Rust Belt Special: Learning from Downtown Cleveland

November 27, 2006 12 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Tower City Center (formerly known as Cleveland Union Terminal) is a large mixed-use facility located on Public Square in Downtown Cleveland. The facility is comprised of a number of interconnected office buildings including the landmark Terminal Tower, a shopping mall, two hotels, and the main hub of Cleveland's three rapid transit (light rail) lines.



Founded near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River  in 1796, Cleveland has grown to become the largest metropolitan area in the State of Ohio.  In 2005, "The Economist" ranked Cleveland has one of the most livable cities in the United States.  However, looking back at its past, not everything has always been peaches and cream in the city once known as the Mistake by the Lake.

Growth in this community originally took off with the completion of the Ohio and Erie Canals in 1832 and the railroad soon after.  By the early 20th Century, Cleveland had grown to become a major manufacturing center and being the headquarters of many steel firms, including John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.  By 1920 it had grown to become the country's 5th largest city.  The city reached its peak population of 914,808 during the 1940s, before its manufacturing based economy began to decline along with new national trends of white flight and urban sprawl.

After the Hough Riots, the Glenville Shootout, and a major industrial waste fire during the 1960s, the city reached an all time low in 1978, when it became the first major city since the Great Depression to enter into default, earning the nickname "Mistake by the Lake".

Fortunately, the metropolitan area began to recover under Mayors George Voinovich and Michael R. White, with most of the major redevelopment happening in and around the downtown core area.  Today, the community is nationally recognized as a great example for public-private partnerships, downtown revitalization, and urban renaissance.  As we struggle to bring additional life to downtown Jacksonville, many of the suggestions mentioned on this site and the MetJax Forums have proved successful in the "Comeback City".


Cleveland Population 2005: 452,208 (City); 2,931,774 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1836)

Jacksonville Pop. 2005: 782,623 (City); 1,248,371 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1940: Jacksonville (173,000); Cleveland (878,336)



Euclid Avenue set the standard for the nation from the 1860s to the 1920s for beauty and sheer wealth. Today, the road is in the midst of a large reconstruction project that will include a bus rapid transit system.  The BRT line will connect East Cleveland with the Red Line (Heavy Rail Subway) at Downtown's Public Square.  Cleveland's RTA Rapid Transit is currently made up of three lines - the Red Line (heavy rail) and Blue and Green lines (light rail).  All three join downtown at Tower City Center (first picture shown).

A church on Frankford Avenue.  Downtown Cleveland is made up of several distinct neighborhoods and districts.  One way the city has worked to make it easier for visitors to get around the area, is to include the name of each district at the top of each street identification sign at stop lights.


The Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse (yb. 1997) is another example of a courthouse facility being constructed vertical instead of horizontal.  Following a similar approach locally could help reduce the cost of the long delayed county courthouse project, while at the same time, allow the city to sell the remaining cleared blocks back to the private sector for redevelopment and a reintroduction back to the tax rolls.

Believe it or not, the glass building in this image is a parking garage with space for street level retail.  For those not familiar with the area, a simple "P" has been added to make things easier for the average end user.  No design competition was needed.

With attractive city directories located along the sidewalks, its pretty difficult to get lost in downtown.



Playhouse Square Center, is the second largest performing arts center in the United States behind New York's Lincoln Center.  Playhouse Square includes the State, Palace, Allen, Hanna, and Ohio theaters within what is known as the Theater District of Downtown Cleveland.



The theater district stands out among downtown's neighborhoods, partially due to its electronic signage.  Currently, this type of signage is not allowed with our current zoning ordinance.  As we continue to push for a stronger revitalized downtown, at some point, we'll need to decide which route we would like go.  Having a downtown that quietly lives on as a preserved museum or one that incorporates unique and exciting signage strengthening its vibe as the regional place to be.


Another element of the theater district is the use of larger banners as advertisements for upcoming shows and events.  This, as well, is off limits, according to Jacksonville's signage ordinance.




Originally a manufacturing district created to serve Rockefeller's oil refineries and nearby steel mills, the Flats has been transformed into a mixed-use entertainment district.  During the 1990s, the Flats became the Midwest's number one destination for nightlife.  However, three drowning deaths in 2000, along with a city crackdown on fire and health code violations have led to the closing of multiple bars.


While the Flat's still remain a popular clubbing area, new redevelopment plans have been announced that will result in the demolishing of several buildings for a new mixed-use project that will include lofts, a movie theater, shopping, a grocery store, and a riverwalk.  



In the first half of the 19th century this neighborhood was part of Cleveland’s original residential area. In the late 19th century, the Warehouse district was home to the late wholesale commercial area, and was occupied by warehousing and distribution terminals for more than 100 years.

Although the district fell into serious disrepair after the businesses of its namesake had moved on, after the late 1980s it became a hot night spot for twenty-somethings and urban professionals. This most recent transformation from empty, run-down warehouses to hip, happening clubs and restaurants is only the latest in a long lifecycle for the historic area. Following in the footsteps of the then burgeoning The Flats entertainment district, the Warehouse District grew to the point of supplanting its older sibling as Cleveland’s premier weekend place-to-be.



Informative parking signage is a common trait for all Cleveland surface lots and garages.  All include the letter "P" and have up to date pricing information available for potential customers.


West Sixth Street is known as the heart of the district and on this street can be found live music at the Blind Pig, the Velvet Dog's rooftop patio bar, and the restaurant and bar Panini's. The Metropolitan Cafe, Blue Pointe Grill, and Johnny’s Downtown serve food on W. 6th as well.  One thing we can take from the warehouse district is its interesting use of banners and awnings that help add a little flair to the district.


The neighborhood has seen many of the rehabilitated warehouses converted to office and residential space. The ornate Victorian age facades of these historic warehouses are often preserved and restored, while the interiors of the buildings experience complete transformation into contemporary and trendy spaces. Its apartments and condominiums are responsible for a large portion of downtown Cleveland's recent population growth.

To learn more about the warehouse district, click on the link:



Originally part of Brooklyn Township, Ohio City is one of Cleveland's oldest neighborhoods, located immediately to the west of the Cuyahoga River. Before Cleveland was incorporated, the City of Ohio became an independent municipality on 1836. The city grew from a population of 2400 people in the early 1830s to over 4000 in 1850. The municipality was annexed by Cleveland on 1854.

The billboard on this structure would not be allowed in downtown under our current signage ordinance.  At one point, Jacksonville's urban core had several billboard such as this.  For those interested in seeing one, there's one remaining on the corner of Laura & Monroe Street near Hemming Plaza.



Crocker Park is an open air lifestyle center in the Westlake area of Cleveland.  However, unlike St. Johns Town Center (which is more of a Hybrid between a lifestyle and big box power center), Crocker Park's entire site plan is laid out in a pedestrian friendly fashion and incorporates hidden parking garages, instead of large surface parking lots.