Top of the Hill design fails CH

I was disappointed to see FutureHeights support the Top of the Hill (TOH) project in light of the current design. While I agree with FutureHeights on many points, and give the site plan an “A,” the TIF funding a “B” and the parking plan a “B-,“ I feel the design is so poor that it warrants a “D” and support should be withheld until a better one is presented.

The current design fails Cleveland Heights on multiple levels, both in process and appearance.

From a process standpoint, while city materials state community feedback will be included, in calendar year 2018, I know of no formal process to solicit this input from the general public. There have been no design charrettes and the only input from the public has been generated by questions when status updates on the project have been given. I have seen none of that feedback translated into the design, as the original images, which were reported to just be “massing studies,” have only been refined with more detail—they continue to be boring, bland, banal “Developer Modernism.”

A narrow focus group of “design professionals” was created by the city to give its input (none of which can be found on the city’s website), and this committee has in effect created a feedback loop: a committee filled with advocates for Modernist architecture tells the developer what they like, the developer presents this to the city, and then at meetings members of the committee say they like the design, completing the loop.

Drawing from the Modernist playbook, anyone who calls for “traditional design,” i.e., anything other than a boring box, structures with brick, stone and ornamentation drawing from two millennia of design aesthetics, is dismissed as fearing the future or stuck in the past. The irony with this premise is that people move to Cleveland Heights for its buildings built in the first four decades of the 20th century. This is an era when we built most of our greatest buildings, structures that drew from centuries of designs.

This is supposed to be a landmark building for the Heights. What is proposed could be built by a child with a basic set of Legos.

Lost in the debate over density and design is the financing. If media reports are correct, the city is looking to cover a “funding gap” of $1.85 million for the project.

So after receiving rights to the site for next to nothing from the city, and having future property tax revenue cover the cost of the parking garage (which makes the project possible) instead of going to the public schools, the developer needs money from the city to develop in the most appealing walkable neighborhood in Cuyahoga County?

I find it incredulous that council would entertain pouring money into a horrid design at the same time that the city owns a large of number of vacant parcels at Noble-Nela that lay inactive; two large vacant lots (one owned by the city, the other where the Center-Mayfield building once stood) sit moribund at Noble-Mayfield; Severance plods along like a zombie; and South Taylor seems to be collecting vacant storefronts.

If the city has $1.85 million for TOH, where is the money for these business districts, or a comprehensive housing renovation program coupled with efforts to attract millenials seeking high-density, walkable neighborhoods close to downtown?

I want to see TOH developed, as I have for over 20 years. I just want a design than is not an embarrassment and not being underwritten (further) by the city.

Eric Silverman

Eric J. Silverman has been a member of the CH-UH Board of Education (1994–2001, 2014–17), and the CH-UH library board (2003–09).

Read More on Opinion
Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 11:50 AM, 01.02.2019