My guess is that almost everyone who lives in Cleveland was happy when the Republican bigwigs decided that the 2016 Republican National Convention would be held in the city. Lately, though, Clevelanders have seen the pain that precedes the hoped-for gain.
In my two recent visits, there seemed to be construction everywhere. A new downtown hotel is being built, and Public Square, the open area in front of the Terminal Tower, is completely torn up and blocked off. Work is underway on a $32 million project to convert the square — which had become kind of a no-man’s-land of discrete congregation areas for homeless people, separated by wide roads with heavy traffic — into a more welcoming, traffic-free, park-like setting with restaurant options and a concert venue. In the meantime, however, long-established traffic patterns have had to be changed.
When I was in Cleveland late last month for a meeting, traffic was a disaster. Even though I arrived for a meeting in plenty of time, it took about 30 minutes to move two city blocks, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. When that happens, fellow drivers start to get testy, and inventive u-turns, curb-hopping, and other efforts to avoid the jam are bound to occur — which just makes things worse and dramatically raises the irritation level for other drivers.
As we drove to a dinner that night, a Cleveland friend said he’s expecting 12 months of disruption until the work is completed in time for next summer’s Republican get-together. He explained that virtually every pothole-filling, bridge-refurbishing, scrape-and-painting, general-sprucing-up project that has been deferred over the last few years for municipal budget reasons has been hauled out and approved so the City by the Lake can look great for its turn on the national stage — and all of that work is happening at once.
Like other Clevelanders, he’s resigned to some pain in order to get the anticipated gain of positive national publicity, news stories about how Cleveland has really turned the corner, and resulting community good will. He’ll accept crappy traffic, delays, and general disorder in the meantime. Clevelanders are a hardy breed.