How will the pieces come together for Lakewood’s new downtown?

By NICOLE HENNESSY

LAKEWOOD – After almost a year of sorting through seven proposals, Lakewood’s six-member Downtown Development Panel has chosen Carnegie Management & Development Corp. of Westlake to develop the six-acre site that city leaders see as way to create a downtown focal point.

The proposed $70 million project on Detroit Avenue between Belle and Marlowe avenues will be filled with retailers, apartments, offices and public spaces. Some see it as an extension of the city’s thriving downtown. Some see it as a much-needed focal point.

The Lakewood Hospital remains open, but will move into a $34 million emergency and outpatient Cleveland Clinic facility rising at the corner of Bell and Detroit avenues once it’s done.

“For decades, city planners in Lakewood recognized that the lack of a central civic space was a glaring omission in the original plan for the city,” Carnegie’s proposal states. “This Project finally adds that missing piece to the fabric of Lakewood by creating a sophisticated plaza that will provide the ‘town center’ experience specifically designed to facilitate culture and community life.”

The proposal includes idyllic images of a bustling block complete with colorful fountains and the stone arch salvaged from the hospital. Plans also call for the potential reuse the hospital’s  bricks and stones.

Now that the plan has been chosen, many see this as the beginning of what will surely be an arduous planning process; exciting, none-the-less, for a historic suburb that doesn’t get many opportunities for new development on this scale. So far, city officials have signaled that a mid-rise, six-story structure with about 200 residences is favored over a high-rise proposal double the size.

Though, analysis contained within the proposal acknowledges that there is a housing shortage in the area that continues to grow.

While the developer will acquire the land for free or for a minimal $1 fee, Mayor Michael Summers said, the investment will spur at least $1 million per year in property taxes, not to mention the income taxes from renters and workers that will be flowing into the city.

Lakewood City Council President Sam O’Leary, who served on the panel, said: “We’re just now entering the inflection point for the community to really weigh in as to what specifically they’d like to see with this project; what their concerns and priorities are.”

Council’s role will be to make sure residents, businesses and stakeholders are represented. Also, a term sheet still to be negotiated will be implemented to ensure the project best fits the city’s vision and needs.

The closing of the hospital and subsequent failed referendum vote to renegotiate the terms has been a volatile and emotional issue in the city. As has new development, in general, something O’Leary describes as both inevitable and positive.

“The reality is that Lakewood Hospital is closed and it’s not going to reopen, so I really look at this as a moment in which the community can rally around and get excited for the future and the next chapter of Lakewood,” he said. “The evolution of our community is a positive thing, and Lakewood has always been incredibly dynamic.”

Creating something in harmony with the neighborhoods around it while also making them better and more attractive to new residents are common themes in the development discussions. As is historic preservation, which, with projects like these often ends up reflected in the focus on historic landmarks unchanged by the new development that tends to sprawl.

One such landmark recognized in the proposal is the Curtis Block building at Marlowe and Detroit avenues — the only remaining of the original corner of Lakewood.

There is no rush to reach a final plan. Summers said that probably won’t happen for another year.

Though, some on council expressed concerns about the process when the proposal was introduced Oct. 2.

“Wouldn’t the next step be for us to either accept or reject that proposal?” Councilman Dan O’Malley asked. “I’m hearing tonight that the next step is to engage in agreement terms.”

O’Malley also stated that he was concerned that council had yet to view financial details redacted during negotiations, as well as the fact that there has been no official press release detailing the Carnegie proposal.

Summers pointed to an Oct. 1 Crain’s Cleveland Business article as a point of reference for the public, also stating that, “The development team understands that the proposal submitted up to this point is a place of beginning.”

He also gave notice that throughout the process, some sensitive negotiations may be handled in executive session rather than in public meetings.

Refuting O’Malley’s concern that council doesn’t have the opportunity to formally accept the proposal, Summers said the act of developing an agreement is, in itself, an acceptance of the plan council — and residents — will shape.  

“This is the clear choice for Lakewood,” O’Leary said of the proposal, standing behind the decisions that have been made so far.

Council’s Committee of the Whole is scheduled to discuss the Carnegie proposal at 6:30 p.m., next Saturday, Oct. 16, in the city’s auditorium, 12650 Detroit Ave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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