Monday, June 30, 2014

Population bottom in sight for Cleveland metro area

The forty-year reign of population decline in the Cleveland metropolitan area appears to be coming to an end.

According to Census estimates, the Cleveland-Elyria metropolitan area lost 14 people over the 2012-2013 period.

If this trend turns out to be sustainable, the Greater Cleveland area will see its first population increase since 2000 in the 2020 decennial census. It will buck the overall trend of population decline since 1970.

Given the amount of great news and positive change that we've brought about in our region since 2010, this is cause for some cautious celebration. The press has noted that Cleveland's workforce is getting younger and more highly educated, and that the the young, educated population is on the rise in NEO. We're not out of the woods yet, though -- history shows us that the population of the metro area did briefly turn around and grew from 1991-1996. There are many signs of those go-go times that we can still remember: the "Comeback City" moniker, the opening of the Rock Hall, Jacobs Field, Key Tower, a winning baseball team, and a generally can-do attitude.

Maybe there's more to the story, though, if we look at the numbers. Let's look at the birth/death estimates for the last 30 years.

Hmm, it looks like people really like having babies around Census years. That's probably more the Census's fault for not estimating correctly, but it does look like there was a genuine baby boom of sorts in 1991-1996, which persisted beyond the odd spike year of 1991. The increased number of births probably pushed population growth over the top in those years.

Why is that important to us today? Well, unlike 1991-1996, the Census estimates do not show such a high birth rate, nor an abnormally low death rate. That means that immigration (whether domestic or international) is making the largest impact on the population growth. If people from outside the region are settling in Cleveland, that's good for all of us. It means that the country and the world beyond our region is responsible for the surge.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A High Line for Cleveland: Rotary Club's proposal for a Red Line greenway is coming to fruition

From West 65th Street all the way to downtown, there's an unused railroad right-of-way that runs parallel to the RTA's Red Line operations. For over thirty years, the Rotary Club has volunteered to maintain it, by mowing, adding new gravel, and cleaning trash from the site. For the same period of time, Rotary has sought to turn this unique space into a greenway--a walking and biking trail whose magnificence would rival -- perhaps exceed -- the novelty and beauty of New York's High Line public park.

In the past, the RTA has put up a fight to preserve its lines for future expansion, which is no doubt the desire of optimistic public transit enthusiasts. RTA's manager Joe Calabrese says he is now at the table because Cleveland Metroparks has expressed interest in maintaining the greenway. If the Metroparks' recent successes with the lakefront parks is any indication, anyone could expect them to do a phenomenal job turning the greenway into a world-class attraction worthy of any New Yorker's attention and respect.

This path will fly over the industrial Flats and the Cuyahoga River on the Red Line bridge, which spans over five-eighths of a mile and connects Ohio City with downtown. It will afford unrivaled views of the downtown area, Lake Erie, and the tangle of historic bridges on the city's west side.

Rotarians say the park will cost $13 million, and 20% of the money can be raised privately.

This is a project that has been in the works for a long time--but now it appears that it might become a reality.

Read the proposal presented to the RTA Board on June 10, 2014, here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ohio City heats up with developments: interactive map

Convention cacophony

Earlier last week, a news outlet in Denver erroneously reported that Cleveland was out of the contention for hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention. (They have since updated the story to reflect the truth that Cleveland is now a finalist with Dallas to host the convention).

Interestingly enough, the original version of this story (which can no longer be accessed) had Matt Borges, the Ohio GOP chairman, stating that he had heard that Cleveland was about to be eliminated in favor of Denver in the event bid. It's not much of a vote of confidence from the state's leadership in this competition. It's probably no wonder--those people in Columbus would probably rather secede from the rest of the state rather than be associated with us northern city slickers--especially party-line Republicans.

What's in a convention
We can point to many factors in consideration that will prove important to the site selection committee--access to donors (Dallas wins), conversion of the undecided swing vote (Cleveland's got it) downtown infrastructure and support (both cities are respectable), ease of getting around and logistics, the lack of which led to snafus in Tampa (Cleveland wins by a wide margin), the weather (for once, the Cleve has the nicer of it). Which of these is most important to the RNC is a question only they can answer, and we won't hear any of it until they've announced their decision.

Texas attitudes
The news coming out of Dallas lately shows that they think they have this in the bag. Phillip Jones, chief executive of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, when asked about what to do next, he replied, "do nothing."  Their hubris might prove fatal, however: Dallas can't commit to starting the convention until July 18, well into the fiery Texas heatstroke season. Cleveland, master of shutting down the city for private interests, has offered up a June 27 start date. Evidently, that date even accounts for the unlikely possibility that the Cavaliers will have advanced to the NBA playoff finals (I hope that by 2016, I will eat my words, but history is on my side). Mark Cuban won't budge his Mavericks' schedule in Dallas.

Money issues

One issue that isn't being widely discussed in the hullabaloo is the money issue. The RNC expects the host city to raise $60 million to pay for the convention. It's not clear as to whether that money is going to come directly out of taxpayer coffers, or if it will all be sourced from Republican backers.

The event promises 50,000 visitors to the city. Assuming they're all here for four days, they'll have at least three days of hotel stays, at $200 per room. Further assume that they all have a per diem budget of $150 (rather generous, perhaps, considering the number of clerks and lackeys who will be dining exclusively at Subway for the duration of the trip). That's $1,200 in expenditures per person. That's a total of $60 million in expenditures. Not accounting for the multiplier effect, the government might only see 8% of that money on the extreme high end, accounting for sales taxes, bed taxes, local income taxes from wages, etc. Now we're down to $4.8 million in direct revenues. However, it was earlier reported that the 2012 convention in Tampa produced over $200 million in extra economic activity for that city.

It's being reported that Dallas is well ahead in the fundraising campaign, having raised $45 million to the $25 million that Cleveland already has committed.

He's got it right -- "traffic" and "being on fire" are probably the two most common things that come to mind when thinking of Dallas. Oh yeah, and who shot J.R.?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bridge to the Lakefront

Improving waterfront utilization and access has been a topic of much discussion for at least 30 years within the City of Cleveland. While sister cities like Chicago and Toronto have managed to turn their lakefronts into world-class promenades serving their residents, Cleveland's waterfront is still largely a collection of shabby industrial buildings, piles of gravel and railroad switching yards. This state of affairs may change soon, though. Now that the public authorities are awash with cash, they're getting more serious about opening up Cleveland's greatest asset for business.

The latest in this drama involves some real action. Some time ago, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority transferred control of the port land north of FirstEnergy Stadium to the city, thus allowing City Council to determine the fate of this 30 acre concrete pad. Currently, the only development on this land is a handful of shabby warehouse buildings, and the only time the public is allowed to access this property is during Ingenuity Fest.

This month, City Council approved an option to lease this property to developer Dick Pace, who is largely responsible for converting the disused Colonial Arcade into a lively indoor retail area, rechristened the 5th Street Arcades. I wrote an earlier article back in March noting that the City was working with Pace and Trammel Crow to make this plan a reality. Now we have more detailed information about it.

Pace proposes building the following:

  • 1,000 new market-rate residential units
  • 80,000 square feet of commercial office space
  • 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space
  • a transient marina with paddleboat, kayak and bicycle rentals
  • an upscale restaurant on the second story of a two-story concession building reminiscent of Navy Pier structures
  • a new elementary/middle school, either run by Cleveland schools or a charter program.

The school proposal is likely the driving force for City Council's preference for Pace above the three other developers who submitted proposals. Some less compelling plans included anchor tenants like a movie studio complex (too soon?) a hotel (too many?) and a sports field (too close?).

A new school to go along with new development makes for a plan to create an entirely new neighborhood out of thin air, on some of Cleveland's most valuable real estate. If this plan is executed properly, it could push the downtown renaissance to the stratosphere and open the floodgates for new development all around downtown. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The educated are moving to Cleveland

This article on caught my eye the other day. According to the data, the metro area has seen a rather dramatic increase in the number of college graduates aged 25-34 since 2006. After looking into it myself, it's true. More interestingly, the population of those holding bachelor's degrees or better is up across all age group cohorts except those aged 35-44. See chart:

This is metro-area-level information, so we can't explain away the drop in 35-44 with "people moved to the suburbs." What does probably explain it is high total emigration among that age cohort. The population of that age group in Greater Cleveland has dropped 18% over the seven-year period for which data is available. Every other age group grew. 

Wow, that difference is stark. It bucks the conventional wisdom that we're having a hard time holding on to young people. Who are the people who are leaving? Let's examine the percent changes of the specific age cohort 35-44 over the same time period.

The data doesn't reveal any solid trends -- there was a mass exodus of college-educated people in 2008, but not in other years. It appears that more non-college educated left post-2009, causing the percent of degree-holders to rise. If I had to guess at this one, I'd say that most of these 35-44 year-olds hold middle management jobs, and are either the victims of downsizing or corporate consolidations demanding that they move to another employment center in order to keep their jobs. Since this age group is most likely to have young children, they're more concerned about paying the bills than the other age groups, and are probably going to be more willing to acquiesce to an employer's demand to relocate rather than try to tough it out in the open job market.

Food for thought. If we figured out a way to increase retention of this specific age group, we could see the metro population head upward again. We're not far.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cleveland shines bright in some sectors of the creative economy

As urban studies guru Richard Florida preaches, "the world is spiky." Artists, musicians and other creative types tend to concentrate themselves in large cities, where they can best express themselves. A new study released by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago tends to indicate that Cleveland should be put on that spiky map, at least when it comes to cooks, chefs, and musicians.

The report seeks to measure the "creative economy" of Chicago by comparing its creative workforce to a cross-section of comparable cities: San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston (Sorry Pittsburgh; you're better off beating up on Columbus).

Places where Cleveland scored high: the relative locations of chefs and head cooks. No surprise there, as we all know the Cleveland dining scene is hot, but it is a bit of a shock that it exceeded Chicago's. I wonder if they counted pizza place employees in this one.

Cleveland's artist population contains a disproportionately large group of musicians--21%, almost double that of the next-largest group of musicians, who live in Baltimore. A relative dearth of other artistic occupations is quite prevalent here, but one commodity we're not running short of is bands. After all, we're the "Rock and Roll City."