Detroit Skywalks Provide Warning For Downtown Cleveland

Doug Nagy, a 26-year-old OurCLE activist, has released a video showcasing the negative impact of Detroit’s county headquarters’ skywalk and Greektown Casino skywalk.

“There are thousands of employees that are getting off work at this hour right at this intersection, but the goofy thing is you’ll see that there’s hardly anybody actually on the sidewalks here.” says Nagy in the video, filmed on a 50-degree afternoon during rush hour in front of Wayne County Government headquarters in Downtown Detroit. “This street corner is almost devoid of people.”

Nagy’s video is a response to the proposed renovation of the Cuyahoga County Council skywalk in Downtown Cleveland and the proposed Horseshoe Casino skywalk. He calls into question the county’s foresight of maintaining the skywalk versus the one-time, cheaper expense of tearing down the skywalk in favor of rebuilding vibrancy in the neighborhood.

A similar story of empty sidewalks unfolds in nearby Greektown, a historic Detroit neighborhood that Nagy compares to Cleveland’s Little Italy. Here Nagy shows a skywalk connecting the Greektown Casino to a nearby valet center over the small businesses of Monroe Street. It’s a development nearly identical to the proposed skywalk that would connect the Horseshoe Casino to the nearby parking garage in Downtown Cleveland over Prospect and Ontario.

“Most of the people that go to this casino actually walk right over the local businesses,” says Nagy who filmed this portion inside the skywalk as throngs of casino patrons pass by over a comparatively dead street. He continues, noting a Plaka Café waitress who complained that the skywalk is hurting their business.

“The casino really killed us,” Zena Karadimas, owner of Plaka, told Allan Lengel of DeadlineDetroit.com. “Instead of helping us, they killed us. They’re in competition with the little restaurants.”

Nagy’s video comes following OurCLE’s nomination to declare the Higbee Building a local landmark. If passed by Cleveland City Council, the landmark status would protect the building from the proposed casino skywalk. The Landmarks Commission approved the nomination in December, and a public hearing has yet to be scheduled.

“Rock Gaming, Councilman Cimperman, and the Jackson administration have chosen to ignore the experts on this issue who continue to warn that skywalks kill pedestrian activity at the street level,” says Joe Baur, founder of OurCLE and a resident of Downtown Cleveland. “Doug’s video provides the most damning visual evidence that even just one skywalk can prove destructive to the vibrancy of a neighborhood like Downtown Cleveland.”

Nagy and OurCLE are hardly alone. Small business owners, residents, and community leaders have echoed their concerns.

Sam McNulty, the wildly successful restaurateur of Bier Market, Market Garden Brewery and most recently Nano Brew, echoes the importance of keeping people on the streets.

“It’s pretty simple. Pedestrians on the sidewalks are the lifeblood of every vibrant city,” he explains. “They turn the wheels of commerce, soften the hardscape, increase safety, and in every way make for a better city. Remove the people by building walkways closed off from the street, and you effectively take the life out of the city. Period.”

Matt Provolt, a 23-year-old Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative intern and resident of Huron Square Apartments next to the ongoing Cuyahoga County government headquarters development, says he’s concerned his neighborhood will continue to suffer if the county skywalk remains. “It’s such a dead intersection as it is,” Provolt complains. “There’s never anyone on the street, any time of the day, and a skywalk that keeps people off of the street would certainly not help the situation.”

Nagy, meanwhile, shows the retail and business opportunity available in Provolt’s neighborhood by highlighting empty storefronts along Huron Road. These empty storefronts are much more likely to be filled if county employees and visitors are encouraged to walk on the street, he notes. Nagy additionally believes that eliminating the county skywalk will bring council representatives to the streets, allowing them to better interact with their constituents and restore faith in county government.

In addition, Reverend Mark Giuliano, Senior Pastor of Old Stone Church and President of the Downtown Cleveland Residents Association, shares his concernson both skywalks. “The Downtown Cleveland Alliance and other partners have helped us make great strides in bringing people, and therefore, safety and commerce back to the streets of Downtown Cleveland,” says Giuliano. “Skywalks move us in the opposite direction. They take people off the very streets that are just starting to thrive once again.”

OurCLE is currently attempting to meet with Dan Gilbert, Chairman of Rock Gaming, in hopes of appealing to his recently released vision for a pedestrian paradise in Downtown Detroit.

“Outlining his vision for a livelier downtown, Gilbert talked of Parisian-style sidewalk cafes, food carts, ground-floor retail that opens onto sidewalks, ice cream kiosks, pedestrian plazas and walkways, and a host of other ‘placemaking’ techniques that he said were on the way,” reports John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press.

“We love Mr. Gilbert’s vision for a pedestrian-oriented Downtown Detroit,” says Baur. “And we hope he brings that vision to Downtown Cleveland, starting by eliminating plans for the Horseshoe Casino skywalk.”

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