Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How much retail is too much?

Please be sure to read the comments on this entry. While I still maintain that there is too much retail for an area with a declining population, my position has evolved somewhat. Non-anonymous comments are welcome.

There has been a curious phenomenon happening in Cuyahoga County. It may be happening elsewhere, for all I know. In an era of declining population, recession, and increased shopping via the Internet, more retail exists than ever before. Perhaps I should clarify my statement: more storefronts exist than ever before, for many of these are empty.

Last week, it was announced that First Interstate Properties was purchasing Oakwood Country Club (which has land in both Cleveland Heights and South Euclid) and developing it into senior housing and retail. Part of the property, First Interstate says, will be preserved for greenspace (although this space will be divided into two parcels with the shopping center plunked into the middle of it).

The Oakwood Club and surrounding area.

Let’s take a look at some numbers:

91,392 <--- combined CH-SE population at its peak (1960 for CH, 1970 for SE).

67,036 <---combined CH-SE population as of 2008.

Over the past half century, the CH-SE area has lost almost 25,000 residents, or 27%. Part of this has been tied to people leaving Ohio for warmer climates, and part to an overall trend toward outer suburbs (whose residents will pay dearly when gasoline hits $4/gallon). Despite the population drain, the CH-SE area has seen an increase in housing stock. That increase continues, despite the foreclosure crisis, to this day. The Cutters Creek development in South Euclid, which involved bulldozing a wooded area for the construction of cluster homes, is a recent example. So are the Bluestone and Courtyards of Severance developments in Cleveland Heights.

The Cutters Creek clusterhouse development in South Euclid.

While the population has dropped, there has paradoxically been an increase in retail space. The major centers are listed below with their largest tenants - a small fraction of the total storefronts there.

*University Square (built on the site of the old May Company, early 2000s): Target, Jo-Anne Fabrics, Applebee’s
*Cedar Center South (rebuilt on the site of previous strip center, 2006): – Whole Foods, First Watch Café, Boston Market, Dollar Store, CVS, Tuesday Morning, urgent care medical facility
*Cedar Center North (construction pending): – Gordon’s Food Service
*Coventry Village (dating back to the 19th Century): – Record Revolution, Big Fun, Winking Lizard
*Severance Town Center (built 1963, rebuilt in the late 1990s): Home Depot, Walmart, Bally Total Fitness, Dave’s Supermarket, Regal Cinemas

Numerous retail options are within a short drive from SE and CH:
*Legacy Village (2003): Crate & Barrel, Cheesecake Factory, Urban Active fitness
*Beachwood Place (built 1978, expanded 1997): Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue
*La Place (built in the 1970s): Borders, Talbots, Melange
*Richmond Town Square (built 1966, remodeled & expanded 1999): Sears, JC Penney, Regal Cinemas
*Golden Gate Plaza (early 1970s): Old Navy, Half-Price Books, TGIFridays, K&G, PetSmart (and a Costco and Best Buy across the street)

There are also smaller retail centers at the Cedar/Lee, Cedar/Taylor, Cedar/Green, and Monticello/Green intersections. The above is in addition to an endless strip of storefronts running along Mayfield Road from Coventry to SOM Center Road.

Anyone can plainly see the area is not lacking in retail/restaurants.

Supporters of First Interstate’s plan claim that this will 1) generate more tax revenue and 2) bring more residents. The first part of their claim is debatable: for there will probably not be a net gain in active retail, just more storefront. The second part of their claim is pure bunk and is not supported by historical evidence. In the era of the automobile, people don’t move somewhere because it’s close to a mall (it’s instructive to remember that when the exurbs started booming, there was no nearby shopping). People choose a place to live based on price, quality of life, and – if they have children – the school system. Neither the Cleveland Heights nor the South Euclid-Lyndhurst school systems are anything to boast about at the present time. That leaves price (which works in CH and SE’s favor), and quality of life. Ask any young professional about what constitutes quality of life for them, and they will reply with a laundry list that includes bike trails, greenspace, and cultural activities (they may also mention sports teams, which will definitely not work on northeast Ohio’s favor). The east side of Cleveland has culture up the wazoo – the orchestra, art and historical museums, the botanical gardens, art cinema – we’ve had it for the past 90 years and it will continue to be a draw. Our greenspace, however, is lacking compared to the west side, which has Edgewater Park and the Rocky River Metropark. In comparison, we have only the smallish Euclid Creek Metropark, then the North Chagrin reservation which is on the far side of SOM Center Road.

Politicians in CH and SE are being short sighted in their mad quest for tax revenue and development for their own sake. Better to reduce housing density and increase greenspace - thereby increasing property values and tax revenue.

Fact is, the “if you build it they will come” school of development doesn’t work in the 21st Century. Big box retail and chain stores struggling to survive in an era of high rent and shrinking population does not lead to quality of life. It leads to empty storefronts – which makes the area undesirable and hurts small business most of all. Jobs with good wages and benefits (which are not retail/restaurant type) improve quality of life – and northeast Ohio has been woefully ineffective in creating those. Greenspace improves quality of life – and those who benefit don’t have to spend money to enjoy it.

The answer to this article’s headline is: when there are empty storefronts and a declining population, there is an overabundance of retail.

If First Interstate really wants to improve the area, why not buy existing facilities along Mayfield Road and fix them up? It would cost a lot less.


sheilagh said...

I could not agree more. I would love to see that former country club become public greenspace~all of it! Curious about the nine-mile creek mentioned in the PD feature; have never been on the property.

Anonymous said...

You did fail to mention Forest Hills Park in Cleveland Heights/East Cleveland, a massive greenspace.

Hank Drake said...

Anon, two thirds of Forest Hills park is in East Cleveland. The one-third occupying Cleveland Heights is taken up with baseball fields and a playground. While there is some walkable trail there, much is not conducive to a quiet stroll.

As for Cain Park, with the large performance area and other events frequently scheduled there, calling it greenspace is debatable.

Hank Drake said...

I forgot to mention one thing that all should bear in mind. While getting approval to build Legacy Village, First Interstate promised to maintain a robust tree barrier between Legacy Village and Richmond & Cedar Roads. Their promise to do this was a factor in their getting approval for the project. First Interstate failed to keep their promise.

Now, First Interstate is stating that they will use green construction methods and be environmentally sensitive.

I am reminded of that old phrase: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Jane Goodman said...

Mad quest for tax revenue? Our city is already on the edge because NONE of the mass retail you say we can drive to is in South Euclid. All our residents' money flows out, not in. The tax revenue is the only thing keeping our safety forces and city services going. We're about to lose another 10% of our budget when the new governor cuts off the local government fund payments. You think it's okay for us to support other cities but not for us to ask for a piece of the pie? The option is no longer "commercial" or "park" it's "commercial" or "residential" and if you think there's too much retail, let me tell you that there's way too much residential, and while with this deal we get huge chunks of restored natural area with public access, not poisoned golf course or grass, with residential none of it would be public access and it would be the end of the wildlife we hold dear.

Anonymous said...

So I guess Shaker Lakes and the new Beachwood park/reservation are questionable green spaces as well. Cain Park does in fact meander all the way to Forest Hill Park, and I have found Forest Hill to be a very pleasant park, if scruffy around the edges. Your dismissive response on these fine green spaces is weak. And the truth is that there are many nice green spaces both public and private on the east side. And many nice parks as well.

I don't think we need new retail space, but I do think we need to replace the space SE foolishly tore down and to replace a lot of the obsolete space along Mayfield.

And if we're being truthful we need a place to put replacement housing for the neighborhoods to the east and south of the course that are also obsolete and in need of a date with the wrecking ball.

Hank Drake said...

Anon, if you bothered to read my post you would know I am referring to the park situation in Cleveland Heights and South Euclid only. Neither Shaker Lakes nor the Beachwood park (more of a strip than a park) are in CH or SE.

It's also worth pointing out that Shaker Lakes would not even exist were it not for the fortitude of citizens there 50 years ago who banded together to prevent a highway from going there.

I agree with you that the Cedar Center north space needs to be completed post-haste. The City of South Euclid's actions in demolishing the old space (which, let's face it, had seen better days) have been discussed at

As for the housing in that area: certainly if houses have been abandoned, they need to be torn down. But there are those who live in CH-SE, myself included, precisely because we don't want to live in a McMansion in some soulless, colorless exurb.

By the way, as clearly stated in my profile, I generally don't publish anonymous comments. So if you want to publish again, have some guts and do it under your name.

Hank Drake said...

Jane, I want to thank you for your comment and especially for putting it under your name.

My post was dealing with the overbalance of retail regionally. While there is less retail in South Euclid generally, I would not say those who live here are underserved. I would also point out that South Euclid (citizens and government) prospered with less retail for decades and with a higher population than it has now.

It appears with the purchase of the South Euclid portion of Oakwood by First Interstate, the question of using it all as a park is moot. When given the choice between commercial or residential, I would certain prefer commercial. It will be up to the authorities in South Euclid to make sure that First Interstate keeps their promises in terms of environmentally sensitive construction.

Bev said...

Well said. I would love to know the stats on how much of the retail space in CH/UH/SE is currently empty and how that compares to regional averages. My gut is that is higher! The last thing this area needs is more housing. I think the new census numbers are going to be shocking to alot of people- population, housing vacancies and increase in rentals.

It seems irresponsible of our community leaders to promote new housing and retail when what we have isn't being utilized. Perhaps a better use of our resources would be to figure out how to maintain our property values and lease the current retail space effectively

Hank Drake said...

Bev, I agree that new housing is the last thing we need. The value of my own house has been negatively affected by the economic downturn, foreclosure crisis, and glut of unsold housing on the market - all this despite the work I've done to improve my home, interior and exterior.

That's one reason why I believe Citizens for Oakwood needs to accept the reality of the situation that the land in South Euclid has been purchased, and the best approach now is to make sure that First Interstate honors their promises in regard to LEED and environmentally sound construction.

If Citizens for Oakwood wants to save the Cleveland Heights portion of Oakwood (which is the larger part), they need to get the funds raised to purchase the property.

While I agree that the area as a whole needs neither retail nor housing, the fact is that, barring some philanthropist arm-twisting Mitch Schneider into selling or donating the land, part of the South Euclid portion is going to be used as retail. The city needs to make sure that it's done right.

Jane Goodman is right when she states that South Euclid's portion of retail development is paltry compared to CH (not to mention other surrounding areas). That's one reason why I hope Cedar Center North (which is not new retail, but replaces previously existing retail) gets completed ASAP.

If I was a wealthy philanthropist, I would buy the land and perform remediation to correct the issues caused by the golf course. I woild keep the clubhouse and install a miniature golf course for families to enjoy. The I would donate the land to the Metroparks or whatever authority wanted it. But that is not the reality of the situation.