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. As city population continues to decline, Cleveland has adapted by welcoming creative revitalization efforts to attract and retain the current populace through retrofits of underused buildings.
The Galleria at Erieview is a great example of this type of innovative revitalization. The Galleria, which opened in 1987, is a large, two-story glass covered shopping mall designed as a glitzy shopping destination with 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. Recently, 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 wanted to retrofit the shopping mall into an urban farm. Opened two years ago, Gardens Under Glass was envisioned as a educational hydroponic greenhouse for fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs that could be harvested and sold to local restaurants.
Unfortunately, the project was on hiatus when I arrived. Confused, I called the Galleria’s office, and Vicky was kind enough to meet me at the Galleria to explain the reasons behind the hiatus–a combination of low volunteer involvement and maintenance–and introduce me to the other exciting repurposing initiatives at the Galleria.
She started the overview by bringing me upstairs to studioth!nk, a full-service marketing firm that set up shop 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. By retrofitting the Galleria, the city hopes that these examples of creative adaptation and reuse will inspire greater revitalization in the downtown Erieview neighborhood.
Other revitalization projects Vicky introduced me to included an upgrade of the Tower’s existing infrastructure to LEED standards, the creation of a Cuyahoga River-shaped public art sculpture, and the inclusion of healthy, locally grown meals into the Galleria’s food court.
The evolution of the Galleria from a high-end shopping mall to a mixed-use building is an incredible transformation. 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 stores on the second level.
The change, says Vicky, is even more impressive to Cleveland residents who remember how the mall looked in its heyday. She pointed down the way to where the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Hungarian Heritage Library and Museum had taken over The Limited and Foot Locker. Armed with briefcases instead of shopping bags, people now come to the Galleria dressed in business suits. ESPN has even set up a radio station on the first floor. Soon, a new YMCA will take over a large unused portion of the Galleria (two levels), featuring a new four lane lap pool and workout facility.
Innovative repurposing and acceptance of mixed-use development has been key to Cleveland’s revival.
You can check out the Galleria’s progress at the blog, Life @ Erieview.