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Bruce Katz tells University Circle -- density, transit will attract private-side investment

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/10/14 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

When last here (at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History) Bruce Katz offered a glimpse of why he thinks Cleveland is poised for regeneration through an urban, placemaking strategy dubbed “Innovation Districts.”

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Last week at the University Circle, Inc. (UCI) annual meeting, the Vice President of the Brookings Institution’s Metro Policy Program repeated a call for Northeast Ohio to build on its legacy of innovation and urban places. University Circle will appeal to start-up companies and the Millennial work force who prefer walkable urbanism over suburban sprawl, he said.

UCI President Chris Ronayne teed it up with a look at the inventors who built the 20th century Cleveland economy. When Katz took over, it looked like it would be a seamless commercial for the Circle and Cleveland’s recent public investment in the Euclid Corridor. The non-profit developer and Case is turning a corner under Ronayne's leadership—it started by supplying the land that was surface parking lots and underperforming buildings like The Triangle to developers the Coral Group and MRN who built the mixed-use Uptown development.

Developer, Wes Finch, was recognized for the Circle's latest infill development, Upper Chester. The mixed-use, 177 upscale residential units and 23,000 sq. ft. of retail is nearing completion at Chester and E. 105th Street, across from where the Cleveland Clinic plans to build its medical school campus.

“Wes recognized in selling off a lot of parking land that we would lose parking, so he created a $4 million challenge grant to us,” said UCI Board Chair, William R. Seelbach.

“We’re developers,” said Finch whose company, The Finch Group, also converted Park Lane Villa at E. 105 from a HUD property into high-end apartments in 2005. “We go where the action is.”

Ronayne said their goal is to build 1,000 high-end housing units in University Circle. There are 326 units today; after the two phases of Upper Chester, housing units will reach 500.

Now that UCI has stimulated the residential market, Katz said its challenge is to become a world-class “innovation district” by attracting and retaining start-up companies who want to work close to each other and anchor institutions like Case and the Clinic.

“Firms are collapsing back around anchor institutions,” said Katz, who was selling his service of dashboarding success indicators like how many small and large firms in creative fields locate near anchors.

Katz said Brookings mapped out the 72,000 jobs in University City in Philadelphia which he says is a model for University Circle. Katz insists that private research institutes and start-up tech firms want co-working spaces that are within walking distance of each other and bars and restaurants.

Ronayne pointed to UCI’s work on a transportation demand management study. The goal is a district “where anything you need is within a 20 minute walk. The key is density, diversity and connectivity.”

The first half of the study pointed to more shared mobility options and less parking. Ronayne said UCI is already adopting some of recommendations. He announced that UCI inked a deal with Zip Car to bring four more car share cars (Enterprise also offers three carshare cars) in University Circle.

University Circle is hoping its residential pipeline and investments in making a neighborhood will help it turn the corner on attracting private investment. Its development plan for the parking lot on Mayfield Road near E. 117th includes an office component which was pushed to phase two because it didn’t attract a tenant. How its anchor institutions get involved in creating vibrant, urban places with lots of transit access will determine success.

“The vast majority of these places don’t do 9-to-5 jobs,” Katz said. “After 50 years of sprawl, innovation districts are coming back.”

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