Friday, September 12, 2008

Construction Begins on Detroit Avenue Project

City officials, merchants and others today launched the transformation of a stretch of Detroit Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly district for shopping, dining and theatre-going with a ceremonial groundbreaking. The event was highlighted by performances by Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre, the two performance theatres in the Gordon Square Arts District (GSAD).

The $3.5 million streetscape conversion of Detroit from West 58th Street to West 73rd Street is the second of five core projects in GSAD, an emerging arts and entertainment destination in the heart of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and five minutes from downtown Cleveland. Plans call for widening sidewalks along part of the street, burying utility wires and installing trees, benches, public art and other amenities.

“When you hear DuPont Circle and SoHo, you know exactly what city they’re in. The same will happen with Gordon Square,” said Cleveland Councilman Matt Zone, whose Ward 17 includes the district. Zone said he had been working on the streetscape project since he came to office in 2002.

”This project will provide the Gordon Square Arts District with a unique identity that will offer people an experience that they cannot get anywhere else,” said Mayor Frank Jackson. “Each of our neighborhoods has its own special personality, and people will visit Gordon Square so that they can participate in the culture of this district.”

“You’re going to know you’re somewhere special,” said GSAD Executive Director Joy Roller. “And you’re going to know something hip and fun is happening in Cleveland.”

The streetscape transformation, which is expected to be completed within a year, is a city project, paid for in part with $1.9 million in city funds. The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency contributed almost $1.6 million in federal funds. Traffic will be maintained during construction, except for six working days when vehicles will be detoured at West 65th Street and Detroit; shops, galleries, restaurants and other businesses will remain open during construction. The city has chosen Terrace Construction Company Inc. as contractor for the project.

“The city recognizes that its contribution will help spur private investment in the Gordon Square Arts District,” said Councilman Zone.

Today’s event is the second groundbreaking this year for the Gordon Square Arts District — a name not only for the area but also for the unique collaboration of three Cleveland nonprofits behind it.

The collaborative work of the three organizations — Cleveland Public Theatre, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) and Near West Theatre — is seen as a national model of how the arts can be used to stimulate economic development. GSAD’s plans, along with housing construction at nearby Battery Park and elsewhere in Detroit Shoreway, have already helped attract 24 restaurants, shops, galleries, studios and other businesses to the area since the beginning of 2006. In all, the Gordon Square Arts District is helping to infuse more than $500 million into the community.

GSAD’s core projects are expected to cost $30 million. Besides the streetscape design, they are:

· A $7 million restoration of the Capitol Theatre, a 1920s vaudeville and silent movie house at Detroit and West 65th, into a three-screen, all-digital art and independent film cinema. Groundbreaking for the restoration was in May, and completion is expected next spring.
· Renovation of Cleveland Public Theatre, which includes the oldest standing theatre building in Cleveland, at 6415 Detroit.
· Construction of a new performance center on West 67th Street, just north of Detroit, for Near West Theatre, a 30-year old community theatre.
· Surface parking for residents and visitors. A new parking lot and an expanded lot, both incorporating green parking technologies that will reduce storm water runoff and filter the water before it hits the city’s storm sewer system, are expected to be completed by next spring. Future additional parking is planned.

The three theatres will all be within a two-minute walk of one another and will form the nucleus of the arts district. Architectural drawings for the Cleveland Public and Near West theatres have been completed, and construction plans are being finalized. GSAD is seeking additional funding for these projects.

The streetscape design was developed by City Architecture Inc., environmental artist Susie Frazier Mueller and Michael Benza & Associates Inc. engineers. Work will include burying utility lines and installing new sidewalks and new lighting from West 58th to West 73rd streets. The lighting will match light poles at Battery Park.

The heart of the district will be between West 61st and West 69th streets, where plans also call for narrowing Detroit and widening the sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic and outdoor dining. The sidewalks, currently 8½ feet wide on the north and 10 feet wide on the south, will be increased to 13 feet wide on both sides; Detroit, which currently has four 12-foot driving lanes, will be narrowed to two 11-foot lanes and two 9-foot parking lanes. Approximately 60 Aristocrat pear and Valley Forge American elm trees will be planted, and free-standing public art, colorful curved benches, bike racks and a street paver pattern designed by Mueller will be installed along the sidewalk.

Space is planned for at least 10 pieces of sculptural public art. DSCDO will work with Cleveland Public Art to develop a public, juried process to solicit and select the art.
In June, City Council approved legislation sponsored by Zone making Detroit and Lake Avenue between West 48th Street and West 77th Street a Pedestrian Retail Overlay District. The designation is aimed at maintaining the economic viability of older neighborhood retail districts by preserving their pedestrian-oriented character.

Today’s groundbreaking ceremony, at West 65th and Detroit, featured performances by Near West Theatre and Cleveland Public Theatre. Cleveland Public Theatre’s Student Theatre Enrichment Program (STEP) performed a selection from “While I’m Here on This Earth,” and actors from Near West presented an excerpt from “West Side Story.”

Tours of the Capitol Theatre were offered after the ceremony, and merchants remained open and offered special promotions in celebration of the groundbreaking.

Along with Mayor Jackson, Zone and Roller, those speaking at today’s groundbreaking included:
· Joseph Craciun, funeral director at Craciun Berry Funeral Home, a longtime Detroit Avenue business.
· Robert Maschke, principal of Robert Maschke Architects and 1point618 gallery.
· Mueller, the environmental artist who designed the special paver work and benches that will be used in the district as well as the district’s logo.
· Jeffrey M. Ramsey, executive director of DSCDO.
· Paul J. Volpe, president of City Architecture, which designed the streetscape.

Honorary chairs of the Gordon Square Arts District capital campaign are Richard W. and Patricia R. Pogue, Albert B. and Audrey G. Ratner and Tom C. and Sandra S. Sullivan. Richard (Dick) Pogue is senior advisor at Jones Day; Albert Ratner is co-chair of the board of Forest City Enterprises Inc.; and Tom Sullivan is chair of RPM International Inc. Lawrence N. Schultz, a partner at Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, is GSAD campaign chair.

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