Friday, May 15, 2009

Why Should A New Public Aquarium In Cleveland Be Located In The Galleria?

Why should an aquarium be located in the galleria?

It has been long overdue for Cleveland to boast a world class educational attraction that teaches something to everyone about something we all have in common no matter what our politics, financial background or what walk of life in this world we come from. That ‘something’ would be about our often taken-for-granted perspective of our dependence on aquatic habitats as being crucial to the existence of all life----and how human activity can impact it.

What does the general public, or our political leaders who show up at the office each day really know about the interdependence between streams, rivers, lakes and oceans--and how our health will be a direct reflection of the health of our aquatic habitats? How many people really know how simple decisions they make on a daily basis can impact the life support systems of the waters of the world and their inhabitants---and eventually our own lives? The answers to these questions is very little.

Large scale public aquariums featuring larger than life exhibits make an impact in young and old minds--and stir the imagination to want to learn more about these animals and their environments. Such aquariums generate a better understanding and respect for our underwater world, which leads to fostering a better stewardship for the aquatic environment upon which we depend so much. For some, a visit to a public aquarium may be as close to the underwater world as they will ever be.

Currently, between New York and Chicago , in the northern states, there are not many places to witness such inspirational aquatic life themes. The lack of a public aquarium in a state like Ohio, which boasts over 60,000 miles of streams, and where human activity has certainly taken its toll on these habitats, demonstrates a total lack of regard for how much these environments sacrifice so that we can enjoy the kind of lifestyles we do.

Downtown Cleveland presents the perfect opportunity for building a world class public aquarium right in the heart of Northeast Ohio. As most aquariums around the country were built directly on the water to offer an inspiring backdrop, the city of Cleveland, however, lacks property along the lakefront within its proper boundaries. With the current economic development and political environment in Cleveland these days, priority is lent on building condos or casinos on the waterfront, rather than an attraction whose theme, as indicated earlier, is of a substance called ’water’ that affects all of us. Perhaps other options can present refreshing opportunities.

This brings to mind the Galleria in downtown Cleveland , a one time thriving upscale mall, now containing offices, art galleries, and a handful of restaurants and specialty retail. It is no surprise that it has struggled in recent times as it tries to re-invent itself, as it has battled against the allure of the Legacy Villages and the like.

For starters, the Galleria would be ideal for the new aquarium because it will eventually contain neighborhood foot traffic (from the surrounding up and coming neighborhood) from those who will live in the area, hence offering the kind of attraction that makes living in such a neighborhood in a downtown setting unique. The area surrounding the Galleria is an emerging neighborhood that will link to Playhouse Square. And, with the neighborhood, will also follow essential retail that can draw even more bodies, as no one who invests heavily in a downtown condo and walkable neighborhood, will want to have to drive to the suburbs for their essentials of life.

The second reason the Galleria is an ideal site is because contrary to the trend of ‘abandon the old and build new’, the Cleveland Aquarium can demonstrate a more conservation minded example by choosing to take the adaptive re-use of structure that even as it stands now, appears completely in sync with a public aquarium theme. In the day and age of cities all over the country and world demonstrating their own unique example is sustainability, renovating and retrofitting an existing structure, and choosing the philosophy not to encroach on the water with more concrete, will be the sort of theme that will gain kudos in the conservation community. After all, isn't the message the aquarium wants to be sending about conservation? Well, this begins with where and how you chose to build.

Adaptive re-use allows planners, architects, artists and so on to reach to the depths of their creativity, to show the world that we do not always have to tear down and build new, AND to show that we can re-use existing structures which can result in much less taxing of the earth’s resources than constructing from scratch. Inadvertently, the aquarium will help keep the urban hub thriving, which in turn can help reverse the trend of out-migration of populations encroaching on natural lands. Again, another conservation sublime message that is sent by choosing adaptive re-use options.

The third reason I find this site appealing is because of its easy as cake access to ALL major freeways that traverse Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. This is a key element because aquariums are attractions that are visited by people from everywhere. There is no way this site is isolated or hard to find---or lost amidst any other lakefront development. It will stand out beckoning to all who pass. Such a location will not be undermined by less austere developments. This attraction deserves to stand out and have a block to itself. Add to this the parking situation. The Galleria has a huge underground ultra clean, secure and heated lot that visitors can easily access, exit their vehicles, and be inside the attraction within a matter of minutes. Additional parking surrounds the entire facility.

Moving to reason number four. Here I will mention a host of related reasons: Accommodations, conventions, restaurants, area attractions, and public transport lines. The Galleria is within a 2 to 10 minute walk of several hotels, the site where the new Convention Center and Medical Mart will be constructed, the Great Lakes Science Museum , the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, and the Cleveland Browns Stadium. We are also in close proximity to Progressive Field, Quicken Loans Arena, and Cleveland State University . The conventions will draw a large amount of people, and many of these people will want to see what kind of attractions are downtown. This would be a massive, classy attraction practically right at their doorstep! The aquarium stands to gain even more foot traffic and visitation from this scenario.

Within this same short walk are a myriad of fine restaurants and clubs. Whether you choose to dine within the hotels themselves, at Tower City , at any of the East 4th Street district’s restaurants, or just simply choosing the Aquarium’s own restaurant featured within the Galleria’s main entrance or built in Food Court where, visitors will undoubtedly be able to find a meal of preference. For those who choose to stay for a few days, there is even a grocery store within a short walk. Lastly, the Galleria is located along major bus and rail lines for easy access around the city, or to the airport via the waterfront line.

The fifth reason would have to be the fact that inside the Galleria, there is plenty of conference and banquet space available for functions which the aquarium can host. In return, those attending non-aquarium related functions may want to also visit the aquarium. Essentially, the building is a turn key operation in that respect.

Last but no least, among my favorite reasons for locating a public aquarium in the Galleria lies in the challenge of getting those who are dead set on a structure to be positioned directly on the water, to look at another angle, because I know that the one thing this site lacks is the expected backdrop of the lakefront. To me, this setting might be a bit cliché-ish, but aside from my personal opinion, I do realize this presents a scenario that offers a sour lemon to some. But, let me attempt to make lemonade! Here goes…..

If a quality planetarium can be a success in educating, stimulating curiosity, and fostering an appreciation for the distant heavens of the universe---while not situated (for obvious reasons) in outer space for its backdrop, why couldn’t the same logic apply for an aquarium, that is not directly plopped right on the water?

The Tennessee Aquarium is a success being located near, not exactly right on, a much less imposing body of water (than Lake Erie ) to the average eye. This being a river. So is the case for the Newport Aquarium. If those aquariums can be successful situated along the river, why can’t The Cleveland Aquarium be a success that would have a much more imposing body of water, even though not directly on the water……BUT, easily within eye-shot and a quick walk?

Lake Erie is less than a 10 minute walk right to the lakefront, and in actuality, because East 9th Street slopes up from the waterfront, one can actually see the spectacular blue ribbon across the horizon from the doorstep of the Galleria. This gives visitors a better perspective of the bigger picture of the lake, more so than being right down on the water, where at eye level, we see mostly the break wall and concrete!

The creative challenge here would be to connect the lake, somewhat, even though we are not directly on it; sort of lure it to us. How can this be achieved? Simple---A platform rising above and stretching directly from out of the Aquarium restaurant partly over East 9th Street. Such a patron observation deck/pavilion could offer places to dine outside, or viewing areas that catch the sunsets, which are spectacular from such a vantage point, as evidenced when standing on the Mall looking out onto the lake. The view is actually better from this point, than being sunken directly on the waterfront. Additionally, the opportunity to create roof top gardens presents another demonstration of sustainability and conservation of water in preventing storm-water runoff into our water resources.

All positive points the Galleria offers for housing this attraction, should not be passed by for this one simple aspect of it not being directly on the water. As discussed above, by not placing it directly on the water, we can boast the philosophy of choosing to not encroach on the shoreline, as has been the past practice of development, and offer all the conservation messages sent when choosing to exercise adaptive re-use of structures. Wal-Mart boasts how “green’ their buildings are these days, BUT, just how ‘green’ are they when they have chosen to not build upon a brownfield, and instead, clear 60 acres of green, pave it, then tell us how ‘green’ they are! Think about it! Again, the message of adaptive re-use is sustainability/conservation/less impact on the environment.

Other factors to consider are that those who are planning the Cleveland Aquarium, can avoid a lot of the political red tape that often results in so many projects being delayed in this city, by the typical ‘pass the buck’ mentality that is a regular practice of Northeast Ohio politics. Why wait for the city to work to help acquire land right near the lake, when as mentioned earlier, their priorities are not on focusing on such an environmental attraction. Using lawn chemicals on public grounds right near the water, says a lot about that! Working with a ready and willing private entity, can avoid so many potential complications and pitfalls. Do we want this to be another Med Mart drama? Cleveland has lacked a designated public aquarium since the mid 1980’s. The Aquarium people really have nothing since then to boast about in their portfolio to warrant either city or public support that will result in a rolling out of the red carpet.

The Great waters attempt failed in the 90’s only to result in the Rock Hall gaining center stage on the harbor, when at the time, I was in total support of the aquarium getting that spot. This should have taught us where the priorities amongst the movers and shakers are in the city. Maybe taking smaller steps right now and by configuring the Galleria to accommodate the aquarium and maintain the aquarium theme throughout the building, it will offer a demonstration of what private and grass roots efforts (which is how the original aquarium came to be) can do to get something grand accomplished; something that will actually be a crown jewel attraction in Cleveland at a time when attitudes are negative and hopes grim about getting anything done----and at a time when the best some can offer for the panacea to our economic woes is to follow the bandwagon of mediocrity and build a casino! I think that is pathetic and shows an utterly nauseating lack of creativity in re-inventing a city, BUT, that is another story and debate.

For now, let’s not ignore the opportunity that could set the stage for the ultimate support for such an attraction in the long term future. Cleveland should not have to wait another 5 or 10 years to get what has been long overdue. There is more of what the aquarium group says it needs surrounding such a facility---at the Galleria site right NOW---than what is on the lakefront right now! So, let’s not let this opportunity pass.

The staff at the Cleveland Zoo Aquatics Department is very talented and creative. I am quite confident they can make this idea of locating this attraction in the Galleria a success eventhough it is not directly on water. Achieving that would be something really unique!

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