In defense of density at Cedar Fairmount/Top of the Hill

Nighttown first opened for business in 1965. I started working there in 1992. When I bought the place in 2001, business was just so-so. Eighteen years later Nighttown thrives because we added three outdoor dining areas, a world-class music calendar, a changed menu and other innovations that have made Nighttown a regional destination for a diverse clientele which benefits all of Cedar Fairmount. However, with the cost of food, people and benefits constantly on the rise, as well as the addition of scores of new restaurants in Greater Cleveland (with a population that isn’t increasing), it’s a continual struggle to remain a destination location. So, too, do my fellow merchants and property owners face similar challenges in the Cedar-Fairmount area.

One hundred years ago, downtown Cleveland had excitement and density, as did Doan’s Corners, which was centered around 105th and Euclid. One hundred years ago, the Cedar Fairmount district was designed to be the urban gateway to the Heights, smaller in footprint, but with a similar muscular vitality, high atop Cedar Glen, truly on top of a big hill.

I happen to believe that the Flaherty & Collins project proposed for the Top of the Hill is the right project with the right mix of apartments, shops and green space. The time is right to return density to the Top of the Hill.

From NewUrbanism.org: “Nearly every great city, town, and neighborhood around the world are of higher density. That’s why everyone loves living there, and why so many tourists go there on holiday. Most early American cities built before 1945 were designed with higher densities, and are now the places with the highest property values, and are some of the most sought after places to live.”

Here's a little history of the Cedar-Fairmount area known as Top of the Hill: Around 1920, two apartment buildings were built directly west of where Nighttown now exists. An eight-story apartment building (actually, closer to 10 stories if you take into account the fact the front door was above the Cedar Road grade plus the building had a tall parapet at the top) was built where Nighttown’s outdoor dining area is now located. In 1946, that apartment building was converted into a general medical and surgical hospital with around 200 beds, generally referred to as Doctors’ Hospital. The other apartment building, directly to the east and up against the still-there Buckingham, was quite wide and five-stories tall. Both apartment buildings were torn down in 1969 and the land converted to a parking lot, until the creation of Nighttown’s Stephan’s Green outdoor dining area 33 years later. Photos of the historical buildings formerly on the site can be viewed here: https://tinyurl.com/TOHPics.

Density encourages activity for residents and visitors who bring spendable dollars, thereby energizing an area. That’s why the Cedar Fairmount Special Improvement District (which is funded by a voluntary property tax over and above the taxes levied by the city and county, paid for by myself and a dozen or so commercial property owners in the district) unanimously supports the proposal to return density to the Top of the Hill area.

The proposed project is a 21st-century investment offering scaled buildings with residential density distributed throughout the site. In the words of local architect Paul Volpe, the design that’s been submitted to the city’s Architectural Board of Review, which continues to evolve, as do all similar projects at the point of submission, “offers architecture that is fresh, modern, enduring and contextually appropriate.”

The Cedar Fairmount Special Improvement District believes this project will enhance and complete the Cedar Fairmount mixed-use district, all within the geographic footprint intended by the architects and planners who originally planned the Cedar Fairmount commercial district, offering new vitality to our neighborhood.

Brendan Ring

Brendan Ring is owner of Nighttown and the CFSID treasurer.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 10:04 AM, 01.15.2019