We proved it to the world. Cleveland can handle one of the largest events with rustbelt revival style, grace and seamless execution. Preparing to host the Republican National Convention meant revamping infrastructure, building accommodations from the ground up and wiping the grit off of “old downtown” to reveal a character-filled, amenities-rich city center that could serve as a successful venue. Actually holding the event honed our expertise as the ultimate concierge for thousands of travelers.
We demonstrated that Cleveland can do that level of planning and we are in a new era for the hospitality community here,” says Joe Roman, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.
Hotels, restaurants, housing and other businesses that have populated downtown in the last several years contribute to a vibrant place for young professionals and companies. “If you want to attract top talent, you need those kinds of [urban] housing options connected to great transportation,” Roman says.
The infrastructural investments throughout Northeast Ohio tell a story of a comeback city.
The region is seeing unprecedented growth in tourism and jobs, with more than $3.5 billion in new visitor-related development completed or underway in Cuyahoga County and more than $4.6 billion throughout Northeast Ohio, according to a Destination Cleveland report.
For business owners, “The investment in this region has helped propel Cleveland's reputation as a visitor destination and people are definitely starting to take notice," says Jennifer Kramer, senior communication manager for Destination Cleveland. "In addition to our amazing culinary scene, hotels and world-class attractions, the businesses that are moving downtown offer our visitors wonderful retail options."
Kramer cites two anchors that relocated downtown this year—Geiger’s and Heinen’s.
Seeing the city rise up is inviting—and inspiring.
Vince Salvino, president, CodeRed LLC, has lived downtown for three years and located his business there in early 2016. “We’re right on Public Square, and the revamping of that area has had a direct impact on us,” he relates. “It used to be that people didn’t want to come downtown to meet, but now it’s a draw. It’s a selling point—‘Why don’t you come down here for our next meeting and check out what’s going on at Public Square.’”
Surrounding development has resulted in amenities that make living and working downtown easier, Salvino adds. “As a small business owner, I save a lot of time by living and working downtown. I can walk and get what I need without leaving—all the essentials are here.”
Michael Stanek, owner of Cleveland Cycle Tours, spends hours weekly touring the neighborhoods, specifically Tremont and Ohio City, where redevelopment began sooner than downtown. He has watched these pockets evolve and, today, reach a point of maturity where they are true, destination districts. Now he’s looking forward to connecting the dots—development that will “pave the way” between the city’s neighborhoods.
Roman refers to “gap filling projects” in downtown’s city center such as redeveloping historic buildings like the 925 Euclid Building, formerly Huntington Bank.
“There is potential for new mixed-use development in the Warehouse District where there are surface parking lots,” Roman says. “And there is new housing potential at Playhouse Square.”
Perhaps the ultimate gap filler will be the completion of a pedestrian bridge that Roman says is “unfinished business” from the RNC, as re-visioning and rehabilitating Public Square took precedence. “That will provide an exciting way for people to get from our downtown business district to the lakefront,” he says. Seventy-five percent of the dollars for that bridge is committed, Roman says. And, every lakefront plan in the last 35 years shared one common feature: a pedestrian bridge to connect downtown and the lake. “We need to make sure that happens.”
Businesses naturally benefit from all of these efforts.
“The small business community is front and center,” Roman says, pointing specifically to the hospitality industry that has boomed in the last couple of years. “We have all of the amenities here now—including one of the finest convention centers in the country—and a track record for handling very big events. So small business needs to be a part of that.”
Here are some key downtown development projects both completed and in progress. Each contributes to a strong economic development picture downtown—a boon for businesses.
A Public Square Redesign
The $50 million project to renovate Public Square changed the landscape of downtown’s central gathering space. It’s now ripe land for concerts, movies, farmers markets and other programming. A café, splash zone in summer and ice rink in winter are drawing people of all ages to come out and play downtown.
“This is where people are meant to come together to eat, talk, play and with the addition of the fountains and café, it has brought people back and Public Square is back to its original use,” Kramer says.
Salvino notes how Public Square has made meeting clients more of an “experience” because of CodeRed’s location front and center to the renovated gathering space. “The food trucks, café—the entire venue gives you a way of getting to know clients better,” he points out.
Plus, a vibrant city center draws talent to companies like CodeRed. And, the momentum of developments like Public Square are bringing more businesses into the core. Salvino says, “I know of at least four new businesses that I have encountered during the last year here.”
Plenty of Room and Board
The hotel scene has gone from basic to above-and-beyond in Cleveland, a byproduct of making room for RNC guests and accommodating a growing tourist population. In 2014, 16.9 million visitors traveled to Cuyahoga County, according to Destination Cleveland.
Hotel development included adding The Metropolitan Hotel at The 9, The Westin Cleveland Downtown and Aloft Hotel Cleveland Downtown. Additional development occurred at The Schofield Hotel, Drury Plaza Hotel and Hilton Cleveland with the $260 million, 600-room convention center.
“The landscape downtown was really developing during the last four to five years before the RNC was on our docket,” Kramer points out. “Before, a lot of organizations had overlooked Cleveland because we did not have a convention center or the hotels to meet attendees' needs.”
Hospitality is booming downtown, Roman affirms. “And the hospitality industry is really driven by entrepreneurs and small businesses,” he says of restaurants and related amenities for visitors.
Reviving The Flats
The Flats has experienced ups and downs over the years, Stanek acknowledges. “It has changed significantly and is definitely in an ‘up’ now,” he says. And, there are no signs of stopping.
Specifically, The Flats East Bank Project Phase II rejuvenation brought new restaurants, entertainment and a 1,200 square-foot riverfront boardwalk. Additions include Punch Bowl Social, FWD Day & Night Club, and Zack Bruell’s Alley Cat among others.
Meanwhile, development continues on the West Bank, Kramer says. “Nautica continues to thrive,” she notes. Plans are “in the works” for more revitalization on the river’s western waterfront.
Stanek’s business will pursue adding cycle tour routes in The Flats. “We’d love to be part of everything that is going on down there,” he says, relating how a growing downtown means potential expansion for his small business.
Developing Cleveland’s Lakefront
A joint venture between Cumberland Real Estate Development and Trammel Crow Company includes a strategy for the Cleveland Lakefront Development at a 20-plus acre site around North Coast Harbor north of Browns Stadium. Plans for a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood will boost downtown’s residential portfolio by more than 1,000 apartments—along with 80,000 square feet of office and 50,000 square feet of retail space.
“We need to show that the market along the lakefront is strong, and that is what these projects [The Flats and Cleveland Lakefront Development] are starting to do,” Roman says.
Stanek says the Lakefront Development will “bring a neighborhood to downtown, which I something we have never had—with a school, shopping, residential space, parks, the whole bit.”
Connecting the Dots
Downtown is ripe for development and in many places, under construction. Guiding people to revitalized areas is critical for capitalizing on the investments and further driving demand downtown.
Destination Cleveland’s wayfinding and connectivity initiatives are designed to do just that. It began installing downtown’s new wayfinding system in November 2014 and completed it in time for the RNC.. Those consist of 50 large pedestrian wayfinding signs, such as “heads-up” mapping to draw attention to attractions and landmarks. Plus, a five-minute walking radius prompts walkers to wander, discover and learn.
Signage is helping people find their ways to the exciting new development. Kramer says, “All of this helps to enhance the visitor and resident experience.”
With more to see and do downtown, businesses of all sizes are creating “homes” downtown and connecting the dots to each other, Salvino relates. He says, “As a small business owner downtown, the physical proximity to people who are in the same building, across the street or next door creates opportunities to do business together.”