Chris Ronayne Interview, 10 November 2006

Chris Ronayne, President of University Circle Incorporated, once served as Cleveland's Planning Commissioner. In this 2006 interview, he extensively discusses the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project, detailing how it came about, how it will function, the groups integral to its success, and what he hopes it will accomplish. Ronayne describes his wish that the project - which connects University Circle and Downtown - will revitalize the area, reconnecting the two parts of the city and diffusing people throughout the intermediary corridor. The University Circle neighbohrood and its history are discussed and offered as models for future success. Ronayne also talks about Cleveland's development as a whole, placing the city's layout in historical context and offering his thoughts on planning decisions that could be made to improve the city's viability in the twenty-first century.

Interview Transcript

Transcription sponsored by Leonard & Betty Boesger

Nina Gibans [00:00:00] Another sound reading if I can just get you to say your name or the date.

Chris Ronayne [00:00:06] Chris Ronayne. November 9, 2006. 10th. I knew it.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:00:15] Okay. Nina, whenever you're ready.

Nina Gibans [00:00:17] And I'm Nina Gibans. And so we're working on talking to Chris about, Euclid Avenue, his background, and... Do you have your, what you need? Okay. So you're going to do most of the talking. I'm just going to...

Chris Ronayne [00:00:38] Sure.

Nina Gibans [00:00:38] Ask questions and...

Chris Ronayne [00:00:40] Do I put the mic in between us or do I just speak?

Nina Gibans [00:00:42] No. No, you're the main subject. I just do my interfering. All right. So you are now at University Circle, which is a prime place to be in terms of Euclid Avenue. Can't remember a time when Cleveland wasn't thinking about how to connect downtown Cleveland to University Circle. So let's start with how you got to there, which is a long trek, right?

Chris Ronayne [00:01:15] It has been a track from downtown to University Circle for me personally. I'm Chris Ronayne and president of University Circle, Inc. We are a development service and advocacy company that works in the better interest of forty world-class nonprofit institutions throughout University Circle. University Circle was so named in 1902 by Cleveland City Council, and it is the place where there is a confluence of the university in the name University Circle and the original traffic circle at 105th and Euclid Avenue, then Doan Brook. And at one point Euclid Avenue was actually called Buffalo Avenue. But it is a cross street between what is today 105th Street and Euclid Avenue itself, and was designed as a circle, literally a traffic circle, a transit circle, a trolley turnaround. So the name University Circle, again, was founded by Cleveland City Council in 1902 five miles from downtown and was always to be connected to the downtown by a transit system. In 1902, we were literally at the crossroads of new transit and new transportation systems. We were literally coming out of the horse-drawn carriage era into the trolley era and into the automotive era. So if you look back at pictures around the turn of the 20th century at that circle, you will see all of the above circulating around the circle itself. The Winton automobile was just coming on line, as was our trolley system. For fifty glorious years, the University Circle area was connected to downtown through a streetcar network that was one of the world's finest trolley systems connecting our two centers. Along that journey was the historic, famous Millionaires' Row. So picture yourself on a trolley moving from downtown to the Circle, past those glorious mansions of Millionaires' Row in that very, very glory era of Cleveland in the first fifty years of the 20th century. Sadly, in 1954, Cleveland made a regrettable decision to sell off many of those transit trolleys and sold them off to other fine cities like the City of Toronto. We probably regretted that decision the year we made it because for the next fifty years we worked tirelessly to reconnect the downtown center and the central business district and the University Center at University Circle by way of any transportation system we could. How I personally found my way out to University Circle was by way first of City Hall. I worked with the Cleveland City Hall team on the advancement of the Euclid Corridor Project with the Greater Regional Transit Authority, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. And basically what we are doing is taking a cue from our past, which is you should connect these two urban centers with a fine transit network between these two growth areas of our city. Downtown and University Circle. The place where I work today in University Circle is Cleveland's fastest-growing employment center. It is where the research economy and the experience economy come together. We have three centers of excellence in University Circle. It is the center of excellence in healthcare. Cleveland can be and should be a world-class, world headquarter city for healthcare. We are also a center of innovation in education and research, particularly as the medical school of Case Western [Reserve] University undergirds that biomedical economy that we are trying to build off of our healthcare acumen. But we also have the fine institutions of the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Music, making for three great universities out at University Circle. The last area of innovation is innovation in arts and culture. We're elated that the Museum of Contemporary Art is moving up the street to University Circle at Mayfield and Euclid to complement the capital expansion of the Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, the Botanical Garden, Western Reserve Historical Society, and fifteen arts and cultural institutions throughout University Circle. The renaissance for University Circle is right now at the turn of the 21st century.

Nina Gibans [00:05:35] Okay. I'm going to go back to two things. One, 1954. Is that when the subway proposals started coming? Okay. That's critical since we rejected that. Was it Albert Porter? Who was it?

Chris Ronayne [00:05:54] What happened is the city at the mid-point of the 20th century decided to disband their trolley system. There are various theories as to what advanced that notion of getting rid of our transit, but we, in any event, made the regrettable decision to sell off our trolley cars. We had a fine network, over 300 miles of trolley lines in the city of Cleveland, down Euclid Avenue, Saint Clair, Superior, Lorain, Dennison, Kinsman, all throughout the city we had a sophisticated network of trolleys. Those streetcars were sold off. There's still a collection here today of some of them that are held by the Gerald E. Brookins Trolley Museum, which is now down on the Cleveland harborfront. But the Brookins family collected a few of those before they were all sold off to the cities. Yes, various engineers and planners in the mid 20th century, about the year we made the decision to sell, the year after they began to conceive a subsurface system, a subway system, from downtown to University Circle, and that had its fits and starts. From a planning standpoint, it was an expensive proposition. And regrettably, again, the city of Cleveland at the midpoint of the 20th century was pouring out. It was pouring out post-World War Two. We were pouring out in population and we were pouring out in businesses and institutions that made up this fine city. We were sprawling. We were sprawling away from our downtown centers. We were sprawling away from our central spine, Euclid Avenue, those glorious mansions of yesteryear, many, many, many had been demolished by the turn of the mid-twentieth century. So what had happened is we had essentially divested of our urban center, making the subway proposition a very difficult proposition. What then happened is there was a discussion about an elevated transit system, a people mover downtown, if you will. That was another one that seemed to be too expensive from a cost and benefits analysis. The system actually was ultimately picked up by the city of Detroit, and we were back to the drawing board about how to connect University Circle and downtown Cleveland center. And we finally landed on a concept of a bus rapid transit system, which is a more flexible simulated transit, simulated rail system, because much of this project, as we know, you will board right here in the center and you may be standing here in the center of the street as if you are jumping on a rail system. But this is the way of the future. And in the 21st century, it's about flexible transit systems. So we went to the bus rapid transit system whereby you literally have a rubber tired rail system, rail on wheels, if you will, to and from these two urban centers. So the project itself had a beginning point of a subway system, and we ended up with this fine BRT system that is much more flexible, much more, much more cost manageable, and less burdensome from a infrastructure maintenance and upkeep standpoint. So we're excited about being at the cutting edge of transit technology here in Cleveland, Ohio, where we have been throughout periods of our history at the cutting edge of transportation technologies. We took this cue from other places around the world. Curitiba, Brazil, was one of our models that we looked to as a model from which to build this project. This is a Federal Transit Administration New Start pilot project, and we're glad that Cleveland once again is on the map as a leader in transportation as we go forward with this project.

Nina Gibans [00:09:31] I can hear the energy in here now. That's great. What about the businesses and the things that are... Well, it's in process. The mom and pops that are disappearing or what do you expect to happen?

Chris Ronayne [00:09:48] This is a restoration project true and tried. The Euclid Corridor Transportation Project is trying to help Cleveland bring back its central spine, its main street, its glory as the main street of Cleveland, Ohio. In so doing, we are working with the various neighborhood development corporations that make up this corridor from downtown to the Quadrangle–Cleveland State area to the Midtown area to the Uptown Area, University Circle, Fairfax, Hough, Midtown, Saint Clair, everybody that surrounds this area and into East Cleveland to talk about what really will happen in the way of real estate when this transit investment happens. One of the things we're working on is making this a true transit and pedestrian-friendly street. It is going to be a slower speed street for automobile vehicular passengers. It is going to prioritize transit and it's going to prioritize the pedestrian, and where the rubber literally meets the road there is in our zoning and how we're going to actually address the development at the curb sides. We are working on something called form-based zoning, which is to bring the forms of the building back up to the streets as they were in yesteryear Cleveland without large seas of surface parking, parking the landscape of Euclid Avenue, but bringing to the curbside buildings and bringing them at a scale minimum two, three stories, hopefully higher, higher density throughout the corridor. The concept here is to reshape the form of the street around the transit spine itself. We also have some innovative pieces of this project like the bike lanes. It's important to connect the students of Case Western [Reserve] University, Institute of Art, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland State University, and Tri-C with the library systems downtown, connecting campus to campus students with a wonderful bike lane opportunity here that also is a part of this corridor project. So we are in an era of multimodalism. We're not every trip has to begin and end in an automobile where trips can be more affordable, more efficient, and more fun when you're on transit or on a bike or on foot. And the idea here also, from a cost efficiency standpoint, is to beat the price of parking in Cleveland, Ohio, by promoting transit as a way to go. But the buildings will line up along the street because of the form-based progressive zoning that we are bringing back to, again, restore the character of this historic main street.

Nina Gibans [00:12:17] Great. How did you get into planning? How where do you come from?

Chris Ronayne [00:12:24] I was born in Chicago, Illinois. One of the other great transit communities in America. And I remember often, living with my folks in the center city of Chicago, the many trips we would take downtown and throughout the city by transit, by bus, by the L system, visiting the downtown shopping centers. And I remember coming to Cleveland as he still as a kid with my family. And my mother tells me that my first reaction to Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio, was what a place this is. What a place this is. And I've always been inspired by cities themselves, traveling in all of the major cities throughout the United States, to get ideas and feels about what really makes for good urban, sound urban planning. I've been inspired by the cities throughout Europe, had the good fortune to study over in Europe in Luxembourg and really took to cities. And clearly the American cities have been influenced by the European cities, and these are the places that our parents and grandparents built and these are the places that we have a choice in the 21st century to either reinvest in, protect what we've built, protect what our forefathers and mothers have built... Or abandon them. And I think in this era, we are making the choice as a community to come back to our urban centers for a variety of reasons. They're fun. They're culturally enriching. They're efficient. They're exciting. They're dynamic. This is not anyhow town out there, this is Cleveland, Ohio. So I went in after studying in business school and in Europe to my... Miami of Ohio was my undergraduate and also had the opportunity to study in Luxembourg at the Miami University Center in Luxembourg. And that's where I really first drew my strong allegiances to cities themselves. We enjoyed going to Berlin and going to Paris and going to Barcelona. And as literal weekend daytrippers to places like Rome and experiencing the glory and the dynamism of the European cities. Again, which Cleveland is much influenced by in its make up here today. I then had the opportunity to do my graduate schooling right here on Euclid Avenue at the wonderful Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. Learning from some of the deans of urban planning, Norman Krumholtz, Hunter Morrison, and others who have really made this town a planning-friendly town, any town that thinks about its assets and plans around them. I've had the good fortune of being their successor as a planning director in Cleveland working on this project with the GCRTA, but now working in the University Circle as president of University Circle Inc., where we think the next Cleveland renaissance is occurring. We were recently in the New York Times, and it's great to see other cities, New York, Chicago, wherever else, celebrate what's happening in Cleveland, Ohio. But they were celebrating this resurgence and the headline was Resurgence Cleveland. The resurgence that's happening is no less than $3 billion of new investment, complementing things like the Euclid Corridor with projects like the Martin Luther King Boulevard Restoration Project, the Opportunity Corridor, which will be a vehicular corridor running south of Euclid Corridor connecting Akron to University Circle vis a vis 77, 55th, and 105th. It's also, though, the tremendous buildout that's happening, 500 million in the cultural institutions as we speak. The Museum of Art, a $250 million third phase capital expansion. Museum of Natural History is now onto its capital expansion. The Botanical Gardens and Severance Hall, both recently having completed their capital campaigns. The Institute of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art. It goes on and on. This is the Renaissance period for Cleveland, and a substantial new growth area is in University Circle, where 40,000 workers are making their day commutes every day. Our goal, though, is to build 1,000 homes around the Greater University Circle area so that workers can live and work in the same place. And that will incent them to be on this Euclid Corridor transit line, because not every trip, again, has to be from garage to garage. There's more experience and some more fun that can happen when somebody else is doing the driving or you're doing the walking.

Nina Gibans [00:16:50] Great. Okay. So... You talked about Public Square being great, talked about the University Circle being great. Are there buildings along the way that should never come down?

Chris Ronayne [00:17:09] Oh, I think so. I think that block by block, there are some historic gems. If you start downtown, one of my favorite buildings is the grand Arcade, the grand Euclid Arcade, built in the, again, the turn of the 20th century, more than a hundred years ago, in Cleveland's glory of buildout, when we were building and keeping up with places like Paris with the things that we were building here. So I think that the grand Arcade is arguably one of Cleveland's true American gems, a place that not every urban center in America has, and it's something we ought to celebrate. I am fascinated by the buildout of East 4th Street downtown, the restoration of the former Cleveland Opera House in the form now of the Pickwick and Frolic entertainment venue, and the restoration of the former Woolworth drugstore, now the form of House of Blues. These are wonderful buildings that the entertainment venue owners, the promoters are saying make for great concert venues because of the sound architectural design that was a part of the buildout of these buildings 100 years ago. So those are some of my favorites in the lower Euclid Corridor area. As you come up to the financial district in downtown Cleveland, no one can dispute the grandeur of the Ameritrust, former Cleveland Trust, rotunda at Euclid in East 9th at the epicenter of our financial district. This is a Tiffany glass dome structure that needs refurbishment and should be open to all the world to see. There is a terrific new buildout happening in Midtown, starting with Cleveland State University, the efforts to make what has historically been more of a concrete environment into more of a true walking-friendly campus on Cleveland State's campus. It's exciting what they're doing with the buildings as they build out toward Chester and Euclid and the campus in between. It makes it a place where you want to live around, not just be a day commuter to the university itself as you head through the Midtown area. I think the Agora concert hall is not just architecturally a gem for Cleveland, but just the stories that come out of that place, the, you know, the place of so many of the world renowned performers have played there at the Cleveland Agora. That's something that we need to celebrate. We need to celebrate new, new investments in the corridor like Pierre's Ice Cream as you head further east in the Midtown neighborhood, that they made an investment to stay in the neighborhood and build out a 21st century facility. Same with the Bearings Corporation in Euclid Corridor, lower Midtown area. It's exciting to see new buildout happening. And as you get, of course, to the east Midtown area and into University Circle, the explosive growth of the hospitals at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital building out to Euclid, to the project itself, and building out a job future for Cleveland. There's 40,000 workers working in the general University Circle area. But building wise, of course, two of my favorites on Euclid Avenue in University Circle itself are the beautiful Museum of Art and Severance Hall at East Boulevard and on Euclid. It is stunning, that gateway that you walk into when you arrive either by transit or by any other means into the University Circle area, when you see and you feel as if you're in Paris or San Francisco or any of the other picturesque urbane environments of the world. But two of my favorites have to be Severance Hall and the Museum of Art, just because of the way that they frame along with the Fine Arts Garden and the lagoon, the very, very picturesque setting of the University Circle itself. And then to look over the landscape at some of the new construction like the Weatherhead Peter Lewis building. That's a completely different departure from the traditional progressive design of the twenties and is a new design that's creating a new conversation unto itself in University Circle. It's exciting what's happening throughout this five-mile corridor of Cleveland, Ohio, and you're starting to see the main street of Cleveland's historic Euclid Avenue coming back.

Nina Gibans [00:21:16] You've got a whole kiosk to yourself. I think. Those are those are very important thoughts that we have not had in such a summary form from others. And it's because of the overview that you have and supervisory view that you have had. Have there have been particularly high moments as far as public or private sector coming together on this because that's what it takes? So you want to discuss that?

Chris Ronayne [00:21:52] Sure.

Nina Gibans [00:21:53] In the early days, it was Tom Johnson.

Chris Ronayne [00:21:54] Mm hmm.

Nina Gibans [00:21:55] We know that. But what about this resurgence and who, who in the public sector really needs credit for that?

Chris Ronayne [00:22:02] Well, I think that this has been a shared community effort with the Euclid Corridor Project. There is the beauty of this project is it touches so many neighborhoods, it touches so many institutions, so many business owners, so many property owners and so many neighborhood residents. Everybody wants to see Euclid Avenue come back. They tell the stories of shopping on Euclid Avenue when there were seven major department stores downtown. And they tell the stories of shopping uptown in University Circle when there were five major movie theaters within five blocks of East 105th Street. They tell the story of the experience that they had with their parents visiting University Circle or with their children visiting the downtown. And so there's so many people that Euclid Avenue itself has touched the lives of. There is certainly champions throughout the history of this project. You mentioned Tom Johnson. Tom Johnson was Cleveland's premier transit advocate. He was elected mayor of this major city when it was the sixth largest city in America. He was elected mayor on his advocacy of the three-cent transit fare. He was a true and tried believer that people should have equitable access to transit and that that was the people's choice of a transportation mover. So Tom Johnson certainly helped us get on the transportation progressive cutting edge for Cleveland, Ohio, I think through the years then, we went through a long lagging period where we were more or less dominated by other transportation interests than transit itself. We went through a very dark sixty or seventy years in Cleveland, Ohio, when we, you know, we're still trying to get to our next venture on the corridor. But recently I would credit the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority for seeing this project through. I think that the state has been supportive also and it is exciting when the Ohio Department of Transportation, which you often think highways and roadways and not so often about transit, has put some money into this project. I think that there are some heroes in Washington that have helped with this, elected officials, probably too many to name, that have helped with this. But I think when you look at the project, there are some local just sort of people who helped frame this, the people who came together and said, let's work out a bike lane system for students that want to be active in this corridor.

Nina Gibans [00:24:29] And who were those people?

Chris Ronayne [00:24:31] Oh, boy, you put me on the spot to talk about the people who shaped that. I think, I think Joe Calabrese from the RTA deserves a bit of credit for this. I think that the the City of Cleveland under the Campbell administration deserves credit for pushing the issue of the bike lanes. I think that the state, particularly Steven LaTourette as a congressman, was helpful in bringing us money to this project. I think that there are a variety of Cleveland council members who helped with this project. And I think that, you know, if you start naming too many names, you exclude too many because there have been so many activists on this project. I think that the neighborhood development corporations from the Downtown Cleveland Partnership, originally, Historic Gateway neighborhood, the Midtown Corporation and University Circle itself were major conduits. They worked with the architects, they worked with the plan designers from the offices of Robert Madison to Wilbur Smith and Associates to GCRTA itself. They saw this through, bit by bit, piece by piece. I think that there's a lot of credit to go around with this project in terms of the financing, but also the neighborhood inputs on design. I think Cleveland Public Art deserves credit for really pursuing the public interest in public art that associates with public infrastructure. When we do major hundreds of millions of dollars of projects, they need not be gray, bland, dank, dark projects. They can be exciting. And I think that the Cleveland Public Art nonprofit corporation deserves a lot of credit of pushing that envelope forward. The project has many champions, and I think at the end of the day, one of the things that is exciting in the downtown area, and what we hope will see more of uptown, is an attention to the details after the project has been built. And what I mean by that is one of the great things that's happened in the last decade in Cleveland is the advent of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the business improvement district in downtown. This is a group that will be committed and it is of, by, and for property owners who have a vested interest in seeing the curbside improvements that are made actually sort of stay maintained. So they are putting money supplemental to their current property taxes, an additional special assessment on themselves, to pay for maintenance workers, to pay for safety ambassadors, to pay for marketing, so that we can keep this place clean, safe, and attractive. We'll be trying to do that throughout the corridor. That's been the success story in Denver on 16th Street, where you have a pedestrian- and transit-friendly urban mall that is really, really high functioning because there's a business improvement district in place that we don't just make this investment and walk away from it. This $200 million in new streetscape and new Main Street monies, that's going to really polish up not just the transit system itself, but the curb sides from the planters to the sidewalks to the public art that adorns the corridor. You don't just make that as a onetime investment and leave the maintenance to somebody else. You need to come up with a sophisticated maintenance plan, and that's what the essence of a business improvement district is. It's what brought back Times Square. It's what brought back Center City Philadelphia. And it's what should help maintain and keep promotable and attractive the downtown and University Circle and everything in between.

Nina Gibans [00:27:56] So when I think transit, I should think of Denver, which I'm familiar with, and maybe Portland, which is where transit is, right at the restaurant door, practically, on one of the streets and so forth.

Chris Ronayne [00:28:11] It's amazing the diversity of cities throughout the United States and the world that have succeeded, by and large, because of smart transit programs. I think that Portland is a great example, a midsized city, a city actually about the size of Cleveland, Ohio, today, that has a tremendous ridership on its transit program and has actually been able to build in a transit-oriented development environment around transit. So the transit, as we hope the Euclid Corridor Project does, is leveraging housing development. Beacon Place in the University Circle and Fairfax neighborhoods of Cleveland have been built, and now Villas of Woodhaven, the second phase, in anticipation of the transit. You can walk right outside your door and within a matter of feet you are on transit and on your way downtown. That's been a success story in Portland. It ought to be a model for Cleveland. I think also you can look to Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, as a leader in transit. One of the successful North American transit centers is Washington, D.C., itself with its tube system. It's on par with London and Paris. I think also that Denver, with a main street, 16th Street, very much has an integrated, holistic approach to a main street development that's anchored by transit itself. And now you're starting to see transit systems pick up in southern cities of the United States that have taken their cues from the great early transit-friendly towns like Boston in New York and the New England states and work their way now down. You're starting to see transit New Start projects in places all over the map, from Charlotte to Phoenix to San Diego. So, there's exciting examples all over the map. And what needs to happen in a place like Cleveland is we need to stay competitive on the transportation side. We need to make it consumer-friendly for our everyday workers and residents who are here in Cleveland. We also need to put forth a competitive package for any visitor who might, as a convention delegate, visit the downtown, stay in a downtown hotel, but might want to get out on a Saturday or Sunday for a mobile workshop or a day trip visit to University Circle. So this Euclid Corridor presents a prime time opportunity to promote that dual package for the visitor and enhance their visitor experience here in Cleveland.

Nina Gibans [00:30:20] Right. So the models are all around us. The technology is maybe innovative because every time you do it, there's new technology that just keeps, keeps coming.

Chris Ronayne [00:30:32] Right.

Nina Gibans [00:30:32] Keeps coming and coming.

Chris Ronayne [00:30:33] Early on, you talk again about some of the folks who are the early shapers of this project. There was a delegation from the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, NOACA, and the State of Ohio, that all descended down to Curitiba, Brazil, to see in this South American country how they're doing it with an explosive population growth in Curitiba and a transit project that is really the spine of their new growth strategy. So we've looked at even down to South America for our cues on progressive transportation design. Again, these are cities that took their early cues from Europe, but now are looking all over the world at transit models, both in the domestic United States and in South America and in Asia. We want people to come back and find their urban center. This continuous outmigration and urban sprawl, that sprawl has afflicted our center cities. People are beginning to say enough is enough. I'm tired of being two hours in congestion to and from work every day. I'm tired of paying the gas prices. Well, this is the new alternative. This is the antidote to urban sprawl, live, work, play, recreate, and commute all within a fairly dense urban environment. It's possible. It's doable. The city of Cleveland today sells one out of every three homes as a townhome or condominium, which literally reflect this mood of density and wanting to be in an efficient environment where your time is a premium. You'd rather spend—some people would rather spend—their time in the education centers or the arts centers, or simply spend a little more time with their families than spend all their time stuck in traffic.

Nina Gibans [00:32:16] What about greenspace? What about space like the little Eastman Garden [inaudible]...

Chris Ronayne [00:32:23] Sure, sure.

Nina Gibans [00:32:26] [inaudible] that's the favorite of people who come here and who live here.

Chris Ronayne [00:32:30] Boston's success story has been its pocket parks. New York City, on a per person per square mile basis, has more greenspace than any city in the United States. Those are places that you may not first think of as places of greenery and greenspace. Cleveland can capitalize on that concept of pocket parks, of passive respite spaces within an urban environment that create a little bit of a just a passive enjoyment time. And I think Cleveland, in its early part of the 20th century, knew that. When Daniel Burnham planned the great Cleveland Mall—and I'm not talking about a shopping mall, I'm talking about a pedestrian commons that takes Public Square out to the lake—he knew that you needed green space in the city, so he planned Malls A, B, and C across Saint Clair and Lakeside Avenue in that grand public space and public environment of Cleveland City Hall, the county courthouse, the library, the convention center, Public Hall and so on. That really set the model for Cleveland as a town that focuses on greenspace. We then had the wonderful, wonderful blessing of the Metroparks and the buildout of the Emerald Necklace in the later, a couple of decades after Burnham's great Mall vision, to really create access to parks for every resident of the city of Cleveland, just like Philadelphia has done with its Fairmount Park, creating people who can connect to greenspace without much trouble. So let's talk about the Euclid Corridor. There are pocket park opportunities. You mentioned the Eastman Garden in lower Euclid. Again, a place to take time out, read a book over lunch, enjoy a little sunshine that we do get once in a while in Cleveland, Ohio, and just grab a cup of coffee and grab a book. I think that the work of Parkworks is an organization that we ought to celebrate. They have early as an organization called Cleanland and now Parkworks developed a strategy for urban pocket parks. They've taken their cues from places like Chester Commons. Again, Cleveland has a history of building public spaces, and greenspaces in the urban environment. We'll be reshaping Chester Commons, now Perk Plaza, out on 12th Street, just north of Euclid Avenue. Just south of Euclid Avenue, we've got the Medical Mutual Plaza at Ninth Street and Prospect Avenue. Again, an urban respite area. As you get through the Prospect area of Historic Gateway neighborhood. Coming to Cleveland State, a greener space, you know, in Cleveland State, more common areas in Cleveland State, less of the concrete environment that it's been so historically associated with. And into Midtown, there's opportunities as we build out corporate campuses to build out greenspaces. Again, this is the strategy of creating worker friendly destinations and amenities that really sell that worker on working and living in this urban environment. And as you get to University Circle, I would be remiss not to mention the three spectacular greenspaces of University Circle, the Wade Oval, which has been renovated. It is our Bryant Park in Wade Oval, Bryant Park, one of the great urban parks of New York. Well, we now have one here in Wade Oval. We promote with summer concert series. The Wade Oval Wednesdays have been a success. Our quarterly festivals that celebrate the four seasons—the great four Seasons that Cleveland, Ohio, is—Wade Oval is that crown jewel between the Museums of Natural History, Botanical Gardens, the Museum of Art and Orchestra, and also the Western Reserve Historical Society. That is the community living room in University Circle, and also for the students and faculty members that are around us. I would be remiss though if I didn't mention the other two great greenspaces. I should tell you that Rockefeller Park has not seen all of its potential yet. John D. Rockefeller, who once lived on Euclid Avenue and worked in the area of Euclid Avenue, blessed this town with a gift 100 years ago of a 200-acre park space that is now home to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, Doan Brook, and some glorious greenspace in that Martin Luther King Boulevard, Rockefeller Park greenspace shed with a wonderful terminus out on the lake with the Dike 14, where we celebrate one of Cleveland's great untapped resources, our birding. Our birding, which is the second largest sport in America next to gardening, which happens also at the Botanical Gardens and many other places, but those are active destination marketing opportunities for us to use our greenspace to bring in visitors in a place like Rockefeller Park. The third wonderful greenspace that is not often talked about is right on Euclid Avenue itself, and that is Lake View Cemetery. Lake View Cemetery is the final resting place of John D. Rockefeller, himself of the Winton family of the Winton automobile, the Higbees, the... You go on and on and on, and Cleveland's history can be told through that wonderful 150-acre space of Lake View Cemetery just on Euclid Avenue. So take a stroll up the greenspaces of Rockefeller Park, of Lake View Cemetery, and of the wonderful Wade Oval in University Circle. We can have a strategy for public space, hardscape, and softscape greenspace, and otherwise here in the Corridor itself.

Nina Gibans [00:37:45] What comments would you make about any mistakes were made? Let's talk about one thing that keeps cropping up. When the Van Sweringens moved our efforts from the lakefront to... Are we okay? All right. To the development of the rapid and out east, that was a big moment. And it meant that for all the years we know we didn't pay too much attention to lakefront. We kept doing plans. We haven't really focused on the lakefront. We've tried to in recent years. Do you want to comment on that?

Chris Ronayne [00:38:29] Sure. The lakefront? As the past planning director of the City of Cleveland and as also a onetime resident of the city of Chicago, we know all the potential of Great Lake Erie, 13 trillion gallons of fresh water, 90% of the world's, rather the North American freshwater supply, and 20% of the world's freshwater supply here in the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is a part of this terrific network of fresh water that is North America's leading asset, natural asset. That being said, this city was planned in such a way from its early origins that was planned away from the lake itself. When Moses Cleaveland arrived with the Connecticut Land Company up the Cuyahoga River and found this wonderful confluence of a lake and a river and thought from strategic, from trade, and for community purposes, this would make for a fine community, what they did is they planned a city conceptually, a city that they knew back home in New England. They planned this city around the traditional New England town square that we know as Public Square, and they planned it out in a grid form a city around that square. There may be reasons historically that they shuttered themselves away from our waterfronts. There wasn't sophisticated home weatherization systems at the turn of the 19th century, and there was not necessarily the best of summer conditions in the marshy Cuyahoga River, which was a much shallower river than than it is today, creating all kinds of bacteria and insect conditions. Nonetheless, this city never looked back on that strategy, and we really did not pay attention to this terrific resource that we have in both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. A hundred years later, the first person to make note of that opportunity was Daniel Burnham. Daniel Burnham planned, from Public Square that Moses Cleaveland had planned 100 years earlier, he planned a connection to the waterfront. He planned a grand public space known as the Cleveland Malls, lined by seven classical buildings from the Public Hall to the Cleveland Convention Center, City Hall, the county courthouse, the federal courthouse and the library. He planned a spectacular Parisian-style mall just on the heels of his work at the Columbian Exposition celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in America in the city of Chicago. He was commissioned by our mayor, Tom Johnson, and the state governor to come to Cleveland and present such a plan. Well, he presented an ambitious, spectacular plan from Public Square out to the lake. The seventh building that was not built was a transit center that was to be built on the waterfront, really, literally, then taking the community from its downtown urban center, Public Square to the lake for the rational reason of accessing transit. But that was a plan that was in a tug of war, tugged in another direction when the Van Sweringen brothers ultimately placed the transit center, and they sort of took advantage of time that by the time Burnham's seventh building was to be built, a decade has passed and in the late part of the 20th, or 1920s, the Van Sweringens began to erect Terminal Tower, behind which was the Grand Central Terminal of the transit system. So in that tug of war of time, a tale of two plans, the plan that won out for the transit center was the Van Sweringens that positioned the transit behind Terminal Tower. That cast the die for many decades in Cleveland, Ohio, when we would therefore abandon the original Burnham Plan to reach the lake. I think as history now has, you know, with that history behind us, the next great debate is where will the Cleveland Convention Center ultimately land. Will it land out toward the lake, or will it land out toward the entertainment complex of the Tower City area? That is a story still unfolding. But nonetheless, we, whether it's a convention center or anything else, need to access our lakefront. So whatever buildings we build and public infrastructure we build, one of the things that we participated on over the last four years was a community dialogue about accessing the Cleveland waterfront. And these Clevelanders have said, We want to access that waterfront. We know the reason to go there. Give us the way to get there. And that is a plan that is now unfolding with a boulevard plan, taking a complicated highway and scaling it back to 35 miles an hour with crossable intersections so people can get across the road and get to the waterfront. That's the plan on the west side. In the downtown the plan is to create some sort of infrastructural bridge down to the harbor front. And on the east side, it is to build more land so that you're not so pinched in between a highway and a waterfront. And that land can be built literally through the consolidation of dredge material and other materials that are natural materials that could be packed out to create more of a landscape. We're not sure yet what the story will be of Burke Airport, but there is also 500 acres of potential land, some of which could be accessed by the public to the waterfront itself. So I think it's a dynamic, fluid conversation about planning in Cleveland, Ohio. But regardless, this town has said loud and clear lately, we want to reach that waterfront. We don't need to always fly to the city of Chicago or fly to some other city just to reach a waterfront. We've got one right at our front door.

Nina Gibans [00:44:25] Let me ask you about vision. You talked about people coming together. Vision. So all of these institutions, organizations, idea people in several different areas of their concern, be it the environment, the public works of art, be it planning, area planning, be it architecture, whatever it was. Who took the leadership, did you?

Chris Ronayne [00:45:00] On the vision of the waterfront?

Nina Gibans [00:45:02] No. You talked about Euclid Corridor as well. And so who organized the trip to South America, the concept that we need to, you know, build some conceptual planning, and we also needed support for many different domains around that?

Chris Ronayne [00:45:27] This is a community of great collaborative capacity. We are a community that does come together across the sectors when we see something that makes sense. That's the public sector, the governmental sector, that is the neighborhood sector through the Cleveland neighborhood development corporations, that is the business sector through the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and that is the citizen sector that is always looking to advance this town. This is a town that cares a lot about its place itself, its history, and its future. I would say that it depends on the project, but in the matter of the Euclid Corridor Project, this has been a fifty-year vision. So it's transcended the ages of different professionals working toward the same ends. And thankfully GCRTA has seen through the vision to connect the dual hubs of downtown and University Circle with the transit project. On the waterfront, this was a plan that was heralded under the Campbell administration, was affirmed through the visits of several urban mayors from elsewhere who said, yes, you've got this great asset, connect to it. The transportation projects these days have a tremendous connection to the business community, where in the name of the game of 21st-century business cycles and economies here, it is speed, it is efficiency, and it is connections to our regional assets of the airport, still the port, the water port to the airport itself, to transit and rail, and to sophisticated highway systems. Cleveland is still and has not lost the reputation as the Best Location in the Nation, and that is simply because we are 500 miles from everywhere, over the road or by air or by rail or by water. We are near 80% of the Canadian population and we are near the better part of 80% of the United States population. So we are a place that is still at this crossroads of America, whether by air, rail, or by roadway. We are the X on the map and we need to continue to exploit that. And so the various partners that have come through on projects over time have done it in both their rational self-interest for business purposes, but also for their civic purposes. This is a great city that is now a midsize city, but can be one of the most competitive midsize cities in America if we just make sound strategic investments. The Euclid Corridor is one of them. The waterfront is another. Building back the downtown and University Circle is another. And then working on sophisticated transportation patterns. And we would also be remiss if we didn't build out our great Cuyahoga River valley in a way that is respectful of the natural landscape, but also of the working relationship that we have to that Cuyahoga River.

Nina Gibans [00:48:19] What about residential?

Chris Ronayne [00:48:21] And residential is much, much, much more popular today because of the amenity package that's put forth by the projects we're talking about. There is a benefit to living and working in an area where you don't have to, again, spend all your time in the automobile going to and from work. We are finding that in University Circle, this concept of eds and meds, education centers and medical centers, are leveraging whole new communities because you have, first of all, institutions who when the going was tough, they didn't leave. They couldn't leave. The universities of Case Western, Institute of Art, Institute of Music had legacy investments that they could not just abandon. The hospitals, the University Hospital, the much younger Cleveland Clinic, could not abandon after their decades of investment in the area. And now what you're seeing is the fruits of those labors are starting to bear. It is because residents are coming in, docs, nurses, in-resident researchers. They want to live in a place where they can access their work without much trouble, and they want to be able to go out at night and enjoy the neighborhood they live in. There's also a[n] emergent market, that's the young professional market, but there's also an emergent market of empty nesters and seniors who want to be in a dynamic urbane environment. They want to be able to take a class at night. They want to be able to take in the orchestra at night. And they don't want to have to travel miles and miles to get here. That's smart living that's being talked about at Judson Manor over at 107th and Chester just down the street from the Euclid Corridor. This is a whole new concept of attracting a new market of empty nesters back into more dense urban environments. Again, I say the city of Cleveland, a third of every home it sells, is a townhome or a condominium. So they're selling this dense urban living that anchors these projects like the Euclid Corridor.

Nina Gibans [00:50:16] It teaches out to Shaker Square.

Chris Ronayne [00:50:18] Sure it does.

Nina Gibans [00:50:20] That's part of it. We are in the city of Cleveland, which...

Chris Ronayne [00:50:23] We are. And in Shaker Square is another great example of one of the pioneer outdoor experiences in America. This and J.C. Nichols Plaza in Kansas City, are two of the oldest outdoor malls in America. And they've really, actually, they were 100 years ahead of their time or they're what people are trying to come back to when they build out these lifestyle centers every place elsewhere out there, they're looking at these places as their cue. People want to be in exciting places, dynamic places, learning centers, cultural centers. They not necessarily all want to live out in places where they've got to spend their entire Saturday afternoon cutting the grass.

Nina Gibans [00:51:04] In the world of planning, I've always thought that in the first part of the century it was those leaders we know about—the Rockefeller wasn't so popular, but there were others like Mather and and other industrialists who were, Jeptha Wade certainly is one of them, whose land, Lake View cemetery and the park that you've mentioned, is so important—but they were decision makers as well. So the decision-making process, it seems to me, has changed a great deal from corporate leadership...

Chris Ronayne [00:51:44] Mm hmm.

Nina Gibans [00:51:44] To... Why don't you talk about that since you are in planning?

Chris Ronayne [00:51:48] I think you're right. The richness of resources and the family wealth in this community, in part, it's still there. But the industrial might that built the cultural centers of the Museum of Art in the 1910s or Severance Hall in the 1920s, it's possible that those institutions were built in an era when the city was one of the largest cities in America. It's possible that it would be trouble to build those today, given our resources. But the simple fact of the matter is, yes, we're a smaller city today in population, but I'll take being a world-class, midsize city with big-city assets, so we can leverage our new growth in the 21st century off of that existing asset stock that was built in a different generation. And your point about leadership, many of those same families who endowed this city with such wonderful cultural institutions went on to endow the city through their family givings to the various philanthropic foundations. And what is really exciting today is to see, first of all, a community that has notoriety for being a town of givers, philanthropic and civic time and otherwise, to see those legacy institutions of the local philanthropic foundations now taking an active role in the buildout of Cleveland, the old public-private partnership is still in place. The corporate community is still driving much of the project agenda when it comes to the buildout of the city, but a newcomer partner that's emerged lately is the philanthropic community. So the public-private partnership has become a public-private-nonprofit partnership, and that nonprofit partner is actually helping build roadways in University Circle and build park spaces and throughout the city, and build connections to our waterfronts. Those foundations are actually making physical infrastructure investments to the city, using the wealth and might of families who maybe a generation ago have left this town or passed on, but they left so much in the way of their wealth and resources to these philanthropic foundations to now, you know, help catalyze the next generation of Cleveland's growth.

Nina Gibans [00:54:19] Those are very important. Those are our thoughts that we haven't had summarized in that way and that very important. The philanthropic emergence in a new way because the foundation growth within the foundation of those family fortunes. Very good. What have we not covered that you'd like to cover?

Chris Ronayne [00:54:49] We covered it.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:54:52] I just have just two questions. Just, um... You used the term BRT. Is that just bus rapid transit?

Chris Ronayne [00:54:58] You got it.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:55:00] Okay. And can you just describe in terms of... Okay, what physically is the Euclid Corridor going to look like? I mean, you know, you mentioned it's going to have bus lanes, bike lanes...

Chris Ronayne [00:55:12] Sure. The Euclid Corridor is a five-mile bus rapid transit corridor. It is still going to host vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and the like, and I think that's one of the smart aspects of this project, that the project is multi-modal, that it is not exclusively a transit mall. Actually, transit and pedestrian malls that work exclusively as such in America have failed. They have not served well in other cities. So this idea of multimodalism, of bus, rapid transit, car, pedestrian, bicyclists all working in the same corridor, makes sense. So what you're going to see in the layout of the Euclid Corridor as it completes in 2008 is a 90-foot curb-to-curb right of way, and in that curb you're going to see, in the downtown area, platforms in the center of the median, whereby it simulates a trolley system, a streetcar system like Brookline, Massachusetts, where you walk out into the center of the street and jump on that bus. And that bus will have to be a different type of bus. That bus is going to be a sleeker Silver Line bus. It's going to be shown here in the Auto Show here in the upcoming year. But it will be accessible from both sides of the bus, left and right. And that is because as the project moves its way out to University Circle, it will return back to curbside boarding on the outer belt of the street on the curbside. So there'll be a right board entry and a left board entry. And it's a very flexible system and flexibility is the operative here. This is why the FTA is sponsoring this project, because they want to see if it works in Cleveland and if it could then work elsewhere. So we're excited to be a part of a prototypical new project, Bus Rapid Transit, a relatively new concept in America. But learning a little bit from the mistakes of the past, where pedestrian-only outdoor shopping malls or bus-only streets have actually been rejected even in great transit cities like Portland. So those are learning lessons that we've now been able to capitalize on. Once you get outside the curbs, you're gonna see a fantastic new streetscape of pedestrian-scale lighting, more artistic lighting than your everyday lighting that you see on some of the highway corridors of the state of Ohio. You're going to see a sophisticated planting systems, self-irrigating systems, whereby we have a bit of a greenery and a greenscape kind of juxtaposed against the skyline hardscape of downtown and University Circle and Midtown. You will see wide sidewalks, pedestrian outdoor cafes. You will see all kinds of public art in the corridor. You'll see these exciting new crosswalks, blended brick and scored concrete, to kind of color up the otherwise grayscape. And what you're going to see is this mosaic of public art, of landscape, of transit, and what we hope that wonderful new streetscape actually, in a sense, then is development, because the development is conceived as transit-oriented development. So what I mentioned before about zoning, we're trying to zone for form based. So the form of the building actually meets the street, that it's pedestrian-friendly, that you're walking right up to the building. If you drive an automobile, the concept is to have parking behind the building itself and the buildings themselves ought to rise a little bit. This is a dense urban corridor. It's supposed to simulate, as Euclid Avenue once was, a higher density corridor. So you're gonna see a revitalization of the street, a restoration, a bit, of its streetscape past, and you're gonna see a lot of new life put in vis-a-vis the investment. But again, what will be the true tale sign of this project is whether it can yield new development in the corridor. And then we have an obligation to maintain and keep it a clean, beautiful, and attractive place.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:59:15] Just to... So downtown, when you have the... And this is maybe more curiosity but...

Chris Ronayne [00:59:19] Yeah.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:59:21] So downtown, when you have the center platform and then you have the immediate bus lane on either side, and then you have a car lane and then a bike lane?

Chris Ronayne [00:59:31] Right. Right. If you if you walk with me on a virtual tour of Euclid Corridor from the center back out to the buildings in that roughly 90-foot width between curb to curb and 120 feet building to building, what you're going to see from Public Square, East 2nd, East 4th Street, all the way out to East 79th Street, is center-board platforms whereby you walk out to the middle of the street and then access the bus from the lefthand side of the bus. There'll be a new door you're not used to that will be a part of the Silver Line sleek new bus system. They had especially make these buses overseas to accommodate this project. So the first thing you'll do is you will enter from the middle of the corridor into the bus from the left side. There'll be shelters and there'll be public seating and there'll be some public art in the medians themselves and some plantings and also the pedestrian-scale lighting. And then as you go to the next lane, the exclusive lanes will be for buses and the intermost lanes of the corridor. Then the mid lane will be a vehicular lane. The outer lane will actually be a bicycle lane from downtown, Cleveland State, to Case Western Reserve University, about East 18th Street to Adelbert Street in University Circle. And then, of course, you're gonna see a wide sidewalk. The street narrows a bit in the downtown and in University Circle. So we get that bike lane from campus to campus and then it fans out into the center city and the lanes get narrower. So again, the topology of the street is multi-modal. It's transit, it's automobile, it's bicycle, and it's pedestrian, and it all works. And that's the concept is to let everything happen in the street. The vehicles are going to travel a little slower in the street. The transit has the priority and there'll be signalized intersections whereby those lights will stay green as you're cruising through the corridor from downtown to uptown, from University Circle back to downtown.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [01:01:31] Thank you.

Nina Gibans [01:01:32] Terrific.

Chris Ronayne [01:01:33] Thank you. Well, this was fun!

Cite This Page: “Chris Ronayne Interview, 10 November 2006,” Cleveland Voices, accessed November 28, 2022, https://clevelandvoices.org/items/show/1824.
Source Record: engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/crohc000/258