Think it’s impossible to revive a downtown? Look at Cleveland. Washington Post Dec 19, 2023

Think it’s impossible to revive a downtown? Look at Cleveland.

(Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

Welcome to Cleveland, the city that leads the nation — by far — in finding new uses for empty office buildings.

This is Public Square in the heart of downtown.

It used to be a transit hub full of cars and buses. A 2016 makeover turned it into an urban “living room” where people gather to eat, ice-skate and enjoy concerts.

Since 2016, developers have converted five office towers around the square into residences. New restaurants and coffee bars have also opened.

The key to Cleveland’s success? Focusing the transformation efforts on a compact area.

Apartments immediately around the square increased from around 40 in 2016 to more than 1,200 by the end of 2023.

When there are lots of office-to-residential conversions in one place, it changes the neighborhood vibe from “9-to-5” office work to an 18-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week place to be.

Former mayor Frank Jackson, who served from 2006 to 2022, says when he entered office, “you could roll a bowling ball downtown after work and you wouldn’t hit anybody. It was a ghost town.” Cleveland epitomized the Rust Belt; businesses were leaving, and people were fleeing. Initial attempts at revival focused on a new convention center, spruced-up sports stadiums and a downtown casino. But something was missing: a great public space for everyone to gather.

The push to renovate Public Square began in 2011. Anthony Coyne, a lawyer who chaired the city’s Group Plan Commission, carried around a PowerPoint deck with a vision for a square as vibrant — and green — as New York City’s Bryant Park or Chicago’s Millennium Park. He showed it to any business executive, civic leader and philanthropist who would listen.

The Public Square as it appeared in the early 1900s. 

The square started off in the 1800s as a pasture for animals. By the early 20th century, it had become a bustling shopping center. Many remember visiting department stores there such as Higbee’s and the May. By the late 20th century, high-rise office towers took over. The city put two big roads through Public Square that chopped the park into four tiny quadrants. The overarching goal was to make it easier for workers to commute from the suburbs. It typified what so many American downtowns became in the past 40 years: functional but sterile.

When Cleveland won the bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, the city rushed to show a rejuvenated face to the world. It completed a $50 million renovation of Public Square, partly funded by donations. The result was a well-lit park that removed most traffic lanes. Half of the square is devoted to a big grassy area with many trees and benches. The other side of the square has a cafe, Civil War historical monument and an ice rink (which turns into a splash pad in the summer).

The makeover had an immediate impact. Families brought kids to play in the water park. Office workers and students came to sit on benches and grab lunch at REBoL, a new organic eatery on the square. Rallies and festivals such as “Pride in CLE” filled the square. And real estate developers began to buy the surrounding (mostly vacant) office buildings with a plan to turn them into rental apartments.

A view of Terminal Tower from the 52nd floor of Key Tower.
A view of Terminal Tower in Cleveland. 
The May Company, Terminal Tower, The Reniassance Hotel and Sherwin-Williams.
Some of the recently converted buildings in the Public Square area.

The Standard, a former union headquarters, was turned into 287 apartments that began leasing in 2018. Cleveland’s iconic Terminal Tower became part office, part residential with 297 units that began leasing in 2019. The May, the former department store, opened with 307 units in 2020. Two more former office towers — 55 Public Square and 75 Public Square — were turned into luxury apartments that began leasing in the past two years.

Young professionals are the main group moving in, especially because all the units are rentals. But empty nesters, judges, athletes and even a few young families have also leased properties so they can be near museums and Cleveland’s sports stadiums. For the first time in years, a yellow school bus makes a daily stop at the square to pick up kids living there. “We’re a neighborhood church again,” said Rev. Stephen Blonder Adams, senior pastor of Old Stone Church, which has been on the square since 1820. His blessing of the animals is a hit with all the dog owners living by the square.

Public Square is luring businesses, too. Paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams is building its new headquarters on what used to be a nearby parking lot.

Urban planners call this focusing on a “node” to get momentum going. Success then spreads: Developers are transforming more old offices nearby.

There are more people out and about in the evenings now compared with before the pandemic, according to Spectus, a cellphone location data solution by Cuebiq Group. Malisse Sinito, the owner of restaurants around the square including Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar, Marble Room Sushi and Il Venetian, said revenue and the number of diners are now exceeding pre-covid levels. “I’ve never watched downtown grow at this pace before,” said chef Rocco Whalen, who opened the restaurant Fahrenheit at 55 Public Square this past summer.

Some cities have not used this concentrated “node” approach. D.C.’s map of buildings slated for conversion, for example, shows a scattering of sites. That should be reconsidered in 2024. A denser population attracts grocery stores, coffee shops and pocket parks, among other amenities.

Revitalizing Cleveland also took government support, in the form of a 15-year property tax abatement for repurposing an old building. The state of Ohio offered a sizable tax credit for rehabilitating historic properties, as well. Cleveland leads the nation in the percentage of its office space that is being turned into apartments hotels and used for other purposes, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate services and investment company.

“Without the state tax credit, we couldn’t have done it,” said Doug Price III, chief executive of K&D Group which has renovated numerous downtown properties, including Terminal Tower and 55 Public Square.

The city of Cleveland and the state updated zoning codes to address the unique needs of converting older buildings. For example, the city began allowing residents to move in once a floor was completed instead of waiting to finish the entire renovation. Mayor Justin Bibb (D) wants to replicate the success of Public Square with a similar transformation of the nearby riverfront and lakefront districts.

Ice skaters at Public Square’s rink on Dec. 7. 

If there is one mistake Cleveland has made, it is still catering to vehicles in Public Square. A bus lane still cuts the square into two parts. The road is unpopular with city residents and should be removed. There was also a recent shooting in the square that startled the community, and Cleveland, like many cities, is struggling with unhoused people living downtown. Mr. Bibb calls public safety his “first, second, third, fourth and fifth” priorities. He has boosted police pay by at least $8,000 for rank-and-file officers. He is also changing tax incentives next year to try to spur more development in parts of the city that have seen less investment.

Despite the flaws, Cleveland’s Public Square is a beacon to other cities looking to transform. Anna Huttner is one of the young professionals working at a firm on the square and living at the May — the place where her mom and grandfather used to shop. To Huttner and many of her peers, downtown is the place to be.

If Cleveland can do it, other cities can, too.

About this story

The satellite images of Cleveland were captured in June 2023 from Planet Labs. Greater Cleveland Partnership and Cleveland-based City Architecture helped develop the visual assets of the article. The foot traffic analysis of the area around the Public Square was done by Amir Forouhar and Karen Chapple at School of Cities, University of Toronto, using anonymous location data provided by Spectus.

The 3-Cs: Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati How do they compare? WOSU Oct 30, 2023

The 3-Cs: Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati How do they compare? WOSU Oct 30, 2023

Here’s the link


(This episode originally aired on Oct. 30, 2023.)

The arrival of Amazon, Google and Intel to central Ohio has given Columbus a boost over Cleveland and Cincinnati. How does the capital city stack up compared to Ohio’s other major metro cities?

Today on All Sides, we’ll compare and contrast Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.


Mike Thompson, WOSU chief content director of radio

Brent Larkin, Columnist for Editorial Director at Cleveland Plain Dealer
Liz Blume, Principal, Blume Community Partners Consulting Firm
Kevin Cox, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Geography, The Ohio State University

The 1948 baseball photo with a radical message of acceptance, Wash Post, October 9, 2023

Steve Gromek and Larry Doby embrace after Game 4 of the 1948 World Series. (Bettmann Archive)

The 1948 baseball photo with a radical message of acceptance
By Frederic J. Frommer
Washington Post, October 9, 2023

The link is here

Like Jackie Robinson before him, Larry Doby — the first Black player in baseball’s American League — endured racist taunts from fans and opposing players, discrimination in hotels and restaurants and even hostility from his teammates. For Doby, a World Series embrace with a White teammate was an antidote to that torrent of abuse.

Doby, who made his major league debut in July 1947, less than three months after Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, had a breakout season the next year, leading the Cleveland Indians to the AL pennant. In Game 4 of the 1948 World Series — 75 years ago Monday — his 425-foot solo homer to right-center proved to be the difference in a 2-1 victory over the Boston Braves and their ace, 24-game winner Johnny Sain. After the game, Doby threw his arm around winning pitcher Steve Gromek in the clubhouse, and the men embraced, cheek-to-cheek, exuberant smiles etched on their faces.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took a photo of that moment, which the Associated Press transmitted to newspapers across the country — the 1940s version of an image going viral. Many Americans saw it as a symbol of progress at a time when Black players were barely tolerated, while others recoiled from it.

“That was a feeling from within, the human side of two people, one Black and one White,” Doby said years later, according to the New York Times. “That made up for everything I went through. I would always relate back to that whenever I was insulted or rejected from hotels. I’d always think about that picture. It would take away all the negatives.”

The embrace “was special because it was the first time anyone showed feeling toward me as far as I’m concerned. I mean, toward an African American,” Doby told the Chicago Tribune in 1995. “Until then they had been distant, cool, and [Gromek] got criticized for what he did back home. … I think it was the first picture taken of that type, the first picture of a black American and a white American embracing each other going out all over the country.”

Gromek’s complete-game win in front of more than 80,000 at Cleveland Stadium that afternoon gave the Indians a 3-1 series lead. They would go on to win the series in six games — the franchise’s most recent World Series title. Doby’s homer was the first by a Black player in the World Series, and he led all Cleveland regulars that series with a .318 batting average.

“That was probably the most special moment in his career,” Doby’s son, Larry Doby Jr., told the Athletic in 2020. “It was just two guys who were expressing an unbridled joy over accomplishing a common goal. I think that picture really encapsulates what that journey and the hardships meant to him.”

The racist incident that shook baseball nine years before integration

Gromek, who died in 2002, told the Plain Dealer that “it seemed in the picture like I was kissing him. I was being interviewed in front of my locker, and somebody asked Larry to come over. He put his arm around me and squeezed me so hard I thought he was going to break my ribs. We were both so happy.”

But not everyone was happy. That winter, Gromek came home to a cold reception in Hamtramck, Mich., and angry letters flooded his mailbox. He once recalled walking into a neighborhood bar that offseason.

“I saw a guy I had known for more than 10 years, a guy I had played ball with,” he said, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. “I said hello, and he ignored me.” The bartender told Gromek what was eating the man — “Oh, Christ, it’s that picture you took with Larry Doby.”

“So then the guy told me, ‘Jesus, you could have just shook his hand,’ ” Gromek continued. “But then this other friend of mine says, ‘If I was in Steve’s shoes and Doby did what he did, I would have kissed him.’ ”

“Some of his friends really reacted negatively,” son Greg Gromek told the Guardian in 2016. “They said things that were sort of shocking to him. What bothered him was that these were his friends. He kept thinking, ‘What kind of friend are you to say these things?’ He even got death threats. That’s what was really shocking.”

On the other hand, some Black Americans found the photo inspiring.

“That picture of Gromek and Doby has unmistakable flesh and blood cheeks pressed close together, brawny arms tightly clasped, equally wide grins,” Marjorie McKenzie wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black newspaper, as recounted by the Times. “The chief message of the Doby-Gromek picture is acceptance.”

A trying rookie season

The Indians signed Doby in July 1947. Unlike Robinson, Doby came straight from the Negro Leagues, without any preparation in the minor league system. He got a cold shoulder when Cleveland’s player-manager, Lou Boudreau, introduced him to his new teammates, as he told the (Newark) Star-Ledger’s Jerry Izenberg.

“I walked down that line and stuck out my hand, and very few hands came back in return,” recalled Doby, who died in 2003. “Most of the ones that did were cold-fish handshakes, along with a look that said, ‘You don’t belong here.’

“Now, I couldn’t believe how this was. I put on my uniform, and I went out on the field to warm up, but nobody wanted to warm up with me. I had never been so alone in my life. I stood there alone in front of the dugout for five minutes. Then Joe Gordon, the second baseman who would become my friend, came up to me and asked, ‘Hey, rookie, you gonna just stand there, or do you want to throw a little?’ I will never forget that man.”

11 weeks after Jackie Robinson’s debut, Larry Doby arrived

Less than a month into his big league career, the Indians came to Washington to play the Senators (also known as the Nationals), and some local fans used the occasion to pressure their home team to integrate. “Cleveland has a colored ball player — why not Washington?” one placard read. “Brooklyn signed a Negro player — why don’t the Nats?”

Doby saw the signs when he got out of a cab and told Gordon, his closest friend on the team, “Jeez, Joe, I don’t want to be a symbol — I just want to be a big league player,” according to Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich. The Senators averaged more than 16,000 in attendance for the three-game series — compared with their average crowd of just over 11,000. But the local pressure campaign didn’t work — Washington would be one of the last teams to sign a Black player, in 1954. (Before Doby joined the Indians, the Senators passed up an opportunity to sign him.)

Doby hit just .156 in 32 at-bats his first season, mostly as a pinch hitter, and there was some doubt as to whether he would return in 1948. The Indians brought in Tris Speaker, the Hall of Fame outfielder and former Cleveland manager, to tutor Doby as he transitioned from second base to center field. On the surface, this move seemed sure to add more stress on the lonely young player. Speaker, who was from Hubbard, Tex., had allegedly once been a member of the Ku Klux Klan and referred to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression.”

Yet the two got along well.

“In another year or two he could be the best player in this league,” Speaker told Povich early in Doby’s career. “I’ve never seen a young ballplayer with such a high potential. I get a personal pleasure out of working with a kid who can do so many things so well. I used to dream of that kind of rookie when I was managing the Indians.”

The 1948 Indians won the American League pennant and the World Series. Larry Doby is the fourth from the left in the top row, Steve Gromek is third from the left in the middle row. (AP)
‘The joy just takes over’

Doby hit his stride in 1948, batting .301 with a team-high nine triples to help the Indians dethrone the New York Yankees for the AL pennant — Cleveland’s first since 1920, when Speaker was player-manager. In July 1948, Doby finally had a Black teammate when Indians owner Bill Veeck signed legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.

While baseball was slowly shedding its Jim Crow past, Southern politicians were working to preserve Jim Crow policies in their states. The same month that Paige joined Cleveland, Southern segregationist Democrats bolted from the party at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, furious at the party’s bold civil rights platform, and put forth Strom Thurmond as their “Dixiecrat” nominee. Earlier that year, President Harry S. Truman had hastened the party’s rupture byproposing a set of far-reaching civil rights measures.

Baseball’s first plan for Negro League stars: A separate Hall of Fame wing

On July 15, the day after the dramatic party breakup, Doby and the Indians came to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park for a key matchup, clinging to a half-game lead over the second-place Philadelphia Athletics. The Indians swept the doubleheader, with Doby going 3 for 10 with a double and a home run. Gromek pitched a four-hitter in the opener, and Paige won his first major league game in the nightcap.

Paige would be a solid contributor that season, going 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. But it was Doby who helped carry the team to the pennant. As Boudreau said in the stretch drive of September: “Without Doby, we would not be fighting for the pennant. We probably would have been in fourth place.”

Cleveland finished in a tie for first place with the Boston Red Sox (there were no divisions back then), so they met for a winner-take-all game at Fenway Park on Oct. 4 to decide the pennant. A Red Sox victory would have led to an all-Boston World Series. But the Indians thrashed those Beantown dreams with an 8-3 victory. Doby hit a pair of doubles. For the second straight year, an integrated team went to the World Series, following the Brooklyn Dodgers’ National League pennant in 1947.

After his 1948 World Series heroics, Doby, a future Hall of Famer, would play another 11 seasons. A seven-time MLB all-star, his best year was probably 1950, when he hit .326 with 25 homers and 102 RBI while leading the AL with a .442 on-base percentage and slugging .545. When the Indians won another pennant in 1954, Doby led the AL in home runs and RBI and finished second in the MVP vote to Yankees catcher Yogi Berra.

In 1978, Veeck, then the owner of the Chicago White Sox, named Doby his manager — making him, coincidentally, also the majors’ second Black manager, following Frank Robinson. At the time, Doby reflected on the 30-year-old photo, but this time he put himself in Gromek’s shoes.

“I don’t know what he thought later that night when he went home,” Doby told the Chicago Tribune, “but when you win, color sort of disappears because the joy in you comes out. At that particular moment, I don’t think you have any prejudice even if it’s in you. The joy just takes over.”

Harold Burton: From Cleveland Mayor to Supreme Court Justice: Lecture by Joe Blake, October, 2022

Harold Burton: From Cleveland Mayor to Supreme Court Justice
Lecture by historian Joe Blake, October, 2022

Shaker resident Harold H. Burton was Mayor of Cleveland, U.S. Senator and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. His father Alfred accompanied Peary to the North Pole and his sister was the children’s author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton.

Historian Joe Blake explores Burton’s political career and his legacy, including Burton’s tenure as a Republican Mayor during the New Deal, and his Supreme Court appointment just as the Court began to reexamine judicial support for segregation.
Cosponsored by Shaker Public Library and Shaker Historical Society.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland celebrating 100th anniversary, Thursday August 10, 2023


John Kuntz,
A look inside the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, August 8, 2023
Allison Sutkowy, Marketing Supervisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, explains the details and history of the original vault built by York Safe & Lock Company from York, Pennsylvania

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland celebrating 100th anniversary (photos from exclusive tour), Thursday August 10, 2023
The link is here

Ohio’s State Issue 1 has failed, Weds August 9, 2023

Ohio’s State Issue 1 has failed, Weds August 9, 2023


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio’s State Issue 1 has failed as voters rejected Republican lawmakers’ attempt to make it harder for the public to propose and approve changes to the state constitution.
The link is here

What Happened When Violence Broke Out on Cleveland’s East Side 50 Years Ago? From Smithsonian Magazine

Fire fighters attempt to douse a smoldering building on Superior following the shootout in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland on July 23, 1968. Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University

What Happened When Violence Broke Out on Cleveland’s East Side 50 Years Ago?
In the summer of 1968, the neighborhood of Glenville erupted in “urban warfare,” leaving seven dead and heightening police-community tensions
by Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian Magazine, July 24, 2018

The link is here

Turning Cleveland into a freshwater capital by Brent Larkin July 23, 2023

Burke Lakefront Airport, pictured from the air at the 2015 Cleveland National Air Show, is one of the city’s impediments to full use of its lakefront. With intensified lakefront planning both by the city and county, that could change. (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer) The Plain Dealer

Opinion by Brent Larkin, The Plain Dealer, July 23, 2023
Turning Cleveland into a freshwater capital
The failure to provide meaningful access to and to build an economy around all that freshwater has been one of this community’s longest-running failures.

Now that may be changing — in a major way.

The link is here

Teaching Cleveland Digital