CLEVELAND, Ohio – Roughly three-dozen merchants and residents rallied at Shaker Square Saturday afternoon to protest a controversial proposal to close Shaker Boulevard where it crosses the heart of the historic, 1920s shopping center on Cleveland East Side.
But even before the protest began, leaders of the planning process aimed at refreshing the aging shopping center said they were seeking additional input on the square’s future.
“Additional rounds of planning are being scheduled to ensure all input is solicited, listened to, and integrated into the planning,’’ said a statement posted on This Is Shaker Square, a website maintained by project leaders LAND Studio and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
Protestors on Saturday took the statement as proof that their opposition is having an effect.
Cars honked as the demonstrators shouted, “Save Shaker Boulevard!” and waved green and white signs emblazoned with the same words.
Protestors said that removing the boulevard – part of a major east-west road connecting Shaker Heights to Cleveland – would hurt businesses and funnel heavy traffic onto side streets.
“We want Shaker Square preserved; we want Shaker Square kept up. we don’t want to lose Shaker Boulevard,” former Cuyahoga County Council president and Cleveland Municipal Court judge C. Ellen Connally shouted into a bullhorn.
Other speakers included Cleveland architect Bill Eberhard, Elina Kreymerman, owner of Shaker Square Dry Cleaning & Tailoring, and Brandon Chrostowski, founder of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, which operates a French Restaurant on the Square.
Planning consultants concluded a nine-month, $400,000 planning study in July by recommending removing the boulevard lanes from the center of the 5-acre square to make way for larger lawns, a concert stage, a playground, and other amenities.
A handful of counter-protestors waved hand-lettered signs in favor of the plan.
“We have a lot of strip malls across the region. This is something that can be really special,’’ said real estate lawyer Matt Rolf, who has an office at the square.
“I support the redesign plan and support making Shaker Square more pedestrian friendly and safer for people getting on and off the rapid,” he said, referring to the Blue and Green lines of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, which cut across the square between the east- and westbound lanes of Shaker Boulevard.
Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin, who said he spoke to protestors before Saturday, said that options for the square are still being considered.
“Understanding the businesses on the square and larger traffic patterns is what we have to explore further,’’ he said. “That might mean we leave that stretch open if that’s what the facts and data and community input tells us.”