Issue: March/April 2011
Community Impact Awards 2011: Row Strategy
The Trust for Public Land has deals flowing in the flats.
Theresa Gang never experienced the Flats’ Mardi Gras-like heyday, when Merwin Avenue meant Smart Bar Saturday nights live on 107.9 The End. By the time the Cleveland Rowing Foundation’s 36-year-old executive director moved here from Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, the dance hall had been boarded up for more than a decade.
Today, however, with 4 1/2 riverfront acres secured by the Trust for Public Land
’s Parks for People project at her disposal, Gang and her more than 800 members are aiming to get the Flats hopping again with kayaks, canoes and more.
The group’s old boathouse on Carter Road was never built as a boathouse, Gang says. “It was built as storage and industrial use.” Worse, the 22-year-old Cleveland Rowing Foundation
was on a year-to-year lease and found itself in the newly approved casino’s footprint.
So Gang turned to the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that acquires land and turns it over to organizations such as ParkWorks and the Ohio Canal Corridor. The Trust had already purchased 5 acres along an abandoned railroad that will provide public access to Whiskey Island from downtown Cleveland and the Ohio and Erie Canal. It had also protected 11 acres along the Cuyahoga River in the Flats.
Gang wanted about 7 acres of vacant industrial land in the Flats for a public park and new home for the Rowing Foundation.
And where 15 years of other Flats revitalization efforts failed, 14 months of fundraising for a world-class boathouse reaped $1.7 million, including nearly $500,000 from members.
“The members wanted it and were willing to put in the time and the fundraising to make it happen,” Gang says. By Memorial Day, Gang hopes the river will be brimming with dragon boats, canoes and kayaks she plans to rent to visitors.
As yet another connector along the 110-mile Towpath Trail, Rivergate Park will encourage economic development and attract more downtown dwellers, says Bill Carroll, the Trust for Public Land’s Ohio state director. The Trust’s investment in the Flats has been a catalyst for $5 million in public and private funds with about $7 million more pending.
If we’re lucky, we’ll look like Pittsburgh.
“At one time in Pittsburgh, there was an industrial waste site that people converted to a rowing boathouse similar to what’s going on at Rivergate,” Carroll says. “Now, there are condominiums there; there’s restaurants. It transformed that area from an industrial wasteland to a very vibrant area.”
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