Saturday, June 11, 2011

100 Year Old Columbia Building Coming Down For Parking Garage--Oh, I'm Sorry... I Meant To Say, "A Welcome Center!"

Despite his structure being in good usable shape.... We can say goodbye!


The Landmarks Commission, responsible for delaying demolition of the historic Columbia Building in downtown Cleveland to build a parking garage for a casino, has now given the go-ahead to demolish this handsome pedestrian oriented downtown structure, in favor of a more car dominated street scene. No one can be this short sighted to not explore ideas for saving the Columbia and incorporating it into a design which would satisfy parking issues for visiting guests with cars glued to their rear ends--as well as needs of pedestrians and people who actually LIVE downtown.

Making this even more difficult to swallow, is a planning commission that has not sold me on the idea that they have "looked at all possible alternatives..and none are feasible" , or so we have heard a dozen times! I cannot accept this bone thrown to the public.

Someone whom I have kept in contact with about this dilemma, name withheld, had this to say: "I am now convinced that The Landmarks Commission is nothing but a mascaraed; another puppet on strings. When they say that "none of the alternatives are feasible", that is nothing more than those strings being pulled. In fact, they are literally mimicking whatever the developer says. They do not actually fight a real fight for historic buildings in this city, even when they are a designated Landmark as this one is.

They just go through some "motions" hoping to make it look like they're putting up some sort of protest. Some who have protested this demolition are now looking at ways to improve the design of the garage. They were pleased with the large turnout of people who opposed the demolition of the Columbia, and lament that "just because they have lost this battle, that it does not mean we have lost the war." That, referring to taking more enthusiastic action in the future where other historic buildings may be threatened.

Maybe it doesn't "mean" we lost the war, but, I guarantee you -- we "lost" this war before it even started. This city's government wants only one thing -- someone spending money in this city -- especially a LOT of money, as developers do. They will sell the historic City Hall that they work in -- also a designated Landmark -- and allow its destruction, if the price is right. The situation here is thoroughly pathetic and thoroughly hopeless.


I could not agree with the above comments more. Still, how could there be "no feasible alternatives" It seems many who have attended meetings about the demolition did just that, present feasible alternatives! So what can it be? Why the rubber stamp go ahead? Hmmmmm.....WAIT!!!....maybe there are too many demolition contractors standing to gain by being given the promise they will get a job! No one in city government probably ever expected this much protest to this demolition so ramming it through would be a cinch, no worries. A few in the good old "good 'ole boys club" can make some fast cash. Sure I am speculating, but one must wonder!

I hope people will realize why it is treading a risky path to allow a gaming industry, parking czars, and a developer be in some kind of position to act as a big benefactor and pillar member of the community. It is as close to a real life "deal with the devil" example as one can get! It is a perfect example of how letting developers, parking lot kings, and some gaming cronies dictate city planning, as I have mentioned before, is like letting loggers dictate forest management!

With the demolition of Columbia, what they want, they get, no matter how bad it is to the vision of creating a pedestrian friendly city-scape. Maybe those who run the show are used to the parking lot scene anyway, so to them they see nothing wrong with this picture! Maybe it is the quicker and cheaper way for them. But what is cheapest for the parties involved in this fiasco is not always best for the many in the long term. Indeed, screw the resident or stakeholder which bares the brunt of the long term costs such as ruining an already walkable infrastructure in favor of more cars and creating a pedestrian dead zone!

It is not as if the developer of this project would have walked away from it altogether had demolition of the Columbia Building been denied by the Planning and Landmarks Commissions. On the Contrary, it would have forced a more thoughtful re-design. The city neglected to use this scenario as leverage that would demand a design that would have integrated the Columbia Building into the plan. Here was an opportunity to achieve the best design possible to satisfy everyone, wasted!

To the rest of the outside progressive city designers and planners in the world..looking in, this demolition and parking garage design represents the poster child of HOW NOT to design a city if you want to promote more pedestrian traffic at street level, create connectivity for such, and create economic diversity and a walkable friendly feel... However, if you want to promote more oil use, pedestrian dead zones, noise, a building that will likely start to look crappy in a few years with its faux frontage cheesy looking building materials.....and build the city for cars and not people..The demolition with the current parking garage design is brilliant. Textbook right out of the 50's through 70's!

Yes, I should mention that the more historically significant Stanley Block Building will be saved and restored, (not because the developers were not prepared to knock this down too!--another story.) but to see it juxtaposed with a strip-mall type building, might look as ridiculous or awkward as seeing a new Westlake-style Taco Bell sitting right next to Severance Hall, or Liberace playing piano in a hip hop show. I Would such a "fusion" work?

Seriously, we need to ask.. "For whom are we designing our city?" Certainly NOT for attracting stakeholders...And rather, for fly by night visitors. They come, they gamble, they POOP, they leave...and continue to say how wrong Cleveland gets everything from the comfort of their sprawl-burb home.

If this demolition of an already pedestrian structured infrastructure for a parking garage... Oh, I forgot to mention what they're calling it.. "Welcome Center" does not create the street pedestrian lively area with galleries, shops, businesses, restaurants, future retail, etc... In my opinion it will be a failure. Afterall, isn't this the scene Cleveland touts it wants to create?....A walkable, day and night city of choice? Well, if your only choice in life is spending your penny rolls saved in the pickle jar at a casino to help pay for repairing the bungee attached bumper on your rusted car, for more cigarettes, or hungry man TV dinners, then maybe this is a perfect design! (Sorry, I am getting a bit nasty, but I cannot deny the scenes I witness in these kinds of places!)

I actually had a different vision for this part of the city...perhaps a bit more in line with promoting a healthy and more economically productive and diverse population that does not need The Lone Ranger to come in and "save the city" (Ie: MedMart, Casino) The current design of the garage that will replace the Columbia Building is so counter productive to the above described scene many would like to see downtown...as well as so counter productive to promoting a more sustainable city--also something that Cleveland is supposedly trying to achieve.

I cannot say much positive about this demolition/parking garage scenario, but I guess the light at the end of the tunnel is that if more opposition to demolitions as witnessed with Columbia happened every time city fathers partner with very un-creative developers and those with a lack of vision in quality city planning, then just maybe there would be a bit more caution exercised in how we lay out our city's future designs. Maybe there would be more demand to achieve everlasting appeal, purpose, and style--And in the spirit of a more sustainable future and economy that can spawn from such--there would be more demand in keeping the pedestrian in mind first, the car second! So, looking forward, maybe the opposition can/will result in the changing of the current design of the garage.


Here are a couple good quotes online today that reflect the immediate disappointment and dissatisfaction for this terrible design.



"At the end of the day it's not about "preserving the past" its about allowing lower prospect to continue a mixed use model that encourages people to use and live in the city and not creating a two block auto oriented dead zone for people who want to stop in for a couple hours and leave. Mixed use is "building for the future"... not lining our streets to make things easiest for temporary guests."



"I'm feeling quite depressed this afternoon. I just can't comprehend that we are tearing down this building for a parking garage. A parking garage for the folks of Streetsboro and Madison and Lagrange. The same people who talk crap about this city any chance they get won out. Congratulations to all those who comment on Cleveland.com, you are the true winners. You can now come and dump your quarters in my downtown while you laugh at what a terrible city this is from the comfort of your close parking garage and safety of your gerbil tube that "elevates" you above the dirt of the city.Another fine day of Cleveland politics. Still much work to be done ahead about final designs."

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