Mayor Frank Jackson Talks 2021 and the Future Of Downtown

By Gennifer Harding-Gosnell

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson joined Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the Downtown Cleveland Residents Association for a webinar on Thursday, December 17, 2020 to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing downtown Cleveland in 2021. 

Hosted by DCA Executive VP of Business Development, Michael Deemer, the webinar focused on the most pressing concerns of downtown residents, including safety, attracting more businesses and residents to downtown, and the post-pandemic recovery.

Jackson discussed his efforts to turn downtown into a “24-hour city.” He said when he took over as mayor in 2006, the population downtown was around 5,000 and is now close to 20,000. “We needed a neighborhood where we had at least 25,000 residents,” he said, “then you have a traditional kind of neighborhood that would demand amenities, certain types of goods and services that weren’t just bars and nightclubs and restaurants, but also those things you need to live every day, so it’s a real community.”

Other efforts discussed included bringing more businesses into downtown, giving residents the choice of walking or taking public transit to work, and making improvements to education so young people would want to stay after marrying and having children.

“Part of my job was to get out the way and let it happen,” he said. “A lot of people in positions like this get in their own way… Let those people who actually know what they’re doing do the work. That was the approach I wanted to take. Then we as government help to underwrite development, economics, and visitation [to the city] in that regard.”

The city’s recovery from the pandemic also weighs heavy on the minds of residents. Jackson referred to the 2008 financial crisis, saying, “We had a hard landing but we didn’t crash. But we didn’t go into bankruptcy, we were able to make the necessary cost-cutting measures, and to balance our budget… The same thing has to happen here. We have to survive. We budgeted for a downturn, we didn’t know it was gonna come in the first quarter of the year, and we didn’t know the pandemic would cause it, but we budgeted for a downturn. We immediately did cost-cutting measures so we could reduce the cost of our operations without impacting our service delivery.”

The city was granted $19.4 million in federal Covid relief funds last April. Jackson said the Covid money “made up for about 80% of our shortfall.” 

The result, said Jackson, is that “we’re able now to carry over a balance that would help to cover the deficit between what it’s going to cost us to operate the city next year [versus] the estimated revenue. We’re gonna be able to carry over money to fill that gap. In doing that, we’re going to survive.”

Jackson said he is aware that safety is also a concern for residents and visitors to downtown. He said the Administration “pays special attention to downtown,” and that the needs of the area, and the crimes committed here, are “unique” compared to other areas of the city. 

“Downtown is the only place where you have your own specific people assigned [DCA Ambassadors]… They were out there ensuring safety [pre-pandemic], and we haven’t drawn back from that… There are around 20 or 30 police officers designated who work a 24/7 operation just for downtown.”   

Jackson discussed homelessness and feels keeping homeless people dispersed into different areas of the city, and catering solutions to the  specific problems that caused their homelessness is key to lowering everyone’s concerns. He says his Administration is “trying to work with the homeless community and service providers so that it is not concentrated just in one area,” mentioning Tower City and Public Square as notable areas of concentration. 

The Mayor closed the discussion by reiterating the pandemic guidelines of staying home, mask-wearing and social distancing, and encouraged the public to “hang in there” as the pandemic continues into the new year.