David Adjaye’s riverfront master plan gives us a reason to visit Cleveland

Go with the Flow

David Adjaye’s riverfront master plan gives us a reason to visit Cleveland

View looking east toward Tower City at new riverwalk with landscaped water feature (Concept Rendering © Adjaye Associates)

Of all the cities in the U.S., Cleveland gets dunked on quite a bit. A viral video from the aughts joked that the city’s main export is crippling depression. It’s desirability as a vacation destination was questioned by a two-time NBA All-Star. A failed 1980s campaign tried to rebrand the city as The Big Plum, an apparent attempt to capitalize on the fruit branding of a larger, more prosperous coastal city. Haters clearly haven’t tried the city’s outstanding regional sandwich, visited the gorgeous art museum, spent a day biking around the wide, flat streets on the West Side, or read the news that the Ohio city is “the next Venice.” Regardless of whether you’re a Cleveland hater or a booster, it’s plain to see that, like many postindustrial cities, some of Cleveland’s infrastructure and public spaces are new and sparkling, but many others are overdue for an upgrade.

In an attempt to broaden access to the waterfront and encourage economic development, the Detroit-based developer Bedrock today debuted a master plan for the Cuyahoga riverfront that’s intended to spiff up a segment of the river’s edge with a promenade. Plans also call for a renovation of Bedrock’s Tower City Center, a mall, rail terminal, and office building that anchors downtown. The firm, which is owned by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, hopes that these interventions will spur development in the area; the site has the capacity for 3.5 million square feet of ground up and adaptive reuse projects.

aerial view of the cleveland riverfront
Axonometric View of proposed Cuyahoga Riverfront Master Plan (Concept Rendering © Adjaye Associates)

The firm hired Adjaye Associates to bring its $3.5 billion vision to life. Preliminary renderings show the most public, recreational uses by the waterfront, and commercial and transportation further inland.

people walking along cleveland riverfront with bridge in distance
East view of new riverwalk with stepped seating (Concept Rendering © Adjaye Associates)

“Our redevelopment strategy for the downtown Cleveland Riverfront taps into the lost heritage of the city, establishing a new relationship between the urban core and the shore,” Founding Principal David Adjaye said, in a statement. “As I became more deeply immersed, the need to build a more tempered flow of movement through the city became immensely clear.”

All in all, Bedrock estimates the 35-acre site can accommodate 2,000 residential units, 850,000 square feet of office space, over 12 acres of public space, parking, as well as hospitality, entertainment, and retail ventures. The developers and city leaders hope a development of this size will convert a sleepy downtown from a 9 to 5 destination into a neighborhood that’s lively 18 hours a day.

To pump some life into the neighborhood, Adjaye Associates’ envisioned a covered marketplace through Tower City Center that will link the riverfront to Public Square, the main open space downtown that JCFO revamped in 2016.

people walking around plaza with trees
View of Huron Plaza, a covered outdoor market hall framing the riverfront (Concept Rendering © Adjaye Associates)

Alongside that project, Bedrock intends to work with the city, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), and other civic partners to increase the types and quality of transit thorough downtown while improving rail-to-bus connections.

On the development’s west side, plans call for a winding paths through a new, commerce-oriented neighborhood that transitions to smaller scale residential blocks near Canal Road, the thoroughfare that roughly follows the curve of the riverfront. On the east side, there will be an amphitheater, and at the riverbend, pedestrians will be greeted by a view-framing waterside gallery and a park.

waterfront and promenade
View from Carter Bridge of sculpted meandering riverwalk (Concept Rendering © Adjaye Associates)

In addition to Adjaye Associates, Bedrock selected Cleveland’s Osborn Engineering and MKSK as project consultants on the plan. But it will be a long time before all work at the site is complete: Bedrock estimates the whole scheme will take 15 to 20 years to wrap.

2022 has been a banner year for Adjaye and his firm. They celebrated the opening of the Winter Park Library in central Florida, they were tapped to redesign of Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, and shortlisted for a revamp of Maine’s Portland Museum of Art, among other commissions.