Downtown Cleveland Has Enough Gimmicky Tourist Attractions

We’re getting ready to spend $16 million on a giant chandelier in Cleveland.

One of my friends cited this as her breaking point, the reason she is moving out of Cleveland. She and her husband are planning to move to Minneapolis. At least they’re trying to do things with transit there and improve quality of life, she said.

This giant chandelier, planned to hang in the Playhouse Square area, she said, is like our personal version of the “world’s biggest eggroll.” It will make us look like rubes, she said.

Cleveland has an infant mortality rate in certain neighborhoods higher than Rwanda. We’re getting ready to close our East 79th Street rapid station due to lack of about $15 million to make it ADA accessible. At the same time, we’re spending $16 million in casino payments on a giant outdoor chandelier. No wonder my friend is so disgusted.

This comes on the back of a discussion I have having with some people online this week about the “Cleveland Skylift.” Some young men who work in IT have proposed building a system of “skylifts” throughout downtown. The idea is to attract tourists. Look at this rendering they have of how this would look downtown.

It’s like science fiction. It’s absurd! This is not an efficient way to move people, but moving people isn’t really the point. It is simply another gimmick, another increasingly desperate ploy to make our city attractive to tourists, even though on many levels it’s failing residents.

If this project is built it will be Cleveland’s extra-desperate People Mover. It serves no practical purpose. It is not grounded in any community need. It has no business being seriously discussed as a public project, whether it is paid for with private money or not.

Other peer cities are building streetcars that are pumping new development into downtown. And here in Cleveland, we have this fantastical plan to build skyways across the city. The really bad part is folks like the Plain Dealer and the Greater Cleveland Partnership are actually taking this proposal seriously. That is how lost we are as a community right now.

It’s one gimmicky thing after another to “attract tourists” to our downtown. We just finished a $500 million convention center. To top it off, we are publicly financing a Hilton Hotel.

We’ve poured billions into gimmicky tourists attractions in the last few decades: the Rock Hall, the Browns, Indians and Cavs stadiums, the Children’s Museum. We voted to approve a casino. Now we’re getting a 16-foot outdoor chandelier and a network of elevated skylifts?! Enough!

When will we have done what we can to attract tourists? When will the question of whether someone who lives in the city can or can’t get to work from around East 79th Street become a public priority? Or whether a single mom can afford to buy formula?

In a recent article for Cleveland Magazine, titled Fantasy Town, Michael Roberts writes that these over-the-top development projects serve as a distraction from the urban problems we don’t want to face. Here he’s writing about Plain Dealer architecture critic Steven Litt, who Roberts says is not critical enough of development proposals:

While Litt likes to hold out the promise of abstract plans, the weight of reality hangs over the town, a reality Cleveland elites never seem to grasp. Ever since they built our freeways, a highly effective series of escape and evasion routes from the town’s core, city planning has become uncoordinated, with little long-range vision. That leads each generation to reinvent the city, shunning symmetry and common sense.

In the meantime, the national media calls Cleveland one of the most dangerous cities in America. This summer, we learned we lost more jobs in a year than any other metro area, and the Cleveland school system, one of the worst in the country, again received a failing mark. Since Jackson became mayor, the city’s population has dropped by nearly 60,000. The population loss and brain drain threaten the quality of Cleveland’s leadership and its tax base. There are 40,000 vacant housing units in the city, according to the U.S. census.

Litt is too good of a writer not to address reality along with the views, vistas and vicissitudes that make up his urban vocabulary. By discarding fantasy, Litt might help us avoid becoming another Detroit.

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