Economic Redevelopment in University Heights, Issues and Vision

University Heights needs economic redevelopment. The mayors of Beachwood, South Euclid, and Shaker Heights have spent countless hours on economic development and redevelopment in their cities and have gotten results.  As mayor of University Heights, I will do the same.

University Square is obvious.  When the old May Company/Kaufmann’s on the Heights was redeveloped into University Square in 2003, there were high expectations.  However, some storefronts were built on speculation and never filled.  The parking garage was dark, disinvitational, and (for a time) structurally unsound.  The layout of the center was mazelike to motorists, impenetrable to pedestrians, and bicyclists were forbidden.  Tops grocery stores pulled out of Ohio, leaving an entire level vacant.  One by one, tenants left: Pier One Imports left for Lyndhurst, Jo-Ann Fabrics left for Mayfield Heights, Foot Locker and TJ Maxx left for South Euclid.  The only tenant left is Applebee’s (as Macy’s and Target own their own properties).  The bondholders own University Square now, and they are interested in redevelopment.  We should be holding public meetings on the redevelopment of University Square. The bondholders and developers (together with Macy’s and Target, as they own their real estate) need to hear what the public wants to help them assess demand.  We have to get it right this time. We cannot afford to get it wrong again.  

Our efforts at redevelopment and investment in our business districts will not be limited to University Square, nor will every project be of the same scale.  Over at Cedar-Taylor, the Cedar-Taylor Development Association requested that University Heights install modest streetscape improvements (banners, planters, bike racks, benches, etc.) to match the improvements already in place on the Cleveland Heights side of the district.  Our city council voted unanimously to fund the project. The present administration has taken no action despite the mandate from council.  As mayor, I will make Cedar-Taylor a priority.  I would implement these streetscape projects now, while we continue to explore further options for improvement of that district.  University Heights has lost enough businesses over the last 8 years, and these merchants remain committed to our city.  I will work with them and with our city council to improve Cedar-Taylor and make it a destination retail district and a valuable gateway between University Heights and Cleveland Heights, as it was always intended to be.  Furthermore, there are development opportunities on the northern end of the district on the UH side.  As mayor, I will pursue those development opportunities, and actively seek redevelopment at Cedar-Taylor to give that district and the surrounding neighborhood the economic boost we need and deserve. 

In the short term, as mayor, I will begin making city hall user friendly for residents and businesses alike.  It should not take weeks to get a building permit.  We should have a dedicated fire inspector available.  Payments of fees should be accepted online instead of requiring people to appear in person during limited business hours.

In the long term, our city needs a real master plan and a modern zoning code.  Yes, there is a draft master plan from 2015, and there have been consultants hired to update the zoning code.  Yet it all remains incomplete.  As mayor I will lead the effort to bring together our elected officials, residents, and other stakeholders to collaborate and create a real master plan for University Heights, and update our zoning code to a form based code to make our city look like the city it ought to be for the 21st century and for decades to come.  Without vision, our city will continue to be left behind, while our neighboring cities continue to attract new business and lure away our businesses, eroding our tax base and threatening the sustainability of our city to remain independent.  We cannot afford to wait another four years to begin.

My vision for University Heights is to redevelop our city to attract new residents and homeowners who want to live close to the urban and cultural core of downtown and University Circle.  With them, we will attract the businesses that support and service that population.  All of them together will help restore our diminished tax base, increase property values, and allow us to reduce taxes while delivering the high level of services all of our residents deserve and have come to expect.  Cedar-Taylor to Cedar Center and University Square could be the centerpiece of that, coupled with the Wiley property, once it is done serving as swing space for our school district.  A project of this magnitude will be comparable to the work underway in Shaker Heights at Van Aken. 

Ultimately, this will not be the vision of one person, not one mayor or official, not one developer.  We must collaborate and build consensus to create a common vision, one that honors our history while embracing the future.  Together we will take action and implement that vision.  Together we will reach new heights.

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