How Cleveland cleans and delivers fresh lake water 5/9/2015

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By James Ewinger, The Plain Dealer 
on May 09, 2015

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Nature may provide the water, but nothing can foul it like human kind. Thus, it falls to complex institutions like the Cleveland Water Department to clean it for our use.

To mark National Drinking Water Week, the city had an open house Saturday at the historic Garrett Morgan Water Treatment Plant on West 45th Street. It is one of four treatment plants by which the city extracts water from Lake Erie and makes it safe for human consumption before sending it on to 1.4 million customers throughout Northeast Ohio.

An estimated 2,000 people took advantage of the event, going through multiple buildings to view every step of the water-treatment process, including the intake, filtration and chemical treatment of lake water.

Alex Margevicius, the city’s interim water commissioner, said Cleveland water flows into Summit, Medina, Geauga and Portage counties and there is an emergency connection to Lake County.

Beginning in 1856, water was simply brought straight from the lake. Treatment did not begin until 1911, when chlorination and sand filtration were employed. Since the water department began before the Civil War, the city has extended its reach farther out into the lake on three occasions, each time to get away from the influences of the Cuyahoga River.

Margevicius said the Army Corps of Engineers’ practice of dredging the river and dumping the waste in the lake defeats the purpose of extending the intakes.

Currently water travels four to five miles to each of the water treatment plants, said Maggie Rodgers, the city’s director of purification.

The plant on West 45 Street was renamed in 1991 to honor the inventor who saved men trapped in a submerged water-intake tunnel in 1916, the same year the plant opened. Garrett Morgan used what he called a safety hood that he designed. We now call such devices gas masks.

Rodgers said the city relied on steam-powered pumps until the 1960s. Electric pumps replaced them, Margevicius said, and there was so much redundancy built into the system that everyone thought the pumps unstoppable.

Until the great blackout of 2003. So the city got diesel-powered back-up generators for all four plants.

One dividend is the power industry pays the city about $500,000 to take the plants off the power grid during peak usage periods. This defrays the city water department’s annual electric bill of about $18 million.

Jason Wood, public-affairs chief for the city’s department of public utilities, said the water department is the largest in Ohio and ninth-biggest in the nation.

Margevicius said Northeast Ohio gets two blessings from Lake Erie. One is that it is part of the Great Lakes system, which hold a fifth of the world’s fresh water. The other is that lake water is a much more stable source because it is less affected by storm surges and flooding that can afflict rivers.

Water by Brent Larkin (pdf)

Brent Larkin joined The Plain Dealer in 1981 and in 1991 became the director of the newspaper’s opinion pages. In October 2002 Larkin was inducted into The Cleveland Press Club’s Hall of Fame. Larkin retired from The Plain Dealer in May of 2009, but still writes a weekly column for the newspaper’s Sunday Forum section.

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Water by Brent Larkin

Water As An Economic Tool (PDF)

By Brent Larkin

Northeast Ohio should regard building a vibrant water-based economy as a priority so important that the future of the entire region depends on it. It probably does.
Map of Lake Erie
Water isn’t the only key to a prosperous future. World-class medical facilities, biosciences, renewable and alternative energy all show promise of contributing to our 21st- century economy. But the unquestioned key to that future is an asset whose origin dates back more than a billion years—the world’s most abundant supply of fresh water.

Of all the world’s water, 97 percent of it is salty. Another 2 percent is locked in ice or snow. Of that remaining 1 percent that is fresh water, the Great Lakes contain just under 20 percent of it. Lakes Erie, Ontario, Michigan, Huron, and Superior boast a total of 11,000 miles of shoreline. Recreation alone on the lakes is a $6 billion-a-year industry.

In considering the magnitude of the importance of Northeast Ohio’s most precious asset, consider that 46 percent of the world’s population does not have water piped into their home, that in undeveloped countries people must walk an average of 3.7 miles to get fresh water.

We have 6 quadrillion gallons (that’s 15 zeros) of it at our doorstep.

Great Lakes Basin mapCleveland’s past greatness was rooted in its relationship and reliance upon that water. Lake Erie and the large albeit crooked river that flows into it (the Cuyahoga) made the city a giant in manufacturing, shipbuilding and rail transportation.

Manufacturing will remain a significant part of Northeast Ohio’s economy for the foreseeable future, but it’s decline as the centerpiece of that economy has been inexorable and—when viewed with the benefit of hindsight—inevitable.

But booming economies in the West, Southwest and Southeast are now running out of the water they so desperately need to sustain their growth. Indeed, some aquifers in California are down to 25 percent of

So as other parts of the country—and world—dry up, cities with great quantities of clean, fresh water have the potential to enjoy an economic resurgence. By 2025, an estimated one-third of the world’s population will not have access to fresh water. As a 2008 Goldman Sachs report concluded, fresh water has become “the natural resource with no substitute.” but as Northeast Ohio plans a water-based economy, that planning requires an understanding and appreciation of history. So before explaining how water can return the region to prosperity, let’s examine its paramount role in the greatness of our past.

"The Conclave of Rogers' Rangers and Chief Pontiac on the Cuyahoga River, 1760," oil painting on canvas on the west wall of the Court of Appeals, by Charles Yardley Turner
In 1772 and again in 1786, a missionary and geographer named John Heckewelder visited the Indian-occupied territory along the Lake Erie shoreline at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Heckewelder was captivated by the location, which featured the vast lake and countless streams feeding into the river. It was, he thought, the ideal place for a settlement as the young nation expanded west.

On his second visit, Heckewelder established a small trading post along the Cuyahoga, close to what is now known as Tinkers Creek. He also prepared a map of the region.

Relying in part on that map, in 1796 a group of eastern investors purchased from the state of Connecticut what is now the Greater Cleveland region, paying $1.2 million for about three million acres (a little more than 30 cents an acre). They named it the territory of the Western Reserve.

In May of 1796, investors in the Connecticut Land Co. designated Moses Cleaveland as their agent to visit the territory. On July 4, 1796, Cleaveland and his sailing party of about 50 men reached Conneaut. About two weeks later, the group mistakenly thought they had reached its final destination, disappointing surveyors at the small size of the river.

So unhappy was Cleaveland’s group that legend has it they named the small river the Chagrin. More likely is the Indians had already given the Chagrin its name.

Having discovered its likely error, Cleaveland’s party continued west, and on the morning of July 22, 1796, slipped into the Cuyahoga and embarked near the area of the Flats east bank, now known as Settlers Landing. On the day the Cleaveland party landed, the east bank of the Cuyahoga represented the most western point in the United States, or its territories, not controlled by Indian tribes.

Cleaveland was exhausted, but wrote that the location—with its crystal clear lake, magnificent rivers, rich forests, fertile soil, and rolling hills—exceeded investors’ expectations. Within days, Cleaveland had struck a deal with the Iroquois to plot a village east of the river, just south of Lake Erie.

Three months after arriving, Cleaveland left the city that now bears his name, absent that first “a.” He never returned.

In the late 18th century, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to ponder ways of moving goods from the west (the area now known as the Midwest) to population centers in the east. Both centered on the idea of a canal that would move products east along the Ohio River, and at one point Washington was said to recommend a canal that would connect the Ohio to Lake Erie, alongside the Cuyahoga River.

Absent access to a market, farmers in and around the new village of Cleveland struggled in the town’s early years. Then, in the early 1820s, Ohio’s leaders concluded the only way to ensure economic prosperity for the entire state was to construct a canal from the Ohio river north, through Columbus, to Lake Erie.

Many thought the canal’s northern terminus should be in Warren or Sandusky. Alfred Kelley believed that terminus should be in Cleveland.  And Alfred Kelley turned out to be a very persuasive man. A lawyer, county prosecutor, the youngest elected member of the legislature, and the first president (1815) of the village of Cleveland, Kelley became the state’s most outspoken and effective promoter of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

In 1821, the state legislature began deliberating issues relating to the canal’s funding, route and construction. Kelley’s relentless lobbying paid off, and in 1825 ground was broken on the northern section of the canal that would link Akron to Cleveland.  On July 4, 1827, the first boat to travel the canal route from Akron arrived in the Cleveland Harbor.

By the early 1830s, construction on the canal was complete. Economic growth was now all but guaranteed. And Alfred Kelley had earned his place as one of Cleveland’s greatest citizens.

Consider the canal’s economic impact: In 1830, about three million pounds of goods traveled the canal. By 1838, that number had grown to nineteen million. Products from central Ohio’s farmlands poured into Cleveland’s port, filling the harbor with steamboats and other vessels awaiting their turns at the dock. The dramatic increase in business at the port sparked a building boom along the river and on Superior Avenue, as schools, churches, warehouses, and office space gave birth to what was becoming one of the most vibrant and successful ports on the Great Lakes.

canal moving goods

Cleveland could offer something unique, direct access east to New York or southeast to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. No other city on the Great Lakes had water access to New York or New Orleans.

Water was pushing this new young village on a path to prosperity.

In the summer of 1860, the Cleveland Leader, one of the city’s daily newspapers, complained of the city’s plight, “We continue to make nothing and buy everything.” That was about to change. Railroads had dramatically reduced the importance of the Ohio & Erie Canal. By the start of the Civil War, five major rail lines passed through the city. At war’s end, iron from the Lake Superior region began arriving by lake carriers in record amounts.

Much was then shipped by rail to steel manufacturers in Pittsburgh, Wheeling, and Youngstown. But by 1868, Cleveland itself was home to more than a dozen steel rolling mills. As the industrial revolution generated startling economic growth across the country, for a time no city grew faster than Cleveland. Water and rail made Cleveland a manufacturing giant, the country’s second largest automotive city, and the largest shipbuilding port on the Great Lakes.

The River from the viaduct, Cleveland, 1905 - American Memory

Cleveland’s water-based economy was huge, diverse, and—as the 20th century arrived—seemingly recession-proof. In 1860, Cleveland was a relatively tiny town of 43,000. Seventy years later, it was home to a world-class port and a population of more than 900,000—the nation’s sixth largest. Access to water had made it a vibrant and prosperous city. but the end of that prosperity—and the city’s wise use of its water was nearing the end.

Cyrus Eaton, Cleveland’s world-renowned industrialist, once said the Depression hit his hometown harder than any city in the country.

Indeed, the loss of jobs and the post-war flight to the suburbs launched Cleveland on a path of slow, albeit relentless, economic decline.

As the city began to lose residents and jobs, Cleveland also paid a price for not tending to its greatest asset. By the 1960s, both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River became dangerously polluted, significantly damaging the Northeast Ohio fishing industry and dealing a crippling blow to the city’s reputation.

On June 22, 1969, an oil slick on the Cuyahoga caught fire. Flames on the river reached five stories high. Wooden bridges burned. The city’s water, the primary source of its greatness, made it the butt of jokes that linger to this day.


Three things must happen with our fresh water is it is to play a pivotal role in northeast Ohio’s economic recovery. We must: 1. keep that water here. 2. keep it clean. 3. rebuild the port as an economic hub.

For decades, Lake Erie and the river suffered as phosphorous and other industrial pollutants poured into the water unchecked, killing fish and other helpful species, giving the water an untenable odor, closing beaches, and spreading contamination north to the Canadian shoreline.

In 1972, Congress finally acted, passing the Clean Water Act, which regulates the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s surface waters, including lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and coastal areas. The act dramatically curtailed the discharge of untreated waste water and sewage from government and industrial sources, and eventually made both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River safer for swimming and fishing.

The results were remarkable. But eventually, problems returned. Lake Erie today again faces significant problems—largely invasive species, sediment, and the vestiges of pollution. The lake and the river are back from the dead, positioned to play a vital role in the 21st-century economy. But it is worth restating that this rebirth will be sustained only if we keep our water clean, wisely build an economy around it, and prevent other parts of the country from tapping into what is Greater Cleveland’s most precious resource.

Toward that end, in 1986 Congress passed the Water Resource Development Act designed, in part, to prevent diversion of Great Lakes water. But many legal scholars thought the act vulnerable to a legal challenge, so in the mid-1990s representatives of the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces began negotiating a basin-wide approach to decisions on water usage.

The result was the St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact—commonly called the Great Lakes Compact, a product of more than four years of negotiations by the governors, a 39-member advisory committee, and input from thousands of U.S. and Canadian citizens. Canada enacted the compact rather quickly. Approval by the eight states and the congress took more than five years.

The Ohio House twice ratified the compact, the second time by a vote of 90–3. But Ohio was one of the last states to give its final approval because the compact stalled in the Ohio Senate for more than a year. an April 27, 2008, editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer—one of many the newspaper wrote urging Ohio to ratify the agreement—angrily suggested the Senate’s foot-dragging “represents one of the most unforgivable public policy abuses perpetrated upon the people of Northeast Ohio in decades.” The paper accused more than several senators of concocting “some crackpot theory” that exposed “all of Ohio to economic harm.”

After allowing some face-saving for the Senate, Ohio became the sixth state to ratify the compact. In October of 2008, President George W. Bush signed it, just days after its approval by the U.S. House and less than a month after passing the U.S. Senate.

Now the law of the land, the Great Lakes Compact essentially bans diversion of large amounts of water outside the Great Lakes. In the United States, each of the eight Great Lakes states has a seat on a water resources council. Any water withdrawal exceeding five million gallons daily must be approved by a majority of the council. Similar diversion rules apply in Canada. In Ohio, only counties straddling the Great Lakes Basin are allowed to use Lake Erie water. Diversion approved prior to the compact’s ratification, like Akron’s large scale use of Lake Erie water, are allowed to continue.

The importance of preventing diversions is enormous, as public officials in arid parts of the country have been publicly talking of preying on Great Lakes water since the early days of the 21st century. In late 2007, when he was running for president, new Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called for a national policy to consider redistribution of water to needy areas, remarking that the West was drying up while places around the Great Lakes were “awash in water.” It was around then that a professor at the University of Alabama produced a plan to pipe water out of the Great Lakes into the Sunbelt.

David Naftzger, a former director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, predicted in 2008 that an eventual water grab is a certainty. “Look at a map showing water shortages and population growth and see how they match up,” Naftzger told the Plain Dealer. “Now look at us and you can see a concern that, as times move on, those areas will be looking at the Great Lakes to bring them water— through either a tanker, pipeline, or natural channels.”

While Congress has the power to repeal the Great Lakes Compact, for now the world’s largest supply of fresh water appears safe. But as a great many commentators have observed, while 20th-century wars were often fought over oil, 21st-century wars will be waged over fresh water.

But even under a worst-case scenario, if some Great Lakes water ends up being diverted later in the century, the advantages enjoyed by the bountiful supply of fresh water enjoyed by just 8 of the 50 states argue strongly for future economic growth.

President Barack Obama has championed a proposal, as of this writing not yet law, that would spend an additional $5 billion over a 10-year period to continue Great Lakes cleanup as part of a plan to revive the lakes’ economic, recreation, and navigational potential. A 2008 Brookings Institute report concluded that such a cleanup would provide Cleveland with an economic boost between $2.1 billion and $3.7 billion with the overall economic benefit to the Great Lakes states estimated at a staggering $100 billion.

The logic is irrefutable. A cleaner Lake Erie for fishing, boating, swimming, and other water activities would not only drive up property values, but would also make the region more desirable for businesses creating jobs and generating wealth. As Greater Cleveland Partnership President, Joe Roman correctly noted, “With 300 miles of shoreline, Cleveland and the rest of Northern Ohio could thrive if we are able to fully realize the economic potential of this tremendous asset.”

Officials in Wisconsin figured this out years before it occurred to those in Greater Cleveland. Four of the world’s 11 largest water technology companies are located in Wisconsin. Milwaukee alone is home to 120 water-related companies. Marquette University Law School now has a water-law curriculum. And planning is underway for a $30 million lake-front headquarters of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Water Institute. Board members and leaders at the Great Lakes Science Center are now engaging in similar water technology efforts, but no one disputes that Greater Cleveland lags behind Milwaukee in planning for a water-based economy of the future.

Toledo Blade

Another significant problem is the troubling growth of toxic algae in Lake Erie  and the spread of zebra mussels. The algae colors the water green and can be dangerous to humans, pets, and wildlife. Zebra mussels harm the fishing industry and pollute beaches. These festering problems only underscore the importance of a sizable, federally-funded Great Lakes cleanup plan.

zebra mussels

Rebuilding Cleveland’s port as a significant shipping center is proving an even more daunting challenge. the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port authority, a vision of former Mayor Carl Stokes and Council President James Stanton, was created by county voters in 1968 to oversee what was then one of the Great Lakes’ busiest ports. For the first few decades of its existence, the port thrived. For decades, shipping raw materials to make steel was the port’s main business. But even with the steel industry’s decline, an economic impact study in the late 1990s found the port directly accounted for 4,700 jobs, generated $400 million in spending annually, and $64 million in taxes.

But the port also engaged in a obscene amount of over-ambitious thinking, devoting an inordinate amount of time on plans for a World Trade Center, cruise ship and ferry service, an aquarium and lake front retail none of which materialized. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, shipping at the port declined steadily.

With shipping revenues in a free-fall, the port has struggled to raise its $158 million share of the $600 million tab the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to dredge mountains of muck from the port and Cuyahoga River. Without that dredging—and a place to dump the muck, federal officials have warned that the Cleveland harbor could be shut down by 2015.

By the summer of 2010, Cleveland’s port was in clear crisis mode. the nine-member board fired its director and hired a new one. it scrapped a costly, $1 billion plan to build a new port several miles east of downtown. there was no clear game plan to raise the funds needed for dredging, nor one to revive its slumping shipping business. adding to those woes was the city’s need to secure federal funding to fix a crumbling slope above the river that threatened shipping to sites downstream.

In a series of news stories and editorials, The Plain Dealer outlined the port’s many “immense challenges,” underscored the need for dramatic change, and correctly linked the need for that change with the necessity of the port playing a major role in reviving Greater Cleveland’s economy.

Cleveland's Port

An old, now somewhat trite, saying holds that, in determining the success of a business, the three most important factors are always location, location, and location. The visionary pioneers who settled this territory more than 200 years ago understood that.

Northeast Ohio and, indeed, the entire Great Lakes region, has something the rest of the world desperately needs. What’s more, we have a lot of it.

More than ever before, the fresh water that served us so well in the past represents our best hope for the future.

Frozen Lake Erie


archives, The Atlantic “Water Summit.” October 29, 2009.

archives, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 2009.

archives, The Plain Dealer. 1991–2010.

Miller, Carol Poh and Robert Wheeler. Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796–1996. 2nd edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Rose, William Ganson. Cleveland: The Making of a City. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1950. reprinted with a new introduction. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990.

Van Tassel, David D. and John J. Grabowski. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. 2nd edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Wallen, James. Cleveland’s Golden Story: A Chronicle of Hearts that Hoped, Minds that Planned and Hands that Toiled, to Make a City “Great and Glorious.” Cleveland: William Taylor & Son, 1920.

Water: Our Thirsty World. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, April 2010.

Further resources:

New Lakefront Plan from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson Strikes a Tone of Realism – Steve Litt

New lakefront plan from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson strikes a tone of realism – Steve Litt, Plain Dealer November 15, 2011

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — It would be easy to greet Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s new vision for the downtown Cleveland lakefront with skepticism.

After all, it’s the latest of more than half a dozen plans over the past 25 years that contemplated everything from building a floating hotel shaped like the Titanic to reconfiguring miles of shoreline with new islands made of landfill. Despite all the grand visions, the downtown lakefront remains a half-realized dream – and a chronic wasted opportunity.

Granted, a lot has been accomplished. In a burst of action starting in 1995, the city completed a collection of attractions on the shoreline, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Great Lakes Science Center and Cleveland Browns Stadium.

But lakefront development has stalled since then, leaving the architectural icons of the 1990s standing isolated amid a barren landscape of parking lots and lifeless streets and parks.

Despite the malaise, there are good reasons to take Jackson’s new plan seriously. Most important is that it isn’t so much a cascade of wildly original ideas as it is a collection of the most logical and sensible concepts for the downtown portion of the lakefront that have surfaced in earlier plans.

This is not to suggest that the designers involved, EE&K of New York and Van Auken Akins of Cleveland, have plagiarized their predecessors.

On the contrary, the designers this time around appear to have arrived at their recommendations independently. This gives all the more credence to their conclusions, the most important of which is that there’s plenty of room for private development and ample public space on the waterfront.

In fact, the numbers sound impressive. The designers believe there’s ample space for 3.5 million square feet of development on 55 acres of waterfront land along two linear miles of shoreline that weave in and out from Dock 28 north of the stadium to the west end of Burke Lakefront Airport.

The plan also includes miles of bike paths connecting the waterfront to the downtown core and roughly two miles of public promenades on the water’s edge. Public spaces of high quality could be woven throughout three distinct waterfront zones from the Port of Cleveland to Burke.

All of this is good news, because it means the city could finally realize a greater degree of private-sector payback from the massive public investments lavished on the shoreline attractions in the ’90s.

What’s different about the new plan is that the city and the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority have clarified the ownership and management of key parcels around the harbor, which could facilitate development.

In addition, the new plan is emerging amid a greater sense of certainty about what’s possible, and what’s not possible, on the lakefront.

The port, which had contemplated moving its downtown cargo operations east to East 55th Street, has decided to stay put on the lakefront acres west of the stadium. This settles, for now, one of the biggest questions affecting waterfront development by limiting

possibilities and allowing the city to focus first on the strong opportunities around North Coast Harbor.

Also, Jackson has come down firmly against the idea of closing Burke Lakefront Airport and either turning it into a park or a vast real estate development.

That position also makes sense. With millions of square feet of vacant office space in the core of downtown, it doesn’t seem like the best time to open up a huge new area for development along the lakefront at Burke.

It makes more sense, instead, to capitalize on the investments already made in the ’90s, such as the Rock Hall.

In many ways, Jackson’s plan represents a continuation of the ambitious lakefront plan completed in 2005 by his predecessor, Jane Campbell.

But while the Campbell plan provided an important framework for future decision-making about all nine miles of city lakefront, it was less specific about how to get things started in discrete locations.

Under the new plan, Jackson has a more plausible road map about how to get started and keep moving on the downtown waterfront.

Small but important pieces of the new vision have a decent chance of happening within three to five years, either because the projects are already funded with federal money or could attract private investment.

These include a pedestrian bridge at North Coast Harbor designed by Boston architect Miguel Rosales (another legacy of the Campbell plan), a pair of waterfront restaurants, more on-street parking on the East Ninth Street Pier and a marina for pleasure boats north of the Rock Hall.

If those elements come into being relatively soon, the city could create a sense of forward motion around the Rock Hall, which could attract bigger pieces of proposed development, such as office complexes proposed for chunks of land west and east of North Coast Harbor.

To be sure, obstacles exist. One is that the city simply doesn’t have tens of millions of dollars to pour into the infrastructure needed to trigger large-scale development on the

waterfront. It’s counting on the federal government for an $80 million grant to pay for transportation improvements at the port and for a pedestrian bridge from the north end of Mall C to North Coast Harbor and the Rock Hall.

Chris Warren, Jackson’s chief of regional development, described the process of winning such a grant as “enormously competitive,” which sounds daunting.

But other parts of the plan sound eminently doable, such as creating new parking spaces on the East Ninth Street Pier as a way to make the area more accessible on a casual basis and more like a regular city street.

The computer graphics created by EE&K and Van Auken Akins for Jackson’s lakefront plan look deceptively smooth and polished. The reality is that the plan will take two decades or more to complete and will undoubtedly evolve over time. New plans will probably emerge as the city’s circumstances change.

For now, Jackson’s plan provides a good framework for steps the city can take in the near term. It’s crucial that the mayor and his team deliver on what they’ve envisioned. If they can’t, the city’s lakefront will continue to stay frozen, largely as it was at beginning of the last decade.

Mayor Frank Jackson Tries to Change History with Lakefront Plan – Plain Dealer

Mayor Frank Jackson tries to change history with lakefront plan – Plain Dealer November 15, 2011

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Cleveland’s lakefront is getting new attention from Mayor Frank Jackson.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The development of Cleveland’s lakefront is a century-old story of piecemeal action and broken promises, but Mayor Frank Jackson thinks he has strategy that could put all that in the past.

Jackson presented a plan(pdf) Monday for developing the downtown waterfront from the Port of Cleveland to Burke Lakefront Airport. Drawings show 90 acres laced with offices, restaurants, shops and marinas. (Read the earlier version of this story.)

The plan, drafted by EE&K architects of New York and Van Auken Akins Architects of Cleveland, could unfold over many years and eventually reach $2 billion in value. Most of the money is expected to come from the private sector.

Skepticism came quickly at the City Hall news conference, not only from reporters but from John Onacila, a 67-year-old boater who lives on the city’s West Side. From the rear of the room, he listened as proponents declared this plan to be The One.

“I’ve heard that before,” Onacila whispered.

But Jackson and others say the latest vision can become reality because it has the backing of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, the Cleveland Browns and other lakefront interests and answers two lingering questions.

Will the port move? Will the airport close? In both cases the answer is no.

Another key is a series of ordinances, given to the council Monday night, that make clear which sections of the development area the city will control, and which will be managed by the Browns or the port authority.

Council President Martin J. Sweeney said the council should pass the legislation by February. He and downtown Councilman Joe Cimperman said they are excited about seeing mixed-use waterfront development become a reality.

“I think it’s a real shot at making something happen,” Cimperman said. “There’s going to be such a demand for this.”

The city, which owns all of the development area, will lease land to developers, just as it does with the Browns. Chris Warren, Jackson’s chief of regional development, expects some developers to commit to projects within six months, though financing and other hurdles could push construction out two or three years.

A marina for temporary docking and a pedestrian bridge over North Coast Harbor, paid for by the city with grants, will open in 2013. Warren says those projects prove Jackson’s plan is not “pie-in-the-sky.”

When other publicly financed features will arrive is not as certain. The city needs $100 million for other work, including a second pedestrian bridge linking the lakefront to downtown. Cleveland has asked the federal government to pay $80 million of that expense.

Skeptics can be forgiven. A number of grand plans for the lakefront have been floated over the years; Jackson’s is just the latest.

A 1959 plan called for a recreation center with a sports arena and aquarium. In the 1960s and 1970s, proponents pushed for an international jetport five miles offshore, along with new parks, beaches and marinas.

In 2000, then-Mayor Michael R. White proposed a $750 million plan that included a Ferris wheel, children’s museum, band shell, theater complex, aquarium, ferry dock and marina for pleasure boats.

Four years later, his successor, Jane Campbell called for five marinas, five beaches, 3.9 million square feet of office and commercial space and 7,500 housing units. Planners also spoke about building an 18-hole golf course and turning Burke Lakefront Airport into mixed-use development.

Follow Thomas Ott on Twitter @thomasott1