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Transforming downtown Cleveland: 60 seconds with Jeremy Paris, executive director, Group Plan Commission

Jeremy Paris is a Cleveland native who returned from Capitol Hill to take part in the revitalization of his hometown.

As the first executive director of the Group Plan Commission (GPC), he will shepherd efforts to connect Clevelanders by reinvigorating signature downtown public spaces and linking Lake Erie to the city's core.

Working with partners including the Greater Cleveland Partnership, LAND Studio and Downtown Cleveland Alliance, the GPC will bring together public, private and philanthropic resources to complete these projects.

In an interview with Every Monday, Paris discussed how the GPC is transforming downtown Cleveland into a vibrant, thriving urban core.

Every Monday: Why is the creation of accessible, central public spaces so important to cities?

Jeremy Paris: Successful public spaces play an integral role in the success of a city. Cities from Chicago and New York to St. Louis and Atlanta have made significant investments in their green spaces and are reaping the abundant rewards: greater sense of community, increased economic development and improved quality of life.

They drive development and economic growth. Yet, world-class cities also know that these spaces must be updated and renovated in order to remain relevant to their citizens and to continue growth. Working with our public-sector partners and stakeholders like the Greater Cleveland Partnership to transform our signature public spaces will leverage Cleveland’s significant capital projects and spur additional growth.

EM: What are the Group Plan Commission’s priority projects for transforming downtown Cleveland?

JP: The next step in transforming downtown Cleveland into a vibrant, thriving urban core is to create a unique public space that links pockets of existing development and promotes further growth. The Group Plan Commission has identified three priority projects: redesigning and revitalizing Public Square, enhancing the Mall and bridging the gap between downtown and the lakefront.

The goal is to create inviting, people-friendly spaces where Clevelanders and visitors feel welcome and at home. Through public-private collaboration among the city, the county, the business community and philanthropic organizations, and with the support of world-class urban planners, landscape architects and professionals, this vision is becoming a reality.

EM: How are these projects connected with the original vision of the Group Plan of 1903?

JP: The original Group Plan Commission of 1903, led by famed architect Daniel Burnham, presented an iconic vision that has shaped the heart of our city for more than a century. Based on the designs of great civic centers in Paris, London, Vienna and Florence, The Group Plan famously called for “no little plans” and outlined the development of a series of public spaces flanked by the city’s major civic and government buildings.

Building upon the iconic vision of the Group Plan of 1903, and on its spirit of creating world class public spaces, we will renew the heart of downtown Cleveland for today’s citizens and future generations by transforming and connecting the city’s signature public spaces. Just as the original Group Plan of 1903 spurred the Cleveland's development in the last century, our three priority projects — transforming Public Square, enhancing the Malls, and connecting downtown to the lakefront — will complement the $3 billion in development in Cleveland’s downtown core since 2010 and spur an additional wave of transformational development.

EM: How does Cleveland hosting the 2016 RNC impact the timeline of these projects, particularly Public Square?

JP: All of Cleveland is incredibly excited about hosting the RNC in the summer of 2016. Has Cleveland ever been on a better roll?

Fortunately, the Group Plan Commission has long had the summer of 2016 as our goal for several of these projects, including the transformation of Public Square, so we are on the right track in terms of design, planning and funding to complete the Public Square project well in time for the RNC.

The sense of excitement in the city is clearly beneficial to people really wanting to find ways to make it happen, but the planning and legwork of many people has put us in a great position to take advantage of it.

EM: The transformation of Public Square is budgeted at $30 million. Is a plan in place that will allow construction to begin later this year?

JP: Yes. Not only in terms of funding, but also planning and design, we are aiming for and on track to begin construction later this year, and complete the transformation by late spring of 2016.