SAG continues planning and placemaking for Severance Town Center property

In 2020, a small group of Cleveland Heights residents began volunteering together and collaborating to examine ideas that might initiate the revitalization of the long-struggling Severance Town Center property.

The Severance Action Group (SAG) formed, and has invested considerable time, talent, and experience in this effort. In December 2022, we recognized the need to share our work with the Cleveland Heights mayor, city council, and the public.

Looking closely at the property's deteriorated condition, extensive vacancies, and lack of investment, we quickly concluded a complete transformation and bold action are necessary. This commenced with a challenge to craft a vision that would build on and enhance the unique character of Cleveland Heights, and that acknowledges its social and economic diversity. 

As planners we recognize that form generally follows function, so a program of viable uses needed to be conceived.

As a first-ring suburb, Cleveland Heights was conceived as a city of neighborhoods, and a diversity of housing was the priority. As the community and its residents are aging, this preliminary planning for Severance recognizes the critical need for the development of accessible and affordably priced housing, with first-floor master bedrooms that will serve the unmet needs of the growing population of older adults that wish to remain in our city. 

Recognizing, as well, the continuing appeal of Cleveland Heights to younger households, the plan sees a considerable market at Severance for new rental and owner-occupied housing designed to meet the needs of these young households, including families with children.

Its proximity to University Circle, the largest employment district in the state, makes Cleveland Heights both a convenient and attractive place [in which] to live.

Cleveland Heights is a city of walkable commercial districts; we [see] the opportunity to activate Severance with both new and revitalized retail shopping and services. This would include the importance of retaining current key assets at Severance, including Dave’s Market and Home Depot, as well as such businesses as Office Max and Marshall’s. These businesses and others will serve [future] residents at Severance, as well as the surrounding community. 

As an inherent objective, we recognize that true urban communities are both mixed-use and mixed-income.

Specific to Severance, we believe that an ideal development scenario would be one that capitalizes on the recent expansion of the MetroHealth Medical Center. The potential addition of a non-traditional regionally focused medical, education, training, and related facilities anchor, would round out the ideal community balance of homes, stores, and jobs. 

The final primary programmatic piece of the redevelopment puzzle was acknowledgement of the public realm. In today’s urban-planning lingo, we call it "transformative placemaking." The objective is to create walkable, connected, vibrant, and inclusive communities. This sounds like the Cleveland Heights we are all working so hard to retain.

We can accomplish this challenging transformation with the addition of pedestrian streets and intersections, public spaces, a 4-acre central park, lots of trees, a community plaza and food hall, public art, and a rich mixture of uses. The support of city government and residents with the civic will, courage, and commitment can get it done. 

Today, looking back on the last half-century of Severance’s development, and looking ahead to the next half-century or more, we hope that we can work together in an open engagement process, to transform and re-establish Severance as a great asset in Cleveland Heights. 

Sadly, 160 acres of our city has been asleep for decades—we think it’s about time to wake it up!

Paul Volpe and Robert N. Brown

Paul Volpe is an architect, urban designer, and member of FutureHeights and SAG. Robert N. Brown is a city planner, a SAG member, and past president of the FutureHeights board. Both are residents of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 16, Issue 3, Posted 11:03 AM, 02.28.2023