It's just past 2 a.m. on a Sunday, and the sidewalk along a strip of trendy nightclubs is filled with revelers in no hurry to go home.
Two guys lean against a brick wall, sipping beer from plastic cups and eyeing a cluster of passing females. A man trailing not far behind kicks a green bottle past them that ricochets off a Plain Dealer news box. Stretch limousines, their doors open, idle curbside. Angry cab drivers lay on their horns, stalled by a band of jaywalkers leaving one of the area's finer restaurants. The cacophony bounces off buildings, punctuated by the thunder of large candy-colored motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic.
The scene is a cliche of Cleveland's Flats--but is not taking place on the East Bank of the Cuyahoga. It's unfolding further up the hill, in Cleveland's burgeoning Warehouse District.
Once a six-block wasteland of crumbling and vacant buildings, the Warehouse District has blossomed into an entertainment carnival. Unlike the largely industrial-zoned Flats, the Warehouse District is also a residential neighborhood, one the city has spent fifteen years trying to foster. The area's dozen apartments and condominiums house 1,533 residents, with nearly five hundred more people expected to move here by the year's end.
With the area taking on the late-night personality of the rowdier Flats, some residents say the noise has become too much, even for hardy urban dwellers.
"I don't want to live there anymore because the noise is unbearable," says Yvonne Brumberg, a business owner whose loft apartment in the Hat Factory overlooks West Sixth Street. "You hear people walking in and out of every bar screaming. I have to turn on the fan and air conditioning and use earplugs just to get to sleep."
Brumberg, a transplant from Toronto via Los Angeles, has lived downtown for just over a year. But she plans to move out when her lease expires, noting that "even L.A. had a noise ordinance past 11 p.m."
The problem is in some ways a welcome one, an indication that, after years of false starts, downtown living may be reaching critical mass. But left unchecked, the growing noise levels could threaten the livability of the city's newest neighborhood.
"We are at a critical evolution point," say Patricia Beard, executive director of the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation, which has led the area's revitalization. Beard's organization recently received funding from the Gund and Cleveland foundations to survey downtown residents about their needs. If the survey identifies noise as a major issue, Beard says her organization will take action. Exactly what action is hard to say.
"If you want it to be quiet, don't move into the downtown area," she says, though concedes, "There have to be limits."
"Noise is one of the primary amenity issues," agrees Mike Thomas, executive vice president of Downtown Cleveland Partnership, an organization assisting downtown development. He should know. Thomas and his wife live in the National Terminals apartment building on West Tenth Street, which sits in the Flats, but rises above the Warehouse District. "When people have outdoor concerts across from your building on Thursday nights, that is an issue."
Thomas is referring to Kindlers--the oldest bar in the Flats and the one closest to the National Terminals building--where last month live bands began playing on the patio.
"The first time the band played, we started getting calls out the ying-yang," admits Colleen Cahill, general manager of Kindlers, who also received calls from downtown Councilman Joseph Cimperman and a visit from the police. Putting the band outside was a ploy to win back customers heading up the hill, Cahill says. "Everybody is pulling for what they can get because of the draw of the Warehouse District."
Cimperman is unsympathetic. "They have to be more considerate of people moving downtown," he says. "If I wanted to be a stickler, I could use the noise ordinance against them."
"We are trying to compromise," claims Cahill, who says the bands have moved back indoors. "But moving here, you have to expect this. In the Flats, people don't start partying until 11 p.m."
The problem is hardly restricted to Kindlers. Margarita Santos, a 28-year-old lawyer who has lived for two years in the Hat Factory, shares a wall with That Groovee Little Nightclub, a small dance club that opened after she moved in.
"It is so ridiculous that the walls of my building literally vibrate," Santos says. "I love living downtown. But I tell my friends not to move here. I hear people hanging out on the streets at all hours. I've even called the police."
Across the street from the Hat Factory, tenants in the Bradley Building have also complained to management about noise and vibrations coming from two popular clubs in the building, Liquid Cafe and the Blind Pig.
"Don't move above a bar if you don't want to listen to music," says Terry Barbu, president of Liquid Living Inc., which manages the Liquid Cafe as well as the nearby Spy and Wish nightclubs. "I invest millions of dollars in the area, then [building owners] turn around and bitch about noise. I've been playing music at the same level for four years. They're listening to some tenant who's been here 21 days."
As a resident of the Grand Arcade apartments, Barbu is well aware of the growing din. But he contends that noise is part of the excitement of living in the city. "If you want fast pace and glamour, move here and put up with it," he says. "If not, there are a million other places to rent."
The volume will pump up even higher in June, with the opening of an open-air deck atop the popular Velvet Dog dance club. Barbu has his own plans for a rooftop deck above Wish, but is waiting to gauge the reaction to the Velvet Dog's new venue.
While the rising decibel level in the Warehouse District has not become loud enough to rattle windows at City Hall, the issue is reportedly not far from Mayor Michael White's mind. According to Kenneth Silliman, White's executive assistant for economic development, "The mayor is very protective of neighborhoods, and noise is a particular concern of his. The concerns being expressed are definitely worth looking into."
Asked what he plans to do specifically about noise in the Warehouse District, Silliman says, "I'm adding this to our Monday morning staff meeting."
Mark Naymik may be reached at email@example.com.