Cleveland Under Construction

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.

IMG_5536_2In 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.

Hollywood Love-Hate On The Cuyahoga

I’m up in Cleveland for meetings today, as I look out my window I see what looks like the scene of a terrible traffic accident, with a car flipped on its roof and onlookers gathered around.

IMG_3782Fortunately, it’s not an accident scene, it’s just on-location shooting for Captain America:  The Winter Soldier, which is filming in Cleveland this week.  That film is the latest action thriller to be shot along the shores of Lake Erie, where some of the street scenes for The Avengers were filmed.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’m guessing that someone in Captain America is going to get into a car accident at some point during the movie.

As a visitor to the city, it’s interesting for me to watch the careful prep work for the scene.  You begin to dimly understand the jobs of the key grips, second unit directors, and other curious titles that scroll by in the credits at the end of films.  First the overturned car gets placed, then some kind of light barrier is put into position, then cameras are adjusted and moved, then electrical cables are strung out.  There are dozens of people involved in the exercise.

IMG_3786For Clevelanders, however, this filming is a love-hate thing.  They like the abstract notion of big-budget movies being shot in Cleveland.  It’s cool, and it makes their city seem cool, and they know that it brings jobs and publicity and money to their fair city, all of which are good things.

But Clevelanders are, at bottom, practical Midwesterners.  Once filming begins the novelty wears off and the reality of closing major freeways and thoroughfares sinks in.  This traffic accident scene is being shot in front of the Cleveland Public Library on blocked-off Superior Avenue — which would otherwise be bustling with cars and buses full of people going to work.  Today, they’ve had to make alternative arrangements.