Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Knocking down buildings would hurt downtown

First published: Monday, July 7, 2008

The Fort Orange Club is offering a proposal to demolish buildings to make way for a parking lot. It should be turned down for a number of reasons, including: the destruction of historic buildings, the elimination of street-level retail space but, mostly, because it is a very bad idea.

Several years ago, as the result of faulty directions, I had the misfortune of visiting the heart of downtown Cleveland at noon on a weekday. While you would expect that with tens of thousands of people working in the offices that surrounded me it would be mobbed; it wasn't.

It was deserted. I had to walk several blocks to find another human to get directions.

Let Cleveland be a lesson to us. The core of the problem was a complete lack of street-level retail. It is all office towers, and most of them have blank walls abutting the sidewalk -- for "security" reasons. There is no reason whatsoever to leave your office and go outside. You can't buy lunch, a snack or even a newspaper.

Once I got new directions and headed toward my destination, Playhouse Square, I noticed that as the number of shops on the street increased, the number of people on the street increased.
The Fort Orange Club is proposing to demolish a building that has the potential of housing several businesses, and replace it with a surface parking lot and a fence that would be landscaped. Parking lots do not draw people to our downtown, nor do fences.

If we want a vibrant downtown, then you must have places for people to go and that means spaces for retail businesses. If the Fort Orange Club wants to build a gym for its members and needs additional parking, then let it explore the creation of a parking garage, either above ground, or underground, but leave the streetscape alone.


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