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The Beginnings of the Opportunity Corridor
During steering committee meetings in 2005, the group developed four alternatives for the Opportunity Corridor.
Alternative 1, also referred to as "the Woodland Alternative" (pictured in green) would widen Woodland Avenue and could extend East 105th Street south, making a direct connection to Woodland. Alternative 1 is the closest to a no-build option. Alternatives 2, 3 and 4 largely follow the existing RTA rapid train tracks, and may open up more vacant land for redevelopment.
Note that the Woodland alternative leaves the current street grid intact for all users, important because, as mentioned above, 30 to 40 percent of the households in these neighborhoods don't have access to a car. Furthermore, Alternative 1 has the least "takes" (property that would be taken by the state using eminent domain), and is in line with ODOT's "fix-it-first" policy (meaning fixing the current roads before building new ones). Yet the steering committee determined Alternative 1 didn't merit further study.
As the meeting minutes from Nov. 10, 2005, show, Craig Hebebrand of ODOT District 12, said, "The recommendation of this study team is that we stop looking at Alternative 1, which primarily follows the existing streets of East 55th Street and Woodland." Shortly after, Hamilton Brown (then head of UCI) addressed the group and asked "if we can agree to take Alternative 1 off the table." The group agreed and consensus was reached.
The Woodland alternative was removed chiefly because it was "least effective in promoting community and economic development," with "only 55 acres for redevelopment adjacent to the proposed roadway," per the memo dated Nov. 10, 2005. This is compared to more than 200 acres in the alternatives selected by the committee. At the same meeting Hebebrand stated, "In February, 2006, ODOT plans to take the data and concepts developed to this point to the public for feedback," which serves as yet another reminder of the lack of public input thus far.
Upon further review, there were some traffic concerns with the Woodland alternative. At a steering committee meeting in June 2005, Andy Cross from Cleveland's Division of Traffic Engineering commented that "the timing of the signals on East 55th are maxed out and traffic is still a problem, so [Cross] doesn't see how you could get all that traffic through the existing intersection, as Alternative 1 proposes." Matt Wahl (of HNTB Ohio Inc.) explained that with the Woodland alternative, an option would be to relocate the Kinsman leg of the five-legged intersection to East 55th south of the existing intersection, but it could still be a problem. "The model will tell us if it is a viable option." Of course, no model for this alternative was ever completed.
Furthermore, the latter point is now moot as ODOT is currently looking at plans to redesign that intersection since it's been rated the worst for crashes within a five-county area.
In a recent series of public meetings, held independent of ODOT, Bob Brown, director of city planning, was asked why Alternative 1 hadn't been studied more. He responded that residents didn't like the option because it did not promote enough economic development. Of course, Alternative 1 has never been presented for public comment.
Is the Opportunity Corridor an economic development project or a road project?
According to ODOT, the goals of the OC are to: Improve "system linkage" — connections among the roads, neighborhoods and businesses — with an east-west arterial street between I-77 and University Circle \ Improve mobility — the movement of people and goods to, from and within the area —between I-77 and University Circle \ Create the infrastructure to support planned revival and redevelopment in areas in and around the "Forgotten Triangle," which is bordered by Kinsman Road, Woodland Avenue, and Woodhill Road \ Improve public transportation connections \ Improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.
The first two goals, "system linkage" and "mobility," sound terribly alike, the only difference being that "linkage" refers to the actual roads that link to I-77 and University Circle while "mobility" refers to the movement of goods and people. Two-thirds of the OC's goals, then, are related to access from I-77 to University Circle.
The third goal is redevelopment of the "forgotten triangle" neighborhood of Cleveland, which in and of itself is a sales job on par with naming a boulevard the Opportunity Corridor. It's as if they're implying the neighborhood has been intentionally forgotten.
Simply, there are two conflicting narratives over what caused the economic decline of the "forgotten triangle" neighborhood. According to the recently completed Climate and Sustainability Action in the Kinsman EcoDistrict (October 2013) study, "decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment followed by demolition and fire have resulted in many vacant lots." There have also been continued threats of a highway construction for decades.
And then there's ODOT's side of the story. The Indirect and Cumulative Effects Assessment (ICEA) reads: "By the middle of the 20th century, trucking had become more prominent in transporting industrial goods. This shift resulted in local businesses leaving in search of locations with better access to the interstate highway system, enhanced visibility and new infrastructure to support their business needs. The rail infrastructure that once serviced the industrial activity, along with the presence of the Kingsbury Run valley, now served as barriers to vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian access and mobility. As a result, businesses closed or relocated, employment opportunities declined, and neighborhoods experienced disinvestment."
According to the University Circle Access Boulevard framework study (2003), "The boulevard appears to provide the opportunity for the area to go back to what it once was — good jobs and strong housing which historically follow good [interstate] access." But is interstate access really the biggest issue preventing economic development, especially when over 30 percent of households do not have a vehicle?
The neighborhoods that the Opportunity Corridor will travel through are some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. For example, the Kinsman neighborhood has a median income of $13,302. The neighborhoods also have serious health issues: Kinsman has an infant mortality rate worse than Zimbabwe (31 per 1,000). And then there are the asthma rates, which, at 15.6 percent in 2009, were nearly double the national average of 8 percent. (Naturally, increasing traffic and pollution will do wonders for that rate.)
There is, of course, also the poverty. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that two census tracts in Kinsman near the "forgotten triangle" averaged a 54-percent unemployment rate.
And how do you get residents who struggle with poverty and unemployment on board with a project? You promise jobs.
During one steering committee meeting in August 2005, David Goldberg of Ohio Savings Bank suggested "that we get letters from University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University stating how many new jobs they will be creating if the Corridor is built and the neighborhood improved." He then stated that letters from the Cleveland Clinic and Bioenterprise "are not a problem, but letters from outside will be a problem," according to a memo from the meeting.
A month later in the next steering committee, specific job estimates were discussed. The city of Cleveland "estimated about 1,600 new jobs would be created as a result of the Corridor and proposed changes to existing land use," according to minutes from that meeting.
Apparently 1,600 wasn't enough for the Greater Cleveland Partnership.
The Inflated Job Promises of the Corridor
Though there have been 13 steering committee meetings, minutes are available from only the five initial meetings in 2005. Sure, brief summaries are available in ODOT's Public Involvement Summary of the project, but the lack of transparency on a public project spending 350 million public dollars is troubling and the Greater Cleveland Partnership has balked at multiple requests for that information.
South Euclid councilman Marty Gelfand sued ODOT in 2013 for similar information, specifically the Draft Environmental Impact Study for the Corridor, which ODOT refused to provide him until the federal government signed off on funding for the preferred route.
"I wanted the documents before they got approval ... so the public has an opportunity to weigh in," Gelfand told the Plain Dealer after he filed. "The public really needs to be part of the process in the early stages, not after the federal government gives its approval."
That lack of transparency has been consistent from the start, and continues today. When Cleveland Magazine requested renderings of the Opportunity Corridor from the Greater Cleveland Partnership for a February 2014 story, the GCP refused to share them unless the magazine assured that the story wouldn't be negative.
Anyway, from November 2009 to March 2010, five public meetings were held through the affected neighborhoods. In each presentation, the economic benefits were summarized on a slide promising 10,000 permanent jobs.
Of course, there was no documentation to support those job claims, but residents of Kinsman, Buckeye, Fairfax, Slavic Village and University Circle were told they awaited. The actual economic analysis, done by Allegro Realty and funded by the GCP, wouldn't be complete until November 2011. It came up with a far smaller number: 2,339. That's about one-fifth of the jobs that GCP promised.
This isn't the first time GCP has played fast and loose with job promises. As Alan Glazen, a retired ad agency owner who worked with the GCP to pass the original 1990 sin tax, wrote in a recent op-ed, the GCP "lied" in promising 28,000 good-paying jobs from the stadium projects when the real number has fallen far short. "We were hired to be the people sending that message out, and that message was not honest," he said.
Joe Roman doesn't recall using the 10,000 number, but "when you have organizations like UH and the Clinic nearby as potential participants, there certainly is a significant opportunity for job creation."