Cleveland has started to turn around, but many of its buildings still suffer from low occupancy rates. Starting in the mid twentieth century, Cleveland’s population was more than cut in half from around 900,000 in the 1950s to around 400,000 today. And at a time when the city population continues to decline, Cleveland has become increasingly accepting of creative revitalization efforts that will attract people, retain the current populace, and find use for underused buildings.
The Galleria at Erieview is a great example of this innovative revitalization that Cleveland is seeking to embrace. The Galleria, which opened in 1987, is a large, two-story glass covered shopping mall that was once a glitzy shopping destination attracting high-end retailers and restaurants. Over the years, however, the economy and nearby competition emptied out the once-bustling shopping mall into a shell of its former self; a ghost town. Now, however, signs of life are showing once again.
I visited the Galleria on my first day in Cleveland. It was a rainy, overcast day so I was more than happy to take refuge under its giant glass-domed roof. My plan was to visit Gardens Under Glass, a project headed by Vicky Poole, the head of marketing for the Galleria, who had a vision of retrofitting the shopping mall into an urban farm. Opened two years ago, Gardens Under Glass was designed as a re-circulating, hydroponic greenhouse that grows fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs to be later sold to local restaurants. An educational exhibit would be set up on the side as a way to inform and engage the public.
Unfortunately, when I arrived, the project was on hiatus. In confusion, I called the Galleria’s office, and Vicky was kind enough to come down and meet me at the Galleria to explain about the hiatus–a gradual lack of volunteer involvement and maintenance were the biggest culprits–and introduce me to the other exciting repurposing initiatives at the Galleria to better attract and connect its residents.
To give me an overview of these exciting projects, she took me upstairs to visit studioth!nk, a full-service marketing firm that opened their office in a former woman’s clothing store in the Galleria–they’ve even left the original dressing rooms intact at the back of the office. The green transformation of the Galleria, and the adjacent Tower at Erieview, will spearhead their long term goal to revitalize the downtown Erieview neighborhood.
Some of the projects we talked about include upgrading the Tower’s existing infrastructure to LEED standards; commissioning a public art sculpture that takes on the shape of the Cuyahoga River and will showcase the timeline of Ohio’s shoreline; and the incorporation of healthy, locally grown food options into the Galleria’s food court.
But what most impressed me was the evolution of the Galleria from a high-end shopping mall to a mixed-use building. Retail mostly occupies the lower level of the Galleria along with the food court, but businesses, such as studioth!nk, have taken over former retail on the second level.
Vicky said that it was even more impressive if you remembered the state of the mall at its peak in retail. She pointed outside to where the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Hungarian Heritage Library and Museum had taken over spaces that had once been occupied by The Limited and Foot Locker. People now come to the once-mall dressed in business suits to go to work. ESPN even opened up an office with a radio show on the first level. And in the biggest gesture of repurposing, a new YMCA will take over a large portion of the Galleria (two levels) and feature a four lane lap pool and workout facility.
This truly mixed-use space became successful because they were able to capitalize on repurposing their spaces. It’s something that really draws me to Cleveland because it’s becoming a hotbed for this type of innovative repurposing. And, as Vicky says, “it doesn’t have to be retail to be successful;” there are so many other opportunities out there.
They’ve also just launched a new blog. You can check them and their progress out at Life @ Erieview.