Ambitious downtown transformation will be the focus of new GPC director

Jeremy Paris has a strong belief that recent efforts to transform downtown Cleveland — including an ambitious pedestrian bridge linking Lake Erie to the city’s core — will be a success.

“I believe that this is something that is happening,” says the newly appointed first executive director of the Group Plan Commission. “For years, we have seen plans and ideas and notions, and many of them have been very good. But the sort of collaborative nature of this, the city and county’s commitment, and that of civic partners makes this something that I really think is going to happen and transform Cleveland in the near term.”

Smart Business discussed the Group Plan Commission with Paris, 39, a Cleveland native who returned from Capitol Hill where he was counsel for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to take part in the revitalization of his hometown.

What is the Group Plan Commission?

It’s a collaborative body between the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and a group of important stakeholders in town — the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the LAND Studio — formed to deliver on priority projects to transform Cleveland’s signature public spaces downtown.

The Group Plan was originally created in 1903, and devised the way that downtown Cleveland looks in terms of neoclassical buildings — the City Hall, the county courthouse and The Mall. A few years ago Mayor Frank Jackson convened the Group Plan Commission, pulling together civic leaders to look at the problem — how do we update these public spaces?

What really drew me to this was that Cleveland has this wonderful tradition of civic engagement. What we are really seeing are all these different parts of that sector coming together to do this transformational process.

 

What are the priority projects?

1. The transformation and revitalization of Public Square. 2. Improvements to The Mall, the area that now forms the roof of the Convention Center as well as Malls A, B and C going south to north, heading toward the lake. 3. To build an access connector between The Mall and the lakefront, tying it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Science Center, new development and public access to the lakefront.

Completion date is expected to be the summer of 2016. More than $30 million in funding has been committed.

Are these projects in the design stage yet?

Our design process is still underway. It’s been a long period of public engagement on this. James Corner Field Operations will be the landscape architects for Public Square. JCFO designed The High Line in New York City, which transformed an old elevated railway into what is now New York’s second most visited tourist destination. The goals of redoing Public Square and transforming it are to have it act as a unified public place but also as one that can be used for public events like for the Cleveland Orchestra or Winterfest, but also for everyday use and for smaller events and activities.

 

What does it take to achieve all these partnerships?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say there has been an unusually broad level of public support for what we are doing. I think Clevelanders have a tremendous civic pride in terms of civic engagement. We have these incredible resources, from the Art Museum, the Orchestra, the Rock Hall, the things that we have really done a great job on, not just establishing but maintaining and improving them over time.

What we haven’t always done as well on are the connections between places. That is what our project is about. I think there is almost universal desire for this to happen — for us to create this connective tissue. What we want to try to do is channel that Cleveland impulse of supporting these great projects into how we look at public space. ●

 

How to reach: The Group Plan Commission, (216) 592-2434 or www.groupplan.org

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