by Chuck Hoven (Plain Press, May 2016) At a recent community meeting on the Near West Side, several people said they miss shopping at the West Side Market, but no longer shop there because of the difficulty in finding a parking spot. A visit to the West Side Market on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 20th revealed very few customers inside, yet the parking lot outside in the rear of the market was filled and cars were circling looking for non-existent parking spaces.
Coupled with the loss of West Side Market parking spaces to patrons and employees of other area businesses, there is an increasing trend of what market merchants call “tourists.” People coming to the market to look around, but not there to shop for food for their family. Merchants report chatting with people asking questions about the market who suddenly have to leave because that they received a text that their table is ready at a nearby bar/restaurant.
Vince Bertonaschi, President of the West Side Market Tenants Association, said he heard reports that people were fighting over parking spaces that morning (Wednesday, April 20th) in the parking lot outside the market. He points to his display case filled with various cuts of beef. He says very little has sold today. He points to some beef tongues noting that if his customers could get to the market, normally those would have already sold. “The reason, we are not doing any business,” he says, is that, “there is no parking.”
The recent closing of the parking lot on the former Hicks School site for striping and repaving has made an already critical parking shortage into a parking crisis for West Side Market merchants. While the work on the Hicks lot is scheduled for completion by June 1st, its absence only highlights the ongoing problem of parking.
The lot directly behind the West Side Market is no longer leased by the West Side Market merchants, the City of Cleveland failed to renew the lease for the lot which the merchants have leased for many years. The parking lease was part of what the West Side Market merchants believed was a partnership with the City of Cleveland. The West Side Market Tenants Association has shown the Plain Press copies of deeds of parcels which their predecessors purchased in the 1950s as a contribution to the parking lot. In addition, the West Side Market Tenants Association has maintained the lot during the term of their lease. In the final year of their lease, Bertonaschi says the merchants were paying $76,000 a year to take care of the lot. That amount included maintaining the surface and striping in the lot, plowing, clean-up, security and landscaping.
Now, to add insult to injury, the City of Cleveland has not only taken the lot from the merchants, but wants to charge the market merchants an extra $86,000 a year to pay for security at the parking lot. Bertonaschi points out a request for an ordinance (990-15) the City of Cleveland sent to City Council which passed on October 14, 2015. He said all the Cleveland City Council members except Councilman Michael Polensek voted for the legislation. Through that ordinance, the Director of Public Works Michael Cox plans to hire security for the parking lot in the rear of the West Side Market. Bertonaschi says Cox wants to add $86,000 a year to the West Side Market Tenants Association lease beginning this June to pay for the security for the lot the city is making into a public parking lot for all businesses in the area. Bertonaschi said Director Cox told him the city can’t add the cost for the security to anyone else’s lease, so you are paying for it.
In recent years, the City of Cleveland created a pedestrian, retail overlay zone near the West Side Market. Because of the special zone, large venues on W. 25th Street like Market Garden, Nano Brew, Bier Market, Town Hall and Mitchell’s Ice Cream are not required to secure the number of parking places that would have been required, based on their square footage if the special pedestrian, retail overlay district did not exist. The rationale for creating the special district is that, in such a zone, a large portion of those using the area would arrive by walking, bicycling or taking public transportation. However, that has not materialized, the vast majority of the customers and staff members of the businesses in the district are arriving in the zone by car. Many are choosing to park in what was once the West Side Market parking lot. They are taking up spaces that once were reserved for West Side Market shoppers.
Bertonaschi says the bars that are using the parking lot want the right to park there but they don’t want to pay for it. He recalls meeting with Sam McNulty, owner of Market Garden, Nano Brew, Bier Market and other properties in the area near the West Side Market, and suggesting that he talk to other merchants in the area about pulling their resources and building a parking garage for area businesses. McNulty told him that he didn’t want his customers paying the amount for parking that would be required to pay for a parking garage.
It seems the owners of the Cavaliers and the Indians feel the same way. They have negotiated a sweetheart deal with the City of Cleveland and are not paying off the gateway parking garages, instead the City of Cleveland has pledged all its parking lot revenue to pay for the bonds on the parking garages. Instead of renegotiating the leases to make the garages pay for themselves, it seems the City of Cleveland will now add another paid parking lot to help pay off the bonds when it begins to charge for parking at the lot behind the West Side Market.
Bertonaschi is highly critical of former Ward 3 Cleveland City Council Representative Joe Cimperman, who, he notes, recently resigned from Cleveland City Council with an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation underway into his conduct in office. He says Cimperman and the City of Cleveland have not been trustworthy partners for the West Side Market’s merchants.
Bertonaschi likened the City of Cleveland and its City Council to the “gangsters of old.” Instead of using a tommy gun to steal property – they use the law, he said. He says they stole the parking lot from the West Side Market Tenants Association. He said they don’t respect the history of the market and the tenants’ participation in helping to build the parking lot. “They think we homesteaded on the market parking lot, despite evidence we obtained from their own archives. They don’t know we bought land to contribute to that parking lot,” he said.
Bertonaschi doesn’t believe that the additional 128 spaces that will result from the current rebuilding of the parking area behind the west side market will make much of a difference. He is calling for the permanent closing of Gehring Avenue to help add more spaces for parking in the area. But ultimately believes that the area businesses need to get their own parking. He said of the battle to secure the traditional market parking lot for West Side Market customers, “I’m tired of fighting something that shouldn’t be fought.”