Think regional: Why a resurgent University Circle is good for the heights

An on-site camera allows the curious to monitor progress of the new VA hospital.  Photo Credit Mary Dunbar.


Cleveland Heights and University Circle have long had a mutually beneficial relationship. University Circle's cultural, academic and healthcare institutions employ many Cleveland Heights residents, and proximity to the Circle’s world-class attractions and facilities is seen as a benefit of living here.

Now University Circle Inc. (UCI) is in the midst of a five-year plan to create “the premier urban district.” The plan builds on the Circle’s anchor institutions to make it “the fastest-growing area in the region,” with new housing, shopping, and other improved and new amenities.

Tangible progress is already evident. A state-of-the-art hospital is under construction at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Medical Center, and will bring 2,000 jobs. University Hospitals’ Case Medical Center is adding a new cancer center, a new emergency medicine center, and a new neonatal intensive care unit.

In July 2008, UCI opened its Visitor and Living in the Circle Center to showcase the Circle’s resources and boost renting and buying homes there. A consortium of foundations and institutions is offering incentives to attract homebuyers and renters in Greater University Circle, which includes nearby neighborhoods in Cleveland already. The renovated Park Lane Villa is already fully occupied.

Is this dynamism and job growth in the Circle an opportunity for Cleveland Heights to gain residents? Can we also gain businesses, like NeuroWave Systems Inc., which recently relocated its 21 employees to the Rockefeller Pointe building on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights?

NeuroWave has support from BioEnterprise, a Circle-based business development incubator for health-care companies. But University Circle lacks space for these businesses as they grow. Other companies like NeuroWave will look for facilities that provide room for growth while staying near University Circle.

Traditionally, to attract new residents, Cleveland Heights has provided personnel offices at Circle institutions with packets that include relevant information and an offer to help people find housing here. The city also helps businesses that want to move within, or relocate to, Cleveland Heights.

These programs have been effective, but it’s time to rethink how we do things.

Chris Ronayne, president of UCI, praises the support that the Circle receives from people in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, but suggests a broader way of thinking. “University Circle, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights –- we’re all really birds of the same feather,” Ronayne says. “We’re in competition with the cornfields, with out-migration and sprawl. In contrast, we are the answer to the growing quest for sustainability. I’d like to see us jointly pursuing an intown, urban revitalization strategy that promotes our wonderful lifestyles.”

Ronayne says that the 1,000 new housing units UCI envisions in the Circle by 2013 will be largely vertical, due to limited undeveloped space in the Circle. This will complement housing choices in Shaker and Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and the Circle should view one another as allies, not competitors. We should plan together for redevelopment; it would make sense to join in marketing our collective amenities. Coordination and sharing of services such as purchasing can help maintain our service quality at lower cost.

Preliminary dialogue has already begun among leaders of Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and Circle institutions, but we need agreement on a shared vision, strategic direction, commitment and sense of urgency to realize the opportunities and to keep this the place to be.

Mary Dunbar, a financial and communications expert who has lived in Cleveland Heights since 1970, is a candidate for Cleveland Heights City Council this fall.
Read More on Opinion
Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 9:20 PM, 06.23.2009