It shouldn’t take a visionary to appreciate the potential that the Downtown Revitalization Master Plan brings, not only to our Cleveland community but to Bradley County as a whole.
But it will require patience, and more important than patience is belief. And beyond belief lies buy-in.
Once there’s buy-in — as that familiar old adage reminds us — “… the sky’s the limit.”
Detractors of our downtown’s facelift — actually, transformation is more the word — will point to past revitalization initiatives that gained little steam or landed modest results.
But that was then. This is now.
Never before has our city witnessed the kind of movement that we’re seeing today. Obviously, we refer to the ongoing demolition of the old Whirlpool manufacturing site. The razing of time- and weather-worn old factories — first Plant 2, and now Plant 1 East and Plant 1 West, and eventually the Flat-Top Building — brings with it a potential of historic proportion.
Surely, the disappearance of these dilapidated structures comes at the cost of history. Our newspaper has documented this sentimental loss repeatedly on our front page, as well as the Opinion page. We will continue to do so until the final cracked concrete block has been hauled away.
But, like futuristic thinkers such as Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks and City Manager Joe Fivas, we see the potential that lies beyond the wall of dust and piles of brick that lie in the wake of the wrecking ball's thrust.
To change the face of a downtown — any downtown, not just ours — requires opportunity. Carting away the old, especially when it is deemed unusable, brings opportunity because it offers space. And space is the granddaddy of all needs when it comes to creating change that is relevant, inspiring and adds to a people’s quality of life.
Combined with modernizations of Cleveland’s existing downtown, the available acreage afforded by the demolition of the former Whirlpool site will open the door for land acquisitions and contract negotiations between the city, private developers and the civic-minded manufacturer that is footing the bill for clearing the way.
In total, Cleveland’s downtown revitalization is a work in progress. But it is one being taken seriously — as it needs to be — by stakeholders whose buy-in will be critical to the district’s evolution.
In an address to the membership of MainStreet Cleveland, Fivas assured his listeners the Downtown Revitalization Master Plan “… is right on schedule.” True, there’s little evidence of physical change to this point — other than the Whirlpool site demolition — but behind the scenes fact-finding negotiations are taking place, far removed from the curious ears and speculative eyes of the public.
Twenty-four hours later, Mayor Brooks — in his second iteration of the “State of the City” address — told Cleveland Rotarians more than one scenario is being debated for the Cleveland Summit’s future use.
Until now, the idea of returning the former Cherokee Hotel — built in 1929 and closed during the 1960s — to its lodging roots as a boutique hotel had been the dominant talk. In the Rotary address, Brooks disclosed two more ideas have emerged: converting the towering structure into private residences or even office space.
The thought is intriguing.
The renaissance of downtown Cleveland is a game-changer waiting to happen. Its first step is arguable. Like the chicken and the egg syndrome, which should come first? Business spaces? Residential spaces? Recreational spaces? Green spaces? The pedestrian-friendly road diet that will modernize Inman Street into something far more than a thru-way connector?
Our community watches. Though time is not our ally, patience must be our virtue.