For every highly touted project that gets built in the Cleveland area, another slowly vanishes. I see one of them every workday as I drive drown East 105th street past the site of the old Mt. Sinai Hospital.
More than eleven years have passed since Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) announced its’ plans for the former Mt. Sinai Hospital property on East. 105th St.Called the West Quad Project, it was to be designed to be one of the premier research parks in the nation. Case Medical School committed itself to be the first ‘anchor tenant’ and Forest City Enterprises was to build the new buildings on the 14 acre site. As the plan stated “The first of these partnerships is already underway “
Within a few years, things changed. In 2008, Shannon Mortland wrote in Crain’s Cleveland Business that the university was retooling the project, renamed the West Campus, into a smaller, less expensive, light (August 4, 2008). Instead of a 1 million square feet research campus, plans were made for a 100,000 square foot building to house a variety of programs. That proposed building wasn’t built. Since then, very little has been done and the visions of a medical research center have moved elsewhere. The CWRU Health Education Campus, originally announced for the West Campus, is now currently being built on Euclid Avenue on land donated by the Cleveland Clinic. With the exception of the Temple Tifereth Israel being acquired in 2014 (and now the Maltz Performing Arts Center) to all appearances the West Campus’ development is now a low priority.
In the fall of 2016, I tried contacting people at Case Western Reserve to learn the current status of the project. After some false starts, I did reach Kevin Maywood was nice enough to refer me to his boss Bill Lubinger. In our brief phone conversation, Mr. Lubinger did mention the new pedestrian bridge CWRU built over Doan Brook for around $7 million as a recent investment regarding the West Campus. At his suggestion, I sent him an email with further questions on the project (his reply, as of February 2017, is still pending). In the meantime, I did a little investigating of the site myself.
While I already knew about the road construction on East 105Th St., Mt. Sinai Dr. was completely blocked for the same reason (Mt Sinai Drive has since been reopened). Currently, the West Campus appeared to consist mainly of parking; a reminder of the days Mt. Sinai Hospital stood on the site. Besides the Mt. Sinai Parking Garage, solar panels, a grassy slope, the Maltz Center (still waiting for phase two) and the Wright Fuel Research Center for Structural Biology Building stand. Dedicated in 2005, the 18,700 square foot facility is the only new building that the university constructed as part of the original proposal. East 101 St, and Ansel Road, which borders the Campus on the West side of the street, consists mainly of empty lots on the west side (with the exception of the Citizens Leadership Academy) with many of the side streets having road blocks right at the end. However, the housing stock, though run down, appears to have plenty of character and the makings of a great neighborhood.
Why should this matter? For starters, having taken over the site when Mt. Sinai Hospital closed and promising great things for it, Case Western Reserve University should follow through and make a real campus out of the place. Also, considering the money both the VA Hospital and natural History Museum put into their facilities in the same area, it makes sense that this remaining component to what I consider for many motorists coming from the I-90 the Gateway to University Circle should be taken seriously. Finally, that can be a great spot to put some of the university’s non-medical related programs in.
Besides CWRU’s plan to add a wing to the Maltz Center, what else can be put on the site? One must remember that when it became part of Case Western Reserve University in 1967, the Case Institute of Technology was considered by many to be the MIT of the Midwest. Along with the Performing Arts, and Fuel Cell Research, why not some engineering programs related to green energy or artificial intelligence? The School of Engineering can easily construct another building (I don’t know, say 100,000 square feet?) for their programs. After all, with the new money for a Center for Excellence, why not put it on the West Quad? Also, a business incubator along the lines of the one in Youngstown, Ohio wouldn’t be bad for that location either.
Why not buy the vacant lots along East 101th St and reopen the entrances to the side streets? A quick look at the County Fiscal Officer’s website shows that many of the parcels between East 93rd and East 101st are either owned by the City of Cleveland or the Cuyahoga County Land Bank; it would be relatively inexpensive for CWRU to take them over. Graduate student housing can be constructed along the latter street facing the West Campus, at least on a small-scale. It would be possible that, over time, a vibrant college neighborhood adjacent to the Campus can become a reality. Then, as part of an emerging innovation district at University Circle, we can have a “community of opportunity.” According to the research institute PolicyLink, such communities are “places with quality schools, access to good jobs with livable wages, quality housing choices, public transportation, strong social networks. “ (Jonathan F. P. Rose, The Well Tempered City, pg 279). This can be seen to some extent already in Pittsburgh near Carnegie-Mellon University and it’s only logical that something like that should exist here.
In the four months since I started writing this, nothing has changed. As I drove down to University Circle this past Sunday, I stopped at the parking lot next to the Rockefeller Lagoon. The empty hulk of the Mt. Sinai Parking Garage loomed in front of me in the distance. You couldn’t tell this was part of a major university. Yet, the potential is there.
Case Western Reserve, is it time for a reboot?
Photographs James Valentino
Note; this was originally intended to be an op-ed which I submitted to a Cleveland Area publication in early December. After emails with the editor and a phone call in early January where the editor said they will get back with me a week later, I received an email in February stating it wasn’t a “good fit”. So, I apologize for the delay.