Filed Under Aviation

Jetport in the Lake

The Failure That Saved the City's Lakefront

The story of the failed Lake Erie International Jetport is one that generated a flurry of political interest but ultimately succumbed to the grandeur of its own ambition. Mayor Ralph Locher first introduced the idea of a new airport for Cleveland in June 1966. Dr. Abe Silverstein, the director of NASA's Lewis Research Center, revived the idea three years later. Silverstein's comprehensive plan, estimated at $1.185 billion, located the jetport one mile north of downtown Cleveland. The circuitous lifecycle of the jetport-in-the-lake plan represents the midcentury promises that large-scale construction and redevelopment projects offered for metropolitan economic growth. Several such projects swirled around Cleveland in the latter half of the twentieth century, but not all of them reached fruition. For example, Tower City Center was conceived in the 1970s but languished until it was finally opened in 1990.

Both Locher's and NASA's plan assumed that by the 1990s Cleveland Hopkins International Airport would be insufficient for the region's commercial air transportation needs. In addition, an offshore jetport would reduce the roar of the supersonic jets that people assumed would become the air travel of the future. In March 1972, Cleveland created the Lake Erie Regional Transportation Authority (LERTA) to facilitate plans for a jetport. Dr. Cameron M. Smith, LERTA's executive director, presided over a board of trustees appointed by the county commissioners and the city of Cleveland. The Federal Aviation Administration underwrote the funding for LERTA's $4.3 million feasibility study in 1972. The study, completed in 1977, recommended building the jetport five miles offshore in Lake Erie on a stone-and-sand dike. The proposed 13-mile dike would surround a manmade landmass, a massive undertaking that would stretch contemporary technology to the limit. The jetport would be accessible by a causeway carrying an RTA rapid transit line and an extension of the Innerbelt Freeway.

Proponents of the jetport cited the additional jobs that would be created by the jetport, positive effects for Cleveland's image and economy, and the practical need for a new airport. However, by the 1970s, the jetport had strong opponents including Mayor Dennis Kucinich. Opponents pointed out reasonable barriers to the construction of the jetport including the project's expense compared to renovating Cleveland Hopkins, weather conditions on the lake, and the failure to explore alternative forms of transportation. The FAA finally predicted that Cleveland would not need a new airport at least until the year 2000 and withdrew support in 1978. LERTA dismissed its employees and the board met only once a year. The Lake Erie International Jetport proved to be a pie-in-the-sky dream that was too expensive and impractical to be built. The promise of improving the infrastructure to serve a growing city's strong economy and prepare Cleveland to leap into the twenty-first century could not overcome admittedly reasonable opposition.


Map, ca. 1970s
Map, ca. 1970s Map depicting the proposed location of the Lake Erie International Jetport offshore with access bridges. To reach the jetport, the Innerbelt would be extended into the lake and RTA would provide access as well. If the jetport had been built, it would have been the largest island in Lake Erie. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives. NOACA Collection, Box 9, Folder "Preliminary Draft of Final Report 18, Exhibit 20."
By George I've Got It!, 1973
By George I've Got It!, 1973 Bill Roberts's cartoon comically depicts the Federal Aviation Administration search for a Jetport location and the eventual decision to abandon the project. Roberts suggests that the FAA decided to build the Jetport in the lake after being chased out of Grafton by protesters. The FAA drafted plans but decided that Cleveland did not need a new Jetport till 2000, a decision conveniently reached when the project ran out of money. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection. Creator: Bill Roberts Date: 1973
The Cleveland Streakers, 1974
The Cleveland Streakers, 1974 This cartoon, entitled "Cleveland Streakers," depicts elderly men trying to walk with difficulty. The men are labeled with the names of other languishing Cleveland projects: "Jetport in the Lake," "County-wide Transit," "Terminal 'Tower' City Plan," "Justice Center," and "Gateway Project." The very next year a countywide transit system was inaugurated. The Justice Center followed in 1976, and Tower City eventually became a reality. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection. Creator: Bill Roberts Date: 1974
Proposed Design, ca. 1970s
Proposed Design, ca. 1970s Preliminary sketch of the proposed Lake Erie International Jetport. The possibility of its construction was seriously discussed beginning in the mid 1960s before being abandoned in the late 1970s. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives. County Administrator Sweeney Collection, Box 1, Folder "Airport 1979."
Jetport Hearing, June 29, 1972
Jetport Hearing, June 29, 1972 Councilman Dennis Kucinich, right, listens to testimony about the proposed Lake Erie international jetport. Testifying, at left, is Dr. David Gitlin, a Cleveland-area physician and environmentalist. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project. Date: 1972
Artist's Rendering of Jetport in the Lake
Artist's Rendering of Jetport in the Lake The Lake Erie International Jetport, if built, would have been large enough to be visible from space. The airport would have forever changed the face of one of the Great Lakes. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections


Lake Erie, Cleveland, OH | Never built


Sarah Kasper, “Jetport in the Lake,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 14, 2024,