Zack Reed Unveils Plan to Keep Burke Lakefront Airport, Construct Mixed Use Development on Site


Former Burke Commissioner Mike Barth (L) and Zack Reed (R) discuss Reed's plan for a reimagined Burke Lakefront Airport. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Former Burke Commissioner Mike Barth (L) and Zack Reed (R) discuss Reed's plan for a reimagined Burke Lakefront Airport.

Cleveland mayoral candidate Zack Reed unveiled his plans for a reimagined Burke Lakefront Airport Wednesday. Contrary to popular sentiment, Reed proposed keeping Burke, not closing it, but also dramatically altering the existing land usage to make way for multiple mixed-use developments.

Reed said his plan would complement the Haslams' proposed lakefront development plan and finally give Clevelanders more direct access to the waterfront that they crave.

Closing Burke, Reed argued, would pose a significant challenge, given that the Federal Aviation Administration typically opposes closing airports of any size. (Scene reported in 2018 that while the FAA does indeed almost always oppose initial requests, other cities have been able to make persuasive arguments and change the FAA's mind.)

But instead of pursuing a costly and time-consuming engagement with a federal agency, Reed said, it would make more sense for Cleveland to keep Burke and free up more than 50 acres of valuable lakefront land for offices, residences, hospitality and green space.

"We all know Cleveland," Reed said. "We all know that leaders of the past would talk and study something for so long that nothing ever really gets done."

By way of contrast, Reed said that he would begin conversations with the FAA on day one of his administration to begin the redevelopment process.

The details of his plan include renovating the former Aviation High School as an office building, demolishing the current airport building and constructing a new control tower east of its current location, and building two "iconic" structures for offices, residences or a hotel on what is now a vast and underused parking lot. 

"New offices, new shops, new stores, new homes," Reed said. "The bottom line is that with our vision, we will free up 56.7 acres of land for new construction."

Former Burke Commissioner Mike Barth, who oversaw the airport during much of the Mike White administration, co-signed Reed's plan and suggested that a right-sizing was in order after two decades of service decline at the airport. (From 2000 to 2017, airline traffic declined at Burke by more than 60 percent.)

"Times have changed," Barth said. "The dynamics have changed. Look at the parking lot. A dozen, maybe two dozen cars?"

Barth said the logistics of Reed's proposal, while by no means cheap, were straightforward. Decommissioning the current inboard taxiway and transforming what is now the inboard runway into a taxiway would free up the acreage that Reed described. He also said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' construction of a confined disposal facility would soon free up additional land for a new runway, if necessary.

"It's time to look at Burke as a major asset that few cities have," Barth said. "It's time to work with the FAA and implement Zack's plan. It's time to maintain Burke while also developing the lakefront." 

During a Q&A, Reed said keeping the airport would maintain hundreds (?) of local jobs and said he had no doubt that the plan would attract a number of developers. In press materials, he said he'd be releasing additional planks of his mayoral platform in the coming weeks.

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