Berry’s comments were made in a gathering of those who have more than just a passing interest in the area’s future. We speak of the membership of MainStreet Cleveland, a collective of businesses and organizations that believe so strongly in downtown that they have committed their livelihoods — and their lives — to the longstanding commercial and historic district.
The economic development professional’s words came at an appropriate time — as community buzz begins to mount following the deliberate distribution of information, and apparent misinformation, about how the city of Cleveland hopes to pursue a rehab of the area once Whirlpool has vacated the century-old manufacturing site. Tea Party of Bradley County representatives have made it their purpose to disseminate what municipal leaders believe is misleading propaganda.
Few can question the tea party’s right to promote the group’s political agenda, one component of which focuses on individual property rights. But the organization’s stated opposition to extremely preliminary plans for redeveloping the city’s south side — a stance apparently based on future costs, how it could affect area homeowners and businesses, and other concerns — is setting the stage for yet another collision with strategic development.
The day after Berry updated downtown business leaders on the status of the work of the Southside Redevelopment Task Force, the tea party and the Liberty Coalition hosted a public forum at the Cleveland Bradley Public Library to offer their views about any future revitalization of the city’s southern edge.
Their message remained as forceful as ever by pointing to concerns that municipal planners and out-of-town consultants are devising a long-term plan that could lead to the leveling of as many as 300 private properties, some of which could be done potentially through eminent domain.
To his credit, Cleveland City Councilman Bill Estes representing the 2nd District, accepted the tea party’s invitation to attend the forum. He was the only Council member to do so and he made it clear his voice was only one opinion, that he did not speak for the mayor or the full Council.
However, for those who were listening, his words should have spoken volumes. Estes explained the use of an outside consultant. He addressed the need for out-of-town assistance regarding the 100-year-old manufacturing complex. And he stressed the need for funding to make these studies possible.
These were his words, as quoted in our coverage in last Wednesday’s edition, “These consultants (McBride, Dale and Clarion Associates) are helping us put together a grant application for a quarter of a million dollars. We can’t do anything to Whirlpool (the former site which is still in use by the company) without testing the soil, without seeing what’s there, what can and can’t be developed. The EPA will not let us do anything to clean it up or move a piece of it until we know what’s underground. These consultants are specialized in helping us get federal dollars.”
Like Berry’s comments to MainStreet Cleveland, Estes agreed open community discussion is best. Much already has been held. More will, and should be, coming.
With this in mind, we would encourage the tea party and residents of the city’s south side, to remain involved in the planning process but to drop such divisive shields as those raised by attitudes of suspicion, combativeness and distrust. We would suggest approaching current, and future, planning with more a mindset of partnership.
Nowhere is it written, at least that we are aware, that professional planners and private property owners must always stand along opposite sides of the fence. A little straddling can be good for community health.
Total agreement by all sides is probably asking too much in this initiative or any future planning. But when minds are open, personal agendas are checked at the door and accurate information is shared, a satisfactory resolution for most is far more likely.
Our city’s growing pains are real.
But dialogue and a spirit of cooperation can heal any wound.