Moving the port to Burke

Local planner Jim Danek has come up with an interesting idea to move the Port Authority to the east end of Burke Lakefront Airport, thus creating a multi-modal air-water-rail facility and freeing up the lakefront near downtown for other uses. Below is his detailed explanation.

My concept for the lakefront tries to provide for a variety of needed and desired uses arranged in a manner to form distinct, well functioning districts that complement and support uses in adjacent non-lakefront districts. It attempts to maximize public access to the waterfront while recognizing that there are locations where other uses on the water's edge can be unique assets for the city and region.

My ideas break the lakefront into four segments:

  • The Recreation/Natural Waterfront - West
  • The Urban Waterfront
  • The Working Waterfront
  • The Recreation/Natural Waterfront - East

The Recreation/Natural Waterfront - West

(Edgewater Park to the west bank of the Cuyahoga River) This area would focus on open space and parkland. It would build off Edgewater Park, incorporate the existing open space on Whiskey Island, and would include the port's raw material storage site in between to create an almost continuous access to the lakeshore of three miles and 270 acres. The port's facility should be relocated as part of a consolidation of port facilities to the east. Moving the facility would lessen some of the truck traffic through the Flats and the city's near west side.

The most natural access to the lakefront is at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Most of our lakefront is not the original shoreline. Moses Cleaveland landed on the banks of the Cuyahoga River and not on the Lake Erie shoreline because there were 50-foot bluffs along most of the lakefront and the river was the easiest way to get to the land from the lake. It makes sense that the most natural way to access the lake from the land is near the same location. The eastern end of Whiskey Island has both a closeness and remoteness that create an experience that is unique in Cleveland. Sitting near the water on the picnic tables at the Sawmill Tavern you would never guess that you were in a big city, except for the tops of the taller downtown buildings which extend upward out of the scrub vegetation in the foreground. The state is looking to expand the Ohio Circle Tour into a heritage tourism corridor. This natural waterfront area could become a destination along that route.

The mouth of the river is also the natural terminus of the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, and it should be the terminus of the corridor's Towpath Trail. This is the location to tie the community's two main waterfronts together. After all, Cleveland is as much a river city as a lake city. Developing a connection between the west side of the Flats and open space on the lake could also help diversify the Flats as an entertainment and recreation destination. With improved access, the old Coast Guard Station at the mouth of the river could become a viable summertime venue.

The Urban Waterfront

The area between the Cuyahoga River and the western end of Burke Lakefront Airport is the best place to develop a lakefront that can be integrated into downtown and developed with uses that complement and support districts like the Flats, the Warehouse District, Tower City and North Coast Harbor. The Port of Cleveland, however, occupies approximately 95 acres in this area. I feel a key component of creating a lakefront that works with the rest of the city is a relocation, and hopefully an upgrading, of the Port of Cleveland. The lakefront near the east bank of the Cuyahoga River should be the primary spot for the creation of lakefront housing. In this location the housing will become part of downtown. Housing on the lakefront that is too far east of the main portion of downtown will be very difficult to orient to the downtown. It will become an island of housing that is more easily connected to the freeway system. It will also become competition for the Warehouse District and Gateway neighborhoods. Housing on the lakefront near the river will act as an extension of the Warehouse District, and its close proximity will also support restaurants, nightclubs and stores in both the Warehouse District and the Flats.

Public access along the river and most of the lakefront should be designed into any new development. An exception may be adjacent to the western slips that the port now uses. These slips could be converted into marinas for adjacent housing. This would create a unique housing product which is not now available in the city. Public access along the edge of the slips would still provide visual access to this area. One of the slips could be converted to a boat launch for the public. The population of this area would also create a market for use of the RTA Waterfront Line.

Lakewood's Gold Coast area (north of Lake Road) has approximately 50 units per acre. Applying that figure to 50 acres of the downtown lakefront would result in potentially 2,500 units of housing. The housing and open space along the lake would be within easy walking distance of the transit station, which has already been designed into the Waterfront Line route. A future consideration for creating a stronger connection to the Warehouse District may be to expand the W. 9th Street Bridge structure so that it acts like the Seattle Freeway Park or Lincoln Park in Cincinnati. These bridges serve as parks and create stronger connections between the uses on either side. A similar structure here would create a more pleasant connection, provide additional open space, and offer excellent views.

Moving the port would also provide additional space for the expansion of venues at North Coast Harbor. Consolidating port activities toward the east end of Burke Lakefront Airport could also open space for the relocation of the Coast Guard Station to the west end of Burke. Any new construction should include continuous public access to the water. New development should also be targeted to the Waterfront Line Station on E. 9th Street to provide an additional market for the route and to serve as an activity node between North Coast Harbor and downtown.

The Working Waterfront

Port and transportation facilities are currently stretched out along much of the lakefront with open space and public uses interspersed between. Consolidating port facilities into one area would free up space elsewhere on the lakefront and could also upgrade multi-modal distribution opportunities compared to the current port configurations.

Dike 12, a completed dredge disposal facility located at the far northeastern end of Burke Lakefront Airport, is approximately 115 to 130 acres in size (depending on what boundary one assumes) and could be used for relocating the Port of Cleveland (the Port currently occupies 95 acres near downtown and approximately 40 acres on Whiskey Island). There is also a fill site to the west that could be used for future port expansion. This area has been talked about in past for the relocation of Burke's runways to the north to allow for more development near North Coast Harbor. If the focus of new development is shifted west toward the Cuyahoga River, then the need to move those runways should be lessened. Money obtained from sale of current port property for future housing could be used to defray part of the cost for new bulkheading needed to allow Dike 12 to accommodate ships. The question of whether the Port of Cleveland really needs as much land on the lakefront as it currently occupies needs to be visited.

If we were developing a new lakefront from scratch I probably would not put an airport on the lake. But we do have Burke Lakefront Airport and in a new economy where air commerce is quickly becoming its logistical backbone, I think we should first be looking to see if this potential asset is being used to its maximum capabilities, or if there are improvements that can be made so that it better functions as an economic engine. Compared to other airport locations it has a relatively small impact on residential areas; it is located on the freeway system; it is close to a major rail line; and it is adjacent to a large industrial district.

The Aviation High School building (which I also thought might make a good environmental learning center/youth hostel) might be utilized for port administration offices. Burke Lakefront Airport and Port of Cleveland offices could be located in the same facility near the eastern end of Burke, which would promote a coordination of port activities. This would also free up the current Burke Terminal for other uses (i.e. the relocation of the Coast Guard, an environmental learning center, or other federal or state offices focused on the ecology of the Great Lakes or wind power technology). With current communications technology, it's possible that the tower and radar could stay in the existing Burke Terminal while offices and passenger gates are moved to the east end of the airport.

The current transportation planning efforts for the Innerbelt and Shoreway provide an ideal time to consider how a reoriented Burke Lakefront Airport and a relocated Port of Cleveland could integrated into the roadway and rail systems. Moving the Port to the east provides more direct access to the freeway system and would reduce the amount of truck traffic near downtown. The transportation planning studies should also include the routing of a rail spur to the port properties. The prospects of increased business activity would be an incentive for the rail company to pay for this improvement. Transportation improvements should also include a direct connection between the port facilities and the LADCO industrial area south of the Shoreway. The close proximity of this district to multiple modes of transportation would provide a basis for the development of an e-commerce distribution center.

As technology becomes an ever-increasing part of our lives and economy, energy becomes a more important resource. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lake Erie is one of four locations in the country with the potential for the development of off-shore wind turbines. Freezing of the lake could cause wear on the structures, increasing the cost of the energy produced. Dikes along the lakeshore are being filled sooner than anticipated and new sites are being sought. One option would be the creation of "islands" in the lake (one could incorporate the existing breakwall) on which windmills could be located for the creation of wind energy. Placing the turbines on a landform would negate the effects of ice on the structures. These windmills could become a symbol for a new Cleveland. The federal government should promote research the potential for wind power on Lake Erie and the possibility of creating a demonstration project.

Although the lakeshore itself is occupied by transportation uses, there should still be an attractive greenway along the district's southern edge. The proposed boulevard and trail concept would make this connection. There should be pockets of green along the route and a bridge that would be required to cross a rail spur could also be developed as an overlook for trail users.

The Recreation/Natural Waterfront - East

The area east of Burke Lakefront Airport should continue to be a mix of recreation and open space with improvements to make trail and roadway connections easier and more attractive. The proposed relocation of the Shoreway to the south will expand the width of the lakeshore open space, which should make this a more cohesive and attractive lakeshore area.

I think Dike 14 at Gordon Park should remain a natural area. The site is remote compared to other parts of the city, and keeping it natural will reinforce its character as a retreat from urban life. Other potential improvements, like a sculpture garden, should be located elsewhere in the city where the investment can have a positive impact on a city neighborhood. An educational facility near Dike 14 would, however, provide a setting that would complement the environmental learning experience.

Reintroducing Doan Brook into the plans for Gordon Park near the lakefront should also be considered. Improving public access to the lakeshore on the Navy Finance Center property should also be pursued. City and state leases with marinas along the lake should also be reviewed to see if they could be changed to require public access.



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The current transportation planning efforts for the Innerbelt and Shoreway provide an ideal time to consider how a reoriented Burke Lakefront Airport and a relocated Port of Cleveland could integrated into the roadway and rail systems.


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