Organizations working to reimagine Shaker Square in Cleveland presented four potential concepts for the east side neighborhood hub during three recent public meetings. Reactions from stakeholders were mixed during a Feb. 20 meeting – particularly with regard to the idea of closing part of Shaker Boulevard, which runs through the square.
The four proposals were named Promenade, Forest Crossing, Shaker Park and Community Commons. Two of the ideas, Shaker Park and Community Commons, would result in the permanent closure of part of Shaker Boulevard to automobile traffic to create a unified public green space in the center.
The Promenade concept would, among other things, replace head-in parking around the square with parallel parking with the intent of creating more open spaces for pedestrians around the edge of the square. The Forest Crossing concept would create a multi-use trail to connect South Moreland Boulevard to North Moreland Boulevard.
Designers from local nonprofits LAND Studio and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress shared some of the history around the 90-year-old Shaker Square before presenting possible redesigns for the public land inside the square. The proposals were designed with consultants from national architecture firm Hargreaves Associates and with the blessing of square owner The Coral Co., whose president is Peter Rubin.
During the afternoon public meeting Feb. 20 at Shaker Heights Main Library, the most vocal of the approximately 80 attendees spoke out against the potential closure of Shaker Boulevard. Among them was Shaker Heights resident Mark Maresky, who also was critical of the presentation and questioned the project’s priorities.
“I think what was confusing about the presentation was the relationship between this group and the owners and developers of (Shaker Square),” he said. “So, clearly people see the need for the whole economic development of Shaker Square and the surrounding area, but I believe, now that I understand it, that this group is only focused on the public spaces in the square. And it’s needed – it’s critical and it’s wonderful – but it’s only part of the problem.
“Unless you can get the business owners to really invest in the business side of the square, then yeah, it will be nice and may be a nice public space, but we don’t need another park in the area. We’ve got the lakes themselves, we can do more with those. We don’t need another place for kids to play, we need economic development in Shaker Square.”
Patti Fine, also of Shaker Heights, said she’s concerned about the square’s image – but not in a cosmetic way.
“You have to have a beautiful, safe space – and then the little boutiques will come, then the art spaces will come,” she said. “Right now, people are afraid to go there. I have friends from the west side, they want to come out here and they’re warning me, ‘Don’t walk around the (area).’ I want that image to change. So, I don’t think you build the retail first, they’ve already tried that. You build the safe, beautiful environment first.”
The organizers were unfazed by both the response and the passion of the community.
“I certainly wasn’t surprised by the response,” said Mary Lydecker, a principal at Hargreaves Associates. “We just reiterated what we’ve said throughout this process, that this is an option. There’s no apathy related to this, and for us in the planning principles, that’s excellent. (These meetings) are to show a range of options and help people understand which pieces of each is achieving the vision they think is best.”
Wayne A. Mortensen, director of design and development at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, agreed, adding they had expected a “passionate” response from the community.
“We’re thrilled that a public space on the east side of Cleveland has such a vested group of interested stakeholders,” he said. “It really portends well for the future. A lot of people get caught up in the four strategies, but I think it’s important to realize – it’s critical – that what happens inside the square is just as important as, and no less or more important than, what happens outside the square, how the neighborhoods are connected to the square and how the parking lots allow people to get a sense of possession and calm before they enter the square.
“So, if anything is kind of misunderstood right now, it’s that there’s more focus on the interior (of the square right now), but it’s really a neighborhood strategy.”
Fine echoed Mortensen’s sentiments after the meeting and advocated patience.
“I think people need to stay calm and stay open,” she said. “I think there’s some good ideas here. I think they need to wait and hear the traffic studies … that seems to be the main thing people are concerned about, if they’re going to shut down (Shaker Boulevard). So, let’s wait and see. Let’s get more information.”
The designers plan to use public feedback to further refine the concepts.
In addition to the public meeting at the library, meetings were held Feb. 20 at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church and Feb. 21 at the North Union Farmers Market in Shaker Square, both in Cleveland. Also, a website – thisisshsq.com – was set up to solicit feedback.
The next set of public meetings is scheduled for April 24-25, when organizers intend to present narrowed-down concepts based on online feedback and comments from the February meetings. Designers could mix and match ideas to create a new vision for the square – or use completely different ideas, if community feedback dictates it.
Locations for the April meetings have yet to be determined. Organizers then plan to return in June with a finalized proposal.
Once the group returns, Maresky hopes they bring a traffic study with them.
“I would have liked to see a vehicular study done first before we have this conversation,” he said. “What’s the sense of talking about shutting down Shaker Boulevard unless you really understand the traffic patterns and how they’re going to be affected? Can you realistically route traffic around the square without interrupting people’s commutes and everything else? That should have been done, I think, before the meeting. What do you expect from me to make this decision?”
Though changes to the shared common space in Shaker Square could affect the businesses around it, at this time there are no plans to directly alter the retail spaces. Eventually, the shared common space in the center of the square could be turned over to a nonprofit or public entity.
The Coral Co.’s Rubin confirmed the company expects to transfer the land at some point in this process.
“We’ve owned the square since 2004,” Rubin told the Cleveland Jewish News. “Throughout our (tenure) as an owner, we have continually learned that when you own Shaker Square, you’re really just a steward. So, this is a welcome effort, and we agreed that we would participate, but not hold any approval rights. We’ll let the progress take its natural course.
Rubin, a Cleveland Heights resident, said The Coral Co. planned to donate the shared space in the center “when the time is ready to move forward” and that any donated land would not include the buildings around Shaker Square or the private parking lots in the rear of the property.
He said he’s stopped in to each of the three meetings and was pleased with how many people were participating. He told the CJN when he purchased Shaker Square in 2004, it was about 30 percent leased. Today, he said it’s 100 percent leased.
Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson provided the following statement to the CJN: “The stated outcomes of the Shaker Square planning effort are to enhance a significant public space and better connect Shaker Square with adjoining neighborhoods. Buckeye-Woodhill is one of the target areas in my Neighborhood Transformation Initiative and the future of this area is important.”