks planners Sean McDermott and Kelly Coffman said that the agency and the five CHEERS partners have pledged to raise nearly $1 million in additional cash and in-kind services to complete funding for the initial engineering.
The grant, if awarded, would trigger an 18-month planning process that could start in 2022 and lead to detailed cost estimates for construction.
The goal, McDermott and Coffman said, would be to qualify for construction money that could be made available through infrastructure spending advocated by the Biden administration, if approved by Congress.
In another key step, the City of Cleveland announced at Friday’s meeting that it had been awarded $100,000 from NOACA, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, for a study on how to improve pedestrian and bike connections to the lakefront via East 72nd Street and from Rockefeller Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“We really have a good amount of confidence that in the next few months we’re going to be successful with partners to start to secure funds to implement this project in phases,’’ McDermott said after the meeting. “We all need to have patience. Today was a great step.”
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