State of downtown: Capturing momentum from the RNC

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CLEVELAND, Ohio - Signs of growth and development are visible on nearly every corner in downtown Cleveland, and local leaders are hoping to continue the momentum by capitalizing on major events being held in the city, including the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The Downtown Cleveland Alliance hosted its annual “State of Downtown” forum at the City Club Wednesday, with a panel discussion focusing on how to leverage the RNC into long term growth, with input from representatives of other cities that have hosted political conventions.

“If we have a great experience in the execution of a convention, and people walk away going ‘wow, I didn’t know that about Cleveland, what a great time we had at that party,’ and that's it, we will have failed,” Executive Chairman of the Cleveland 2016 RNC Host Committee Terrance Egger said. He said the city will need to strike a balance between delivering a stellar convention, and parlaying that into long-term growth.

Charlotte Center City Partners president and CEO Michael Smith spoke about Charlotte’s experience hosting the 2012 Democratic National Convention, saying the city hired a PR team to guide its presence in the global media spotlight.

“This event is high beta, the world is going to understand Cleveland better,” Smith said. “So, the way you execute is going to matter a lot, but I think for cities like Charlotte and Cleveland, this is a good bet.”

Smith cautioned against “false expectations” that all businesses will benefit from the RNC. He said his experience showed spending fell on businesses closest to the convention site. In terms of accessibility and the “secure zone” that will be set up around the convention site, Egger said the Secret Service will likely determine the two-layer perimeter a month or two before the convention.

The event also highlighted downtown Cleveland’s growth. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance released its 2014 annual report, which pointed to residential, business and retail growth. In the past year, the Heinen’s grocery chain opened a downtown location and plans were revealed for the NuCLEus project, featuring apartments, offices and retail in the Gateway District. Public Square is in the midst of a multimillion dollar renovation, sped up by the looming RNC.

More people are moving into the city center, with 13,000 people now calling downtown home, up 70 percent from 2000. Occupancy remained at 97.8 percent at the end of the year, despite 456 new apartment units being added in 2014.

The focus for the coming years is to continue to build mixed-use growth downtown, as well as improving downtown connectivity, said Downtown Cleveland Alliance president and CEO Joe Marinucci.

“There are great pockets, there are great districts,” he said. “Playhouse square has done fabulously, the warehouse district has done fabulously, Gateway, but what we've missed is the connective tissue that allows people to effortlessly walk and engage between those districts.”