More Than a Roadway

by | Jul 12, 2016

In mid-June, a delegation of some 20 civic leaders travelled from Cleveland to Milwaukee. What could we learn from that town’s redevelopment of the 30th Street Industrial Corridor or Menomonee Valley that could help us with our own Opportunity Corridor? It turns out we learned quite a bit.

After hearing details from our whirlwind less-than-48 hour trip, a Fund for Our Economic Future staffer quoted lyrics from an old Boston tune, Don’t Look Back:

                                                          “I finally see the dawn arrivin’

                                                           I see beyond the road I’m drivin.’”

Our Cleveland cohort learned firsthand from Milwaukee that 21st century job centers are indeed possible on the east side of Cleveland—so long as we are led by strong leaders, possess a clear vision of what we want to achieve and, quite critically, foster a collaborative spirit among the many, many stakeholders of Opportunity Corridor. Our discussions in Milwaukee closed with this resounding conclusion. In short, if we want to get anywhere, we have to think and see beyond the roadway.

The very name we collectively call this project—Opportunity Corridor—puts the roadway first in thought when the phrase is uttered. Those on our trip felt strongly and optimistically that we must now shift focus to what is happening—and ought to happen—beyond the curb line of the road. Land assembly, environmental remediation, and possible target industries: These are among the things we must now visualize together.

Our June 14-15 trip was sponsored by the Fund for Our Economic Future, Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Sisters of Charity Foundation and the George Gund Foundation. Our Cleveland delegation was comprised not only of Fund members, but representatives from community development corporations (CDCs) along Opportunity Corridor, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cuyahoga County, NOACA, JobsOhio, ODOT, and a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, among others. Bob Weissbourd of RW Ventures, the consultant now working with CDCs along the Opportunity Corridor, drove up from Chicago on our first day. We were hosted by and learned from Milwaukee counterparts equally as diverse.

There were lots of “aha’s” among the trip’s companions. Based on our wrap-up discussions, here are some of the most prominent ones:

  1. Cleveland will benefit from clear leadership and a champion for the development around Opportunity Corridor. Currently, there is not a clear full-throated civic champion for the development around Opportunity Corridor.
  2. We should be more willing to take risks and think big. Milwaukee uses most of the same financial tools that are at our disposal. However, they have made strong statements with respect to their commitment by actively using them. For example, the city is willing to buy and hold land and has even built an industrial building on a speculative basis at one of the more visible corners of Century City, a development within the 30th Street Industrial Corridor.  
  3. Within our overall Opportunity Corridor economic development frame, we should pick a place (or two) and make something happen. While the 30th Street Corridor in Milwaukee will have four job centers, they chose the Century City site as the initial priority.
  4. Although we have vibrant neighborhood-specific community development plans, the Opportunity Corridor will benefit from a shared economic growth strategy. There needs to be clear alignment among state, county, city, and local plans that incorporates elements of community and economic development. The economic growth strategy must address this and should be something to which all of the players can refer, and that ultimately links to our regional economic strategy. Milwaukee has explicitly tied its economic plans for specific redevelopment areas to the Milwaukee seven priority clusters. For example, Century City has a focus on energy, the Menomonee Valley on food and entertainment, and water technologies are a focus of a third area of Milwaukee.
  5. In developing an Opportunity Corridor economic growth strategy, we need sharp, commonly-embraced metrics that we are willing to stick to as implementation proceeds. Development in the Menomonee Valley adhered to a strict 22 jobs/acre goal; achieving that goal required saying no to some opportunities. Most participants believe we need to create our own set of economic goals for Opportunity Corridor (with jobs/acre being one of them) and to share and embrace them broadly.
  6. In developing the economic vision and shared goals around which we will align, we need to engage residents of the neighborhoods. Throughout Milwaukee, and especially around Century City, there has been active outreach to the neighborhoods to understand what they desire and this input has been used to shape and adjust plans. We need to make sure that our economic growth strategy actively involves residents from the surrounding neighborhoods.
  7. We should strive for greater transparency, communication and trust. Without a doubt, Milwaukee has had its share of hiccups in its planning for both the Menomonee Valley and Century City. However, there now seems to be fewer silos and fewer hidden or competing agendas than at the outset. Regular communication clearly exists within the Milwaukee teams and they have arrived at a culture of productive, joint problem solving.

Those from Cleveland bonded on this trip in ways we never did over a meeting room table. This new camaraderie, perhaps as much as our takeaway lessons and insights, will help us move ahead together to make Opportunity Corridor much more that a roadway.

Robert Jaquay is co-chair of the Opportunity Corridor Economic Growth Strategy Committee.