A few more thoughts on the Opportunity Corridor and Cleveland Clinic.
I was pleasantly surprised to see an article from POLITICO about health disparities around the Cleveland Clinic. The article also discussed the $331 million Opportunity Corridor boulevard extension of the I-490 freeway. It was refreshing to see a national outlet discuss the project since the former publisher of the only newspaper in town was coincidentally the co-chair of the controversial project. A few years ago while public hearings were being held regarding the plans, I was doing home care in Cleveland at the time. I saw firsthand how this road would negatively affect the surrounding communities. I will refrain from elaborating, but in short, I felt I had to counter the Plain Dealer’s unobjective coverage with my own, which was later picked up by Cleveland Scene Magazine.
During the planning stages, any pushback from residents was countered by presenters justifying the road with claims of economic development. One takeaway from the POLITICO article is that, as others have mentioned, this may be the first time the Cleveland Clinic has been truthful about the Opportunity Corridor project:
When asked about the project’s purpose, the Clinic’s top tour guide explained that the current road to campus “goes through neighborhoods that people don’t want to go through” and the Opportunity Corridor would help staff and patients get to the hospital faster.
This quote confirms that the Opportunity Corridor is being built to speed people through these neighborhoods, not to improve them. It is also doubtful that it would save much time, as there are stoplights at at least a dozen intersections. This is most likely why the Ohio Department of Transportation has not publicly stated the time saved by building the Opportunity Corridor.
Nothing crazy here — but this type of real talk would have been helpful when the project was being designed. Instead we heard a lot about possible economic development with little planning as to how that development would come to fruition. It is only recently that this is starting to be discussed, but even these mixed-use plans are for already existing neighborhood streets and not the actual Opportunity Corridor. Furthermore, the OC set aside no funding for the Red Line rapid station on East 79th, which according to federal law, will need to be rebuilt to become ADA accessible. It is very possible this station will close due to lack of funds from RTA. These are just a few ongoing concerns about how this massive road will benefit residents in neighborhoods.
First, we need to talk about how the Cleveland Clinic acquired their property:
A Clinic spokesman, that “our national rivals, Mayo Clinic [and Hopkins] … they don’t own the buildings around them, they have no place to grow but up.” In contrast, “we own much of the neighborhood around us and can really grow.”
Euclid and East 105th Street used to be referred to as Cleveland’s second downtown. There were a string of stores, theaters, and restaurants owned by Winston E. Willis. Willis was one of the largest black real estate owners in the country at that time. So what happened to all of his property?
According to Willis, he was accused of having written a bad check in the amount of $421 dollars to a local lumber company and indicted by a grand jury. He was arrested on this charge that was later proven to be false. During his imprisonment 190 miles away in Chillicothe, he was held in solitary confinement for ten days without access to his attorneys while the taking and immediate demolition of all of his Euclid Avenue properties was executed. The entirety of these lands, buildings and business holdings were taken without payment of just compensation.
There is obviously a story here and more people need to hear it.
Secondly, I appreciate the discussion of Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT):
One way the Clinic could make a difference, some activists say, is by working out what’s called a payment in lieu of taxes — essentially, keeping their valued tax-exempt status but making a partial contribution instead. Hospitals have struck deals to do so in Boston and other cities, but Cosgrove isn’t keen on the idea in Cleveland. “As soon as they start doing the same thing with the churches and the Salvation Army and the Red Cross and all the other tax-exempt organizations, we’d be happy to do our part,” he said.
The article cites the PILOT study completed in 2013. A good summary of this study is available in The Plain Press community newspaper here.
As the article mentioned, by not taxing Cleveland Clinic (and University Hospitals), Cleveland is losing at least $35 million in annual property taxes. Toby Cosgrove, Cleveland Clinic’s CEO, who was compensated with $4.8 million in salary and benefits in 2015, is in no hurry to take part in a PILOT.
The problem with not paying taxes is that it allows these nonprofit corporations to grow much faster than others that have to pay taxes. Just take a look at what is happening with Yale University. New Haven, Connecticut is experiencing growing poverty and austerity while Yale is growing. Why? Because Yale is tax exempt, so city services have to be cut because even though Yale is growing not much new tax revenue is produced. Yale’s endowment is worth over $25 billion dollars by the way. It is not crazy to think that if our future is “eds and meds” it will need to be taxed. This is exactly the discussion happening in New Haven.
Massachusetts is also looking at taxing large nonprofits. Harvard University is located in Cambridge with an endowment worth over $34 billion dollars. If the Cleveland Clinic is the future, then this is the conversation we need to be having. The Cleveland Clinic’s endowment fund is over $12 billion. There are other endowments around Ohio, but the Cleveland Clinic is the largest. Ohio State University’s endowment is worth over $3.5 billion while Case Western Reserve University’s is over $1.6 billion.
With billion dollar endowments, it is hard to justify the massive amount of public money being spent on the Opportunity Corridor. When I think about the project, I always wonder why it had to be this way if the neighborhood did not support the project?
Of course the answer is related to one thing: power. The project was planned this way because those with power decided it would be done this way. This project was not simply backed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, but was largely pushed by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, which is the local Chamber of Commerce. A major concern has always been the use of public funds for private gain. We know the Chamber represents business interests and the Cleveland Clinic is the largest business in town. Should there not be some checks and balances to prevent the Clinic from getting a new $331 million dollar driveway built and maintained with public funds?
The other part that must be considered are the experiences of the residents of Cleveland. I have yet to meet a single resident who supports this project. Many patients, transit riders and friends that I have talked to about this are completely beaten down just by trying to make ends meet daily. Most feel unappreciated, unheard, and powerless.
“You know it’s the part of the government. This is what they got planned. You know.. We’re poor and middle class people we can’t do nothing about it, you know what I’m saying?
-Segment from video by Donald Black Jr. on display now at MOCA Cleveland.
I think of the Opportunity Corrider in contrast to Jane Jacobs’ fight against the Lower Manhattan Expressway, mobilizing the community around Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Originally, the Opportunity Corridor was planned as an extension of Interstate 490, known then as the Clark Freeway. The “little old ladies in tennis shoes” of the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights founded the Shaker Lakes Nature Center to prevent construction of the freeway. The ladies, and their high priced homes in Shaker Heights were saved, but the specter of the Clark Freeway was revived by the Chamber of Commerce as the Opportunity Corridor. Race and class has everything to do with it.
Another difference is the lack of any park or community space to rally around. This is ultimately a symptom of the long history of racism through redlining and disinvestment. Basically, the Opportunity Corridor is the crescendo of this racist disinvestment. Instead of reckoning with the past, we will build over it and act like this is some great Opportunity for everyone. In reality, we are all well aware that it is not, but no one with an ounce of power will admit to it. The Chamber continues to trumpet the project loudly and everyone quietly falls in line.
This project is the face of what is wrong with the City of Cleveland.
It needs to be called out often. It needs to be shamed and organized against as much as possible. It has already been slowed down from lawsuits and/or lack of funds. I hope to see the most expensive — and worst part, the interchange at East 55th Street — prevented from ever being built.
Elites push an agenda that does little for residents. The Opportunity Corridor is the worst example. Spending $50 million dollars on Public Square while banning transit riders, many of whom live in Cleveland, is another. I thought of this recently when I heard the economic impact study from the RNC was delayed. Many think it did little for the city; I opted to leave town as did other Cleveland residents. I heard several area businesses were slower than usual, with regulars avoiding downtown.
I am sure the RNC was great for Dan Gilbert (net worth $6 billion dollars) and his Quicken Loans Arena. So good that our Mayor, City Council, and County Council are pushing for a massive renovation, using millions of dollars in ticket revenue that would have gone to the city. This proposal is so unpopular that over 20,000 Cleveland residents signed petitions to have a referendum. The city was so scared of the power of residents that it sued itself to prevent or at least delay the referendum from going on the ballot. Dave Zirin writes about how Dan Gilbert is the welfare king of Cleveland and I have to agree.
Speaking of the ballot, it is an election year here in Cleveland. Cummins, J. Johnson and Polensek were the only members of City Council that voted no on the Opportunity Corridor (Ord 219-14). All other members voted yes, but Reed was absent. Cummins voted for the Quicken Loans Arena deal though, while Johnson and Polensek did not.
It seems City Council does a poor job of representing their constituents. This is no surprise when city departments are inadequate and council members present themselves as autocrats of their ward, not as legislators trying to move the city forward. Nearly everything is passed as an emergency ordinance, where the complete legislation is not even read (just the ordinance number) and then passed immediately. Furthermore, citizens are not even allowed to speak during Cleveland City Council meetings. Cleveland residents have no voice, and the community continues to be fractured with austerity and lack of any real inclusive planning or adequate community spaces.
We live in a declining region. The population loss will continue: 476K in 2000, 395K in 2010 and dropping in a city built for nearly a million people. No stadium renovation, convention, or road to the suburbs will stop it. Call it out or decline tranquilly into obscurity.