Thursday, June 14, 2007

Daily Breuer Fix: Gloria Ferris

There was one more visitor to the CPC/Breuer Tower meeting I neglected to pass on to everyone.
Gloria Ferris has given an excellent account of the proceedings.


Word on the Street vs. Fact

June 1, I attended the City Planning Commission Committee Hearing where Architect Doug Hoffman of Weber Murphy Fox used the above title for his powerpoint presentation. It was informative and gave a good case for renovation and restoration of the Breuer Tower. A study paid for by the architectural firm itself was used as the fact to refute the “word on the street”. It built a good case for adaptive reuse of the only skyscraper Marcel Breuer designed. Mr. Hoffman showed why his team chose adaptive reuse of the existing building tying it to our heritage with the rotunda and bringing it into the 21st century by wrapping the Breuer Tower partially with glass. Detailed architecural plans were submitted showing how the historic Cleveland Trust Rotunda would be used in the overall scheme of things. It showed how public spaces would draw pedestrians and others into the building. It showed a space for a public garden. It showed floor plans of how the infrastructure would change so that the floor space would be more efficient. It showed how cables and other things needed for newer technologies would be hidden from view and that it would not hinder the aesthetics or the effficiency of the building.

And then, and then, he talked about the EMPLOYEES of the county and how their comfort level would be enhanced by temperature controls in the cubicles so that they controlled their own COMFORT level. He talked about how DAYLIGHT reached almost to the core of the building. He talked about privacy for employees but also work spaces where they could come together to collaborate. And I thought to myself now this is innovation-considering the employees-so that productivity and efficiency would be enhanced. I thought to myself why didn’t they choose this plan, but I left with an open mind and a heart filled with hope that next week on June 8th when Robert Madison International Inc. and his team presented their plan for the site, I would see an even better plan since this was the team chosen to tear down the Beuer Tower and build new.

Instead, I saw nothing that I could use to compare the two. There were no numbers to stand side by side in comparison. Instead this team refuted the numbers of the week before by saying the savings were too high and the costs were too low, but I didn’t see much of this team’s stand alone costs so that the public and the planning commission could be informed ensuring that a reasoned decision could be made. In fact, I said as much during my testimony. I said I had come seeking answers to specific monetary questions, but I was left with aesthetics and “pie-in-the-sky” promises that the rotunda was the core and central to the complex but when asked how it would be incorporated Mr. Madison replied that that had not been decided yet. I came to see architectural plans of what the new complex would look like; I saw conceptual plans. Disclaimers abounded that these were concepts and were not meant to be considered as the actual plans. Huh? This firm and its partners just won a multi-million contract with the county and these were CONCEPTS.

And the employee portion, I heard a lot about transformational workplaces, the need to guard against asbestos exposure, and a spokesman from a company indicted for kickbacks on a Lorain project, but more importantly, a company that has never demolished a building taller than thirteen stories. The one time that we need a national expert not available here in Cleveland, we award the contract to an intown boy and his crew. And this use of transformational in regards to tearing down and building new really rubbed me the wrong way. Tearing down and building new is simply replacement. Transformational means taking what is and changing it into something brighter and better.

All of this vague talk concerning a multi-million dollar expenditure of taxypayer’s money was disturbing, but the most disturbing thing to me was the way a meeting that began very organized and methodical turned into such a muddled mess at the end with people left scratching their heads and wondering what had just happened. Well, folks, here is my theory and understand it is just that. In fact, it is nothing more than word on the street, but I think it is worth pondering because of what happened at that meeting. This is my prediction and I am sticking to it. Joe Cimperman has his eyes set on a much bigger piece of the pie than being councilman of Ward 13. And soon, I will tell you what position he is vying for and why.

Norm Krumholz moved that the City Planning Commission vote to deny the demolition permit. Voting for this denial would have put a six month review process in place which would have answered many of the thoughtful and valid questions that the commision had. The motion was defeated by a four to three vote. David Bowen said that he could not vote for denying the permit at this point in time because he needed a lot more information such as detailed plans, why the figures this week differed so greatly from last week, why the ceiling height this week was a foot and a half lower than what was told to the commission last week if renovation was used. He shared Lillian Kuri’s concerns about public spaces and public access and the use of the rotunda. And this one was huge, but no one from the county had an answer. How many downtown spaces would be empty when the county moves to the new location? What exactly are the economic advantages of this ”complex”? How did federal and state historic credits fit into this plan? No one knew.

And then, and then, Joe opens his mouth and says how long are we going to hold up this project, these are our partners, are you saying we mistrust them, we have parking lots all over town because people came before this commission with no better plans than we have seen today. Huh?What’s up with that? And then, as far as I am concerned the whole meeting went up for grabs. Someone asked when was the county planning commission consulted on the project probably thinking if there were results from those meetings they would be very helpful and there would be less time needed. But then, Lee Trotter looked at those sitting beside him, and he had to tell the commission that the COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION had NOT been involved in the decision making. So, there we were, a county project in the making for the last ten years has no architecural plan, did not consult its own planning commission, and said that they would need longer than one week to answer these questions. But the planning commission decides to go ahead with a one week time frame anyway.

Here is my theory. Joe Cimperman is going to run for county commissioner. Why else would he turn his back on the reasoned testimony of former City Planner Hunter Morrison who presented a seven point plan used in the past when planning a major project like this one-Key Tower probably being the most prominent one. Why would he turn his back on his own colleagues and push for unsupported claims of “better” ? Why would he sacrifice the reputation of the second oldest planning commission in the nation if he were not only thinking of his own ambitions? Why would he turn his back on the city that he vowed to serve if he was not ready to move on? And let’s face it, he needs the County Democratic Chairman in his corner if he intends to replace Tim Hagan on the commission? And, he needs to set the stage for the Medical Mart and the Convention Center votes which will also come before this august commission. If this demolition permit is approved with as little oversight as it appears there is now, the case will be made for any other county project coming before the CITY Planning Commission to be rubber stamped just as Joe feels this one should be.

This Commission needs to stand firm and insist that they receive the information needed to make an informed decision. We need an appointed board to stand up and represent the taxpayers of this city and this county. We need them to make sure that the numbers make sense, and that we know what we will have at the end of the day when the County Complex is reality not “concept”. Listen to the urban planners in your midst-Norm Kruholz and Hunter Morrison and INSIST on the information needed to make a decision worthy of a Planning Commission that understands the word plan. Do not be swayed by the politicians in your midst-Mayor Frank Jackson, Council President Martin Sweeney. If these men were true leaders, they would trust their judgment in appointing you and allow you to do your job. And certainly, do not be swayed by the member in your midst guided by personal ambition. Please, please do something truly transformational and make a reasoned decision, not an expedient political one.