Residents participate in survey on future of Severance

Participants were nearly unanimous in their support of considering Severance in the city's upcoming master plan.

A preliminary tally of responses to a survey undertaken in association with the recent FutureHeights community forum on the future of Severance Town Center showed results that most will not find surprising.

Of the 318 completing the survey, about one in 10 reported having attended the forum, and a slightly higher number said they watched the video of the event that is viewable at Nearly 80 percent reported going to Severance at least monthly (42 percent reported going there at least weekly), and, though the focus of both the forum and the survey was the future of the retail center inside Severance Circle, both were set in the context of the entire district, which includes the struggling center and the mostly viable properties outside the circle.

More than 90 percent said they went to Severance to shop, and more than 70 percent cited government services as reasons for going there. Forty-one percent reported going there to shop for groceries at Dave’s, and smaller percentages of respondents reported going there to eat, for medical services, or to bank.

More than nine of every 10 participants lived within a 10-minute drive of Severance, with about half of those living within five minutes.

Seventy-one percent agreed that it was "very urgent" for the community to set a direction and state priorities for the district, with less than 2 percent saying it was not at all so. More than half of those taking the survey thought the vitality of Severance was critical to the community as a whole, and all but a handful thought it was at least somewhat critical.

In response to the question of whether the part of Severance inside Severance Circle should be reconfigured to better fit into the character of Cleveland Heights, 69 percent answered in the affirmative, though more than one in four expressed uncertainty in that regard. Fewer than 6 percent of respondents did not see the importance of Severance as a revenue generator for the city.

Most survey participants—91 percent—were in agreement with the idea of including planning for Severance in the city’s master planning process, which is currently underway. Two-thirds thought public investment in partnership with a private developer would be essential for creating a positive outcome for the district, though close to 30 percent expressed uncertainty on that question.

Three open-ended questions were also included in the survey. The first queried participants on what they believed were the most promising ideas for all or part of the Severance property. Nearly a third liked the idea of mixed-use development that could include residential, retail, dining, entertainment and recreation components. More retail offerings, parks, farming, and senior housing were also popular ideas, and a few suggested office or start-up activities, and education- and arts-oriented establishments. Thirteen respondents (5.5 percent of those responding to this question) said a private developer should make the decisions about the property’s future uses.

In response to a question about what could be done within the next six months to improve Severance, the most popular response (17 percent) was to recruit new retail, followed by developing a long-term master plan (14 percent), improving the center’s physical appearance (11 percent), and finding a new use for the recently vacated Walmart space (10 percent). Four respondents suggested complete demolition of the retail center.

The last of the open-ended questions asked respondents to state what strengths and values of Cleveland Heights should be expressed in the future Severance. Nearly half of those responding to this question (45 percent) mentioned diversity, with arts and culture, green space, and community and civic engagement (all more than 20 percent) also getting strong support.

Over the next few weeks, results of the survey will be refined and made available for public perusal. As with the entire FutureHeights initiative on the future of Severance, the activities to-date have been designed to get the conversation started.

FutureHeights recognizes that many participants—private and public—will be involved in planning for the future of this important and storied property, and, regardless of what happens at Severance, it should be noted that at least some see it as a critical indicator of whether Cleveland Heights will prosper or decline.

“Whatever is decided for the future of Severance will determine whether I remain living in Cleveland Heights,” wrote one respondent. “I am open to possibilities and want to be trusting and optimistic, but need to experience thoughtful, strong, intelligent proposals fused with the commitment, honesty and integrity for carrying them out.”

Vince Reddy

Vince Reddy is a FutureHeights board member and a 19-year resident of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 10:52 AM, 11.24.2015