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A nuCLEus of grandeur?

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BRIAN TUCKER

  I don’t know Kent Millstead, and the frustrating anonymity of the Internet makes it possible that Kent Millstead may be, for all I know, Sally Jones.

  But when The Plain Dealer printed its story last week about developer Bob Stark’s nascent, grand plan for the Gateway neighborhood, I loved the Cleveland.com quote attributed to Mr. Millstead:

  “Gee, I guess building Gateway in the 90’s wasn’t the giant mistake that everyone has whined about for years.”

  Hear, hear!

  So, okay, maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that “everyone” whined about Gateway, the ambitious mix of a new baseball stadium, basketball arena and two parking decks that replaced the derelict buildings and ugly parking lots between downtown and the Innerbelt.

  But there certainly was a vocal group, led by local activist-columnist Roldo Bartimole, that complained about the project’s cost, its claims of job creation, the fact that the same money could solve so many other social ills, and on and on.

  Well, here we are a couple decades later, and the sports complex did indeed ignite some related redevelopment magic between Gateway and Playhouse Square. We all know about the scalding-hot residential market downtown and the explosion of restaurants that has captured the attention of America’s food writers.

  A sound argument can be made, I believe, that very little of that would have happened without the public-private partnership that helped make Gateway a reality.

  And now, Mr. Stark, known for big visions and glittery projects (think Crocker Park and ETON, his two groundbreaking retail-oriented developments in the western and eastern suburbs), wants to clear out some ugly buildings and surface lots between Quicken Loans Arena and the trendy live-play area of East 4th and Prospect Avenue.

  In their place, he wants to erect what he’s calling “nuCLEus,” a collection of residential/office towers atop parking decks fronted by street-level retailers. Mr. Stark and his partner, J-Dek Investments Ltd. of Solon, have laid out a cool $26 million for the property and plan to announce the lead architect soon.

  Like every other grand project (the Geis brothers’ smash hit at The 9 comes to mind) downtown, this one will need government support. Just as the county acted quickly with a package to spur the construction of the new convention center hotel, government leaders should act decisively to support nuCLEus.

  Mr. Stark has for years been trying to do a grand redevelopment project downtown, and I hope this is it.

  I like Crocker Park and ETON, but I want to see his new project set in motion the next wave of Cleveland’s downtown transformation.

(After 25 years as publisher and editorial director of Crain's Cleveland Business, Brian Tucker became vice president & director of corporate affairs at Dollar Bank. The opinions in this commentary are solely his and do not reflect the position of either Dollar Bank FSB or its management. He can be reached via email at btucker404@dollarbank.com or by phone at 216-736-8953.)

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