Mr. Mayor and Councilman:
We, the undersigned, strongly encourage your administration and City Council to deny Forest City Enterprises’ request for a building permit to construct a skywalk between the Horseshoe Casino in the historic Higbee Building at Tower City and its parking garage. Further, we encourage you to take the necessary steps to follow in the National Register of Historic Places’ footsteps and declare Tower City a local landmark.
When voters approved the casino in 2009, they did so with a promise that Rock Gaming would mesh their enterprise into the existing fabric of Downtown Cleveland. Early signs indicated they would keep their promise, as they spent millions to restore the Higbee Building and insisted they would use surrounding venues for concerts and other entertainment.
But as indicated in a May 2011 Plain Dealer article by architectural critic Steven Litt, Rock Gaming drastically altered their intentions by revealing plans to demolish the historic Columbia Building for a parking garage and to construct a skywalk into the side of Tower City. This, more than a year after Ohio voters merely voted to legalize gambling. We did not vote to give Rock Gaming a mandate, and we especially did not approve a skywalk into Tower City.
Yet earlier this year, your administration with the support of the Councilman ignored the opinions of downtown residents, urban planners, preservationists, and architecture critics by demolishing the Columbia Building in favor of a valet center to serve the casino. Now you’re threatening to deface a national landmark building by constructing a skywalk into the side of Tower City. The Ohio Historical Preservation Office, Councilmen Matt Zone, Zack Reed, Jeff Johnson, and citizens of Cleveland understandably oppose the project.
Supporters look to Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Baltimore as examples of where skywalks work. To the contrary, Minneapolis is refusing to build any more skywalks over concerns of stymieing street life. Beth Elliot, Principal City Planner for the City of Minneapolis, told us they have not and will not build skywalks in their historic district or into any of their landmark buildings.
In Cincinnati and Baltimore, skywalks have been or are being dismantled.
“The way you help to build a vital center is to put people on the streets and to enable them to have connectivity on these streets,” city spokesperson Meg Olberding told UrbanCincy, referencing a report that said allowing pedestrians to bypass the street contributes to the perception that downtown is abandoned. The report called for expanding street-level pedestrian activity while also programming pedestrian activity on the street to create economic vibrancy.
“We are encouraging downtown workers and families to walk on our Baltimore streets…” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore said. Planners said the removal of the skywalk should reconnect pedestrians with the idea of walkability.
Over the course of this grassroots campaign, we have felt that the Councilman has refused to engage us on the issue of the skywalk, saying it’s best if we “agree to disagree.” Unfortunately for the increasing number of Clevelanders who are moving downtown, agreeing to disagree ends with the skywalk being built—unless your administration and City Council take an active role in preventing it.
OurCLE took the opportunity to invite Mr. Cimperman to a public discussion on the issue of the skywalk. We have yet to receive a response. We have also sent articles citing the above-mentioned quotes from other city leaders, but have yet to have an engaged, public conversation.
It’s become increasingly clear that the parties involved have counted on citizen apathy and lack of transparency to push through Rock Gaming’s agenda. A majority were unaware of the city’s decision to go against the Landmark Commission’s recommendation, allowing Forest City Enterprises’ attempts to build an unnecessary skywalk under the deceptive guise of economic development. However, economic development at its core is about products and productivity; jobs and tax bases are byproducts. Unfortunately, this skywalk does not benefit the productivity of the downtown neighborhood, nor does it create long-term jobs or a tax base.
Best case scenario, architects say we deface a historic monument – a symbol to our prosperity given to us by Cleveland development pioneers, the VanSweringen Brothers. Worst case scenario, we deface a historic monument, harm the growth of downtown businesses, and scare away the return migrants who have breathed new life into our urban core, and are trying to create a neighborhood where you can raise a family.
We urge you both, Mayor and Councilman, to recognize these signatures as the community's nomination of Tower City as a historic landmark, and for the Jackson administration and City Council to give their unanimous support for the measure. This will allow the Landmark Commission to have design review of the building, thus protecting our city's greatest architectural achievement from ever being marred by overzealous developers.