Cleveland’s Renovated Public Square Now a Thriving Hub for the City’s Downtown
Set in the heart of downtown, Public Square is an integral part of Cleveland. Until recently, the prominent landscape sat overlooked and underutilized. After two years of full-scale reconstruction, Public Square is now a thriving, bustling, event-filled six-acre hub at the foot of the city’s most recognizable landmark, Terminal Tower. The Public Square renovation was finished in June 2016 at a cost of $50 million, with 60 percent of the funding coming from corporations and foundations.
Its completion meshed with the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers’ victory parade and the subsequent arrival of the Republican National Convention, giving the space a starring role in two major events that drew national and international media attention.
The RNC attracted 50,000 visitors and 15,000 media representatives from around the world who, in some cases, trained their cameras and focused their stories on the longstanding commitment to recast the public areas that help make up the heart of the city and create connections between Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field and its many waterfront attractions.
Originally laid out by Cleveland founder Moses Cleveland 220 years ago as part of the downtown street grid, Public Square has been completely transformed on the heels of another major project, the reconstruction in 2013 of the downtown Mall, which serves as the green roof of the city’s underground convention center. Recognizing the impact of proposed renovations early on, the KeyBank Foundation committed $4 million to support the project - the largest in the foundation’s history by more than double. The donation triggered an additional $1 million in matching funds from The Cleveland Foundation which had already committed $8 million. Included in KeyBank’s grant was $500,000 toward long-term maintenance and programming.
KeyBank CEO Beth Mooney reflected on the significance of the reconstruction project within the context of Cleveland’s overarching civic revitalization.
"The redevelopment of Public Square will be one of the most significant projects in the city’s history, and we are proud to play a part in making it happen," Mooney said after the grant was announced in September 2014. "It will provide the kind of public space that acts as a magnet for residents and visitors. Years from now, Clevelanders will regard this project as one of the essential elements in the city’s revitalization."
Cleveland’s Renaissance and the Power of Philanthropy
KeyBank Foundation Chair and CEO Margot James Copeland called the grant an example of the power of philanthropy to impact the community that holds special significance for Key.
"It is a privilege for the KeyBank Foundation to mark 45 years of serving the Greater Cleveland community by supporting this historic project with the largest gift in our history," Copeland said at the time. "As our foundation approaches its 50th anniversary, we will look to make additional strategic gifts that serve our community in a significant way."
Over the summer, Cleveland Public Square hosted a packed schedule that included some 60 events per week, including concerts, yoga and CrossFit classes, Food Truck Tuesdays, a bocce zone and movie nights.
One of the space’s most popular features is a splash pad fountain that became a magnet for children and a respite for downtown residents and visitors—and their pets—during a hot, dry summer.
The offerings will continue into fall and winter. Some of the highlights include:
- Farmer’s markets
- Fall and Halloween celebrations
- Browns pre-game tailgating
- Ice skating
- The Christmas tree lighting ceremony along with WinterFest
- Holiday choral groups
The ribbon-shaped walkway that winds through Public Square has been named KeyBank Promenade, in recognition of Key’s role in the reconstruction and the square’s role as Key’s front yard for 170 years.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson championed the reconstruction project as an initiative that would make it possible to create a “walkable, bikeable downtown,” as well as a safe civic space whose design, created by leading American landscape architect James Corner, called for expansive, safety-enhancing sightlines.
Jackson promised that Public Square would “give every Clevelander the world-class public space they deserve.”
The philanthropic and private sector commitment for the project totaled approximately $32 million, with The Group Plan Commission securing $8 million from The Cleveland Foundation, $5 million from The Gund Foundation, $4 million from KeyBank and $1 million from the Kent H. Smith Charitable Trust. Redirected tax increment financing from the former Higbee Building added another $9 million for the project.
In addition to construction costs, corporations and foundations have pledged $3.8 million through 2020 for event programming. The Group Plan Commission’s overall programming goal is $6.8 million.
City leaders have said in recent months that they hope the early success of the Public Square project will lead to more major downtown events in the future, perhaps including another national political convention.
Joe Marinucci, President and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, told Cleveland.com, “We have the ability to deliver. We’ve been able to bring a worldwide audience here and do it in a very safe way.”