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).
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.
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.