CLEVELAND, Ohio – Say goodbye to the iconic drawbridge for pedestrians and bicyclists designed for North Coast Harbor by Boston architect Miguel Rosales.
After years of federal and state review, the city has nixed the Rosales design in favor of a cheaper and duller Plan B version offered by the engineering firm CDM Smith, which originally partnered with Rosales on the drawbridge.
Ken Silliman, Mayor Frank Jackson's chief of staff, said Friday in an interview that the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, rejected the Rosales proposal as unbuildable after determining several months ago that it would have required too many foreign-made parts.
It's fair to ask whether ODOT could have come to its conclusion sooner, or whether the bridge could have been redesigned with American parts.
Silliman, however, said that after exploring all options, the city determined it could not proceed with the Rosales design.
The problem now is that the CDM Smith design, which was approved on May 6 by the city's Planning Commission, is ugly. It very much needs to be refined, because it will occupy a highly visible spot on the lakefront just north of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The project is also dragging along slowly. Instead of delivering the bridge this year or next, the city is now talking about possibly completing it by late 2018.
That would be 13 years after Cleveland received a $4.5 million federal earmark to help pay for the project.
Hitting a wall
The failure of the Rosales design and its underwhelming replacement is a case study in how hard it can be to build great public infrastructure.
The recently completed $53 million renovation of Public Square is part of an impressive wave of projects that have vastly improved downtown Cleveland's public realm in recent decades.
But like any community, Cleveland occasionally hits a wall when ambition exceeds capacity and/or will power.
Hosting the Republican National Convention, for example, has required choices about where to focus time, energy and money.
As recently as 2014, the city had four active proposals for pedestrian bridges designed by Rosales, who co-designed the spectacular Leonard Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston.
Only one appears fully viable now: The proposed $33 million-plus lakefront bridge that would connect the downtown Mall to North Coast Harbor by traversing the lakefront railroad tracks and the Shoreway.
Originally planned for completion in time for the Republican convention, that bridge is now on a slower track. More on that in a moment.
Connecting a lonely, underused park
The concept for a drawbridge at North Coast Harbor grew out of the 2004 lakefront plan completed under Jackson's predecessor, Jane Campbell.
The idea was to connect the west side of the harbor to Voinovich Park, the flag-shaped green space isolated at the north end of the East Ninth Street pier, north of the Rock Hall.
The 2004 plan suggested that the park, named for the late George Voinovich, the city's former mayor and a former Ohio governor and U.S. senator, would get more use if it were part of a pedestrian circuit around North Coast Harbor, with a drawbridge completing the loop.
Some boaters say the bridge will impede access to the new marina docks at the harbor, just north of the Rock Hall.
But the city wisely takes the position that waterfronts should serve many constituents, not just a single group, and Jackson is still 100 percent behind the project, Silliman said.
From Beauty to Beast
The Rosales drawbridge design called for a pair of curved bascules, or "jackknife" bridges supported by a fanlike array of cables.
The effect, in renderings, was light, graceful and postcard-worthy, which is exactly what the city wanted for a highly visible spot on the lakefront.
But after lengthy reviews by ODOT and the Federal Aviation Administration, the estimated construction cost of the Rosales project mushroomed from $6 million to $10 million, or $4 million more than the city has to spend.
Even more to the point, the foreign-made mechanical parts specified by Rosales required a waiver under the federal government's Buy American rules.
But Silliman said that the city and ODOT, which is overseeing the project, are convinced that it would have been impossible to get one from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Rosales declined to comment on the rejection of his design.
Russell Critelli, the CDM Smith engineer who represented the firm at the May 6 meeting of the city Planning Commission, said later in an interview that the design could be refined.
That's good, because it's hard to believe that the bridge needs to look as heavy and cloddish as it does in the renderings.
The proposal calls for a clunky pair of bascules framed by thick, round beams of steel. The impression is that of a pair of oversized rectangular cages – a far cry from the elegant Rosales design.
The four Rosales proposals
In addition to the North Coast Harbor project, Rosales participated on the design team commissioned to design a pedestrian bridge at Whiskey Island for the Cleveland Metroparks as part of the Lake Link Trail connecting the city's West Side to Lake Erie at Whiskey Island.
Rosales also proposed a dramatic, S-shaped suspension bridge to connect the Cleveland Museum of Art across Rockefeller Park to the Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple – Tifereth Israel on East 105th Street in University Circle.
CWRU dropped the idea in favor of an excellent plan for a greenway designed by Sasaki and Associates, and approved last month by the city's Planning Commission. The university plans to break ground for that project in the fall.
Metroparks has also been dropping hints that the Rosales design for the Whiskey Island bridge may be diluted.
The biggest idea
That leaves the fourth Rosales proposal – the pedestrian bridge from the downtown Mall to North Coast Harbor – as the only one that's intact and in play.
The design calls for a curving span 14 feet wide and more than 900 feet long, held up by a cables suspended from a pair of towers shaped in a giant V.
The city and county say they are still fully committed to the project, and nonprofit city-county Group Plan Commission is trying to raise the additional millions of dollars above and beyond the $10 million each committed so far by the city and county, and another $5 million committed by the state.
Let's hope the city and county can follow through. Of the four bridges designed for Cleveland by Rosales, the big one on the downtown lakefront is the most important one.
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