CLEVELAND, Ohio — The long, painful saga of the concrete barriers installed in Public Square in 2017 as a homeland security stopgap took a vital step toward resolution on Friday.
The Cleveland City Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a plan estimated to cost $3.5 million to remove the concrete barriers and replace them with stainless steel bollards.
The vote marked the final official hurdle in a protracted controversy over the barriers, installed by the administration of former Mayor Frank Jackson in March 2017 in response to then-new homeland security concerns that the square could be invaded by vehicles used as weapons to ram pedestrians.
The barriers and planters have been viewed widely as eyesores that marred a $50 million renovation of Public Square completed in 2016 in time for the Republic National Convention.
Friday’s vote will enable the nonprofit Group Plan Commission, which cares for key public spaces downtown, to order the bollards and other construction materials.
“As long as everything continues to move along smoothly we should be able to complete the project before the end of the year,’’ Sanaa Julien, the CEO of the Group Plan Commission, said before the meeting.
The 2016 renovation of Public Square won high praise. It was designed by the landscape architecture firm of James Corner Field Operations, which co-designed New York’s acclaimed High Line Park.
Politico ran a story about the park in 2016 under the headline, “The Hot New Park at the Center of the Republican Convention.’’
The renovation attempted to unify Public Square as a single 6-acre pedestrian space after more than a century in which it had been divided into four quadrants divided by Ontario Street, running north-south, and Superior Avenue, running east-west.
The Field Operations design required removing Ontario Street from the square. In a compromise with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, the city agreed to retain bus service on Superior Avenue, while narrowing it from 72 to 48 feet.
The concrete barriers installed in 2017 interrupted the spatial flow sought by the renovation’s design. They also resulted in damage to special granite pavers on Superior Avenue, where buses were forced to stop when boarding or dropping off passengers.
Last March, at the request of Mayor Justin Bibb, Jackson’s successor, City Council approved spending $1.5 million on the bollard project. The city announced in December it had raised the full $3.5 million needed for construction.
Cuyahoga County contributed $1 million and another $500,000 came from RTA. Other funders include KeyBank, The Sherwin-Williams Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, Bedrock, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rocket Mortgage, and JACK Entertainment, according to a city news release.
The design approved Friday by the planning commission, also drafted by James Corner Field Operations, calls for narrowing Superior Avenue in the center of the square from 48 to 26.5 feet to create a greater sense of connection between intersecting pathways north and south of Superior Avenue. Granite pavers will be reinstalled in the areas damaged by buses.
In all, 96 bollards will be arrayed in the square, with 68 in the center along Superior Avenue and 28 on the north and south sides of the square. Two of the bollards will be positioned at the square’s southwest corner behind the Rebol café to prevent parking on the sidewalk for pickups by food delivery services.
The design also calls for 18 retractable “raptors,’’ claw-like devices that can be extended from the pavement on Superior Avenue at the east and west sides of the square to block off the area for special events.
Commission member August Fluker, an architect, said he would have preferred seeing barriers made of imaginatively designed public art, instead of bollards.
“I don’t know why we love bollards in this city,’’ he said. “We could have come up with something very creative. I believe bollards have a negative connotation.”
Ward 17 Councilman Charles Slife, also a commission member, said he wanted the city to continue to discuss whether RTA buses could be routed around the perimeter of the square, instead of through it.
RTA has resisted removing the buses from the square because their presence on that route was one of the conditions related to federal funding for the $200 million reconstruction of Euclid Avenue completed in 2008 to accommodate the bus rapid transit HealthLine.
“I’m just hopeful that that conversation can be had at some point,’’ he said, adding that he’d feel more comfortable having his children plan in a splash pad in the square “if there weren’t buses traversing Superior Avenue 20 feet behind me.”
Veronica Rivera, a landscape architect with Field Operations who spoke at the meeting remotely, said she’d love to participate in any conversation about removing buses from the square.
“If that ever happens, count on me because that would also be my dream also,’’ she said.
The city’s planning director, Joyce Pan Huang, commented that the city explored multiple alternatives with RTA, but ultimately decided to pursue the option of adding the bollards and narrowing Superior Avenue, rather than eliminating bus traffic.
“We came back to this concept as ultimately the best path forward, given the need of our partners,’’ she said.