Doug Berry, Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce vice president for Economic Development, addressed a flier distributed in neighborhoods south of the old Whirlpool Plant in downtown Cleveland that warned homeowners of the impending loss of their property rights.
The flier, distributed as an informational handout, stated 300 homes in the area around 18th Street S.E., between King Edward Avenue S.E. and Wildwood Avenue S.E. are targeted for demolition and redevelopment. Berry showed the MainStreet organization an aerial view of the neighborhoods.
“The first thing I would say is nothing is fixed. The city of Cleveland has not issued a directive to the housing authority to establish a redevelopment plan for a specific area, which is the first legal step. We will not be taking 300 homes. We will not be bulldozing them and that was never the intent — ever,” Berry said. “I will tell you where that number came from because I’m the one that [originated the] 300 ‘lot’ number.”
When talks first began with Whirlpool about replacing its century-old manufacturing facilities, the company wanted to remain in the downtown area where there is historical linkage. It is a big issue for a company to break that attachment.
“When we first sat down with Whirlpool, they told us they needed to develop modern manufacturing facilities, that the inefficiencies of these historic plants were so great it was having a bottom-line effect on the company,” Berry said. “They told us they would prefer to do a rebuild in the area of their existing plant. Their first request of me, as a representative of this community, was to provide them a redevelopment option for them to put two half-million square foot buildings in this corridor.”
Such a redevelopment project has never before been undertaken in Cleveland and ultimately, it would require the use of eminent domain. Berry expressed his concern to the company, but he agreed to analyze what it would take to put a million square feet in the neighborhood. In order to do that, it would require buying all of the property between Plant No. 3 and Ocoee Street, all the way to Plant No. 2.
“That’s 300 lots. That’s where the 300 number came from,” Berry said. “I then sat down with the company and explained that I did not think this was a viable option because this community has not been through the process and has no history of ever having used eminent domain as part of its economic development program.
“When you hear about the 300 homes that are going to be taken and bulldozed, that number actually has basis, but it’s not fact in the conclusion of those statements.” He said some use might be found for the Hardwick Stove Plant (Whirlpool Plant No. 2) which is directly across from the Woolen Mill. That would be a tremendous project to anchor a voluntary redevelopment strategy. Plant No. 3 might have interim uses but it will be a demolition job. It will be a brownfield or a new vacant site for development. He expects the buildings that make up Plant No. 1 are worn out after 100 years of continuous manufacturing.
“What do we need to do to successfully redevelop this with manufacturing or distribution or job centers? I can’t lie to people. We will have to assemble some larger tracts from these core parcels, predominantly because of the way companies develop sites now,” he said. “It would be false of me to say we can redevelop there without acquiring some homes or commercial businesses. That’s a given if we want to replace these manufacturing jobs with more manufacturing jobs.”
How that is done is up to the community.
“I am not advocating anything but what the leadership in the community wants to do. I will advise honestly about it and will advise them that those are some tough decisions we have to be prepared to talk through and work through with the neighborhood.”
He said there will be some demolition of the old plant, which could be an opportunity for utilizing the creek and property prone to flooding for passive recreation, maybe a large regional stormwater detention pond that would be an amenity to an urban park.
“That’s the kind of discussion we need you to participate in as merchants. I would suggest that redevelopment has to come across Inman Street and pick up the area (around Five Points) that is already redeveloping and make sure we create linkages so there is a flow and ties so it’s all working together to the benefit of you as members of MainStreet.”
Berry said public involvement is critical to set the tone for the city and accelerate broader economic growth in the tourism arena as well as other commercial enterprises.
He said gateways and inner cities are important because they are the definitions of who and what a community is to the outside world.
“If it looks ignored or rundown, then that’s the impression they have of the community as a whole,” he said. “We have to be careful at times on how we route people into Cleveland so people who are from out of town do get the right impression. You can have many different impressions as a newcomer to this area depending on which direction you drive into town from.
“We need to find a balance point for all of that. I’ve suggested they look at Inman Street all the way to APD 40 and all the way back to Keith Street as being part of any redevelopment.”
Berry said the timeframe for redeveloping the Whirlpool site depends on the will of the people. If it is a local project, it could begin soon. If it is done as a brownfield redevelopment site, then it could take 10 years.