This past March, the Cleveland Greater Partnership held its annual meeting to discuss issues the economic development organization has been working on the past year as well as new initiatives it is looking to support in the city. Among the issues discussed, the biggest focal points were United Airlines’ hub at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and plans for developing Cleveland’s lakefront.
“Today, we see great things happening all around us,” says Christopher Connor, GCP chairman and chairman and CEO of The Sherwin Williams Co. “There is an absolute palpable energy and momentum in our region and I’m absolutely convinced that we are standing on the cusp of great decades to come. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work. This work requires much heavy lifting, but the rewards can best be described as transformational and truly game-changing.”
One of the most important issues expressed by GCP members and others in the community has been protecting Cleveland’s United hub at Hopkins International Airport. As one of about 20 cities in the country with hub service, Cleveland offers more than 70 nonstop destinations, nearly 250 daily departures and access to single-stop international travel.
“The airport and the hub provide more than $4 billion of economic activity to our region on an annual basis,” says former GCP Chairman William Christopher. “The hub is absolutely critical to retaining, growing, and attracting businesses to the region, but the dynamics of industry consolidation and profitability across the industry have put and continue to put pressure on the hub.”
Maintaining a hub in the region is at the top of GCP’s priority list. As a result, a task force has been created to work with the mayor and Director Ricky Smith to make sure the hub doesn’t leave Cleveland.
“The task force has … five major objectives: the first being to increase the size of the pod — the more people who travel out of Cleveland the more opportunity to have traffic for United,” Christopher says. “The second one is to make sure that United has profit. No. 3 is improving the cost effectiveness of the Cleveland hub. No. 4 is to provide advocacy on support of key United and Cleveland hub issues. No. 5 is to continue promoting our hub in other key swing markets.”
Since the task force was started, Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Continental Holdings Inc., has visited Cleveland three times to see what progress has been made.
“If I contrast how Jeff’s engagement with us was at that first meeting … to how he was at this last meeting, which was in October of this last year, the change has been dramatic,” he says. “We sold Jeff on the fact that we understand this, are willing to fight for it, and have strong fundamentals that are going to influence the size of the market here and their opportunity and ability to make money. Principally, that’s been around $9 billion of investment that’s going into the community. To be able to get Jeff to sit down with us for an hour now three times almost every six months tells you that he’s absolutely interested in making this a success.”
During this year’s meeting, William Christopher passed the chairman duties onto incoming chairman, Christopher Connor, who discussed one of the biggest game-changers the GCP is looking to support — further development of Cleveland’s lakefront.
“For years Cleveland has been shaped by the city’s location along the shores of Lake Erie, from our very first settlers to investments that are under way today,” Connor says. “Despite the historical utilization of this great natural aspect, we still have a disconnect, both physically and psychologically between our city and our waterfront, particularly along the downtown shoreline.”
The city’s latest plan utilizes about 90 acres between the west side of Cleveland Browns Stadium and the western end of Burke Lakefront Airport for potential development. The proposal places offices, residential, retail, dining and an entertainment component in order to enhance existing investments in the Rock Hall, the Science Center and the stadium.
“To address the connectivity issues that we have between the waterfront and downtown, the Group Planning Commission has advanced a plan that provides accessibility through the construction of an iconic pedestrian bridge connecting our mall to the harbor and enhancements to East Ninth Street from the northern edge of downtown to Voinovich Park and the provision of additional parking,” he says. “The Greater Cleveland Partnership will play our role both along Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. As part of our strategic planning process in 2011, waterfront development was identified as one of GCP’s priority initiatives by our board of directors.”
How to reach: The Greater Cleveland Partnership, (216) 621-3300 or www.gcpartnership.com