stepupcoverEarlier this week, it was our pleasure to participate in the roll out of Step Up Downtown, a new vision and tactical plan to guide private and public investment strategies in Cleveland for the next five to seven years.   Step Up is the latest strategic plan initiated, financed and managed by a downtown management organization – the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) – following similar efforts we helped to advance last year in Indianapolis and San Diego.  The Step Up plan and its process provide lessons relevant to other downtowns.

A Focus on Market Opportunity & Connectivity:   By intention, Step Up did not reinvent the wheel.  Cleveland has done an admirable job planning projects and sub-districts; however, downtown lacked a holistic vision for how to connect its scattered attractions and strengthen its emerging neighborhoods.  Step Up was about creating a development framework to respond to new market realities and identifying connections to glue together its urban fabric.  To enrich an extensive market analysis, we utilized our Global Trends Report to place Cleveland in the context of national demographic and lifestyle trends that are favoring downtowns.  18 connections were identified by our partner, the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), and visual simulations were developed for each to illustrate before and after improvements.  The focus is on creating a more walkable, bikeable and livable downtown that can enhance Cleveland’s overall competitive edge to attract young, highly skilled talent.

A Creative Local Design Influence:  To develop the Step Up plan, DCA matched P.U.M.A., a national economic development and strategic planning firm, with CUDC, a local university-based urban design graduate program led by skilled and seasoned planners.  CUDC’s creative influence was spectacular, in both the design and execution of the public process and the plan product.  Engaging inter-active techniques were used throughout and results were produced in smart, easy to digest infographic formats.  CUDC’s local knowledge aided in developing solutions that resonated well in Cleveland.  Refreshingly, and unlike some of the national design firms we’ve worked with in the past, CUDC parked the ego at the door and fostered a truly collaborative atmosphere for both the consulting team and the client.  

A Market-Based Plan to Unify Downtown:  By creating a downtown-wide development framework, Step Up formalizes a decade-long effort to unify several sub-districts.  The framework identifies two emerging downtown neighborhoods and provides recommendations on how to strengthen them through pedestrian and bicycle connections, activating green spaces and tenanting buildings.  Place-based economic development is the theme of Step Up, offering a detailed short-term blueprint that capitalizes on national trends and local market opportunities.

A Pragmatic Road Map Forward:  The plan ends with an implementation section that divides tasks into the categories of economy, environment and experience.  Short, mid and long term timelines are identified, as are organizational leaders and partners for each task.  Most of the tactics are inexpensive, impactful, and achievable over the plan’s five to seven year horizon.   Several quick wins are identified that are already in motion. 

Step Up will also be used to inform the renewal of downtown’s business improvement district (BID).  Building upon DCA’s successful clean, safe and business development initiatives, Step Up provides a platform for defining a potential role for the BID in place-making.   

Check out the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s take on Step Up Downtown.