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Cleveland's Uptown, a transformative, transit-oriented development

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/06/12 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

Great urban places are often magnets for arts, culture, innovation and, of course, residents. University Circle continues to build off its strengths as Cleveland's eds and meds district, and home to world-renowned arts institutions. In January 2012 Forbes magazine called University Circle one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the country.

The concentration of great architecture and the hospitals' building boom set the stage around the Circle for private development to occur, particularly on the periphery where surface parking has thwarted denser development for decades. A sign of a healthy urban district is the clamor to convert surface parking lots into mixed-use buildings. Arguably one of the greatest urban infill developments anywhere in the country right now is the Uptown district where two major mixed use buildings are transforming surface parking on Euclid Avenue, the front door to University Circle, into a vibrant, walkable district. In November, 2011 the New York Times wrote a glowing article entitled, "Cleveland Turns Uptown into new Dowtown."

What makes this all interesting is the way the development paradigm is turned on its head – anchored by Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland's $27 million gleaming jewel – not a retail chain. Uptown is promoting good urbanism – buildings address the street with front doors leading on to new sidewalks, it introduces important retail uses (a grocery store) at the ground level, and replaces an underperforming 1970s era strip center. Its new pedestrian only alley will offer a more intimate experience where visitors can enjoy a mix of local and national retail and outdoor cafes (building off the success of E. 4th Street downtown, another indicator of a market for new urbanism in Cleveland).

The first phase is nearly complete, and is catalyzing even more development. Non-profit developer University Circle, Inc. will turn the corner on Uptown bringing a $100 million mixed-use development on a large surface lot to Mayfield Road between E. 117th and Circle Drive. A developer has been selected, and reports are surfacing that the initial plans are expanding from four to 12 stories to include luxury apartments, and that national tech companies possibly to include Google, Intel and Oracle are interested in opening small offices here to expand into medical imaging and related fields that can leverage the massive healthcare presence a short walk, bike or ride on transit.

It's hard to imagine the plan coming together without the stability of the institutions here, but they are also the greatest beneficiaries of building a neighborhood where residential population is expected to grow. From an environmental perspective, Uptown could entice more employees of the hospitals and university to live within walking distance of work. University Hospital and Case have an incentive to encourage this with their chronic shortage of parking and long traffic jams at rush hour. Arguably, high end condos and apartments have been a missing piece in University Circle. Converting surface lots makes sense for this purpose, and much needed improvements to pedestrian flow from University Circle to Little Italy and connections to a new $18 million Red Line Rapid station to be built next year will help connect it to downtown and surrounding areas.

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