Urban renewal in Cleveland functioned as a tool to improve neighborhoods, thus invigorating the city. In tandem with the goal of improving neighborhoods to ensure they functioned better within the city, industrial renewal projects were also a focus for officials in Cleveland. Among the most prominent urban renewal projects in Cleveland that focused on revitalizing a space for industrial growth was Gladstone (Area O), which was often called the worst slum in Cleveland.
Influenced by early projects in Pittsburgh that were funded through local public-private cooperation, Gladstone was originally intended to be done entirely through private investment with participation with local business and industry. In accordance with the General Plan for Cleveland of 1949, the area was to be redeveloped for full industrial use, particularly for food distribution. Among the biggest food distributors in Gladstone was the Northern Ohio Food Terminal, which accounted for nearly $200 million annually in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The project was intended to provide space for industrial relocation to keep industries from moving outside of Cleveland by making land available and cheap in the central core of the city.
Gladstone covered about 97.4 acres and had an irregular border that was situated between Woodland Avenue to the north and the Nickel Plate and New York Central railroad tracks to the south. Its borders on the west and east extended from East 37th Street to East 55th Street. The area was approved as an urban renewal project in April of 1957. At the onset of the project, around 20 percent of the land served residential uses, while the other 80 percent was occupied for industrial purposes. The two largest industries in the area were food packing and distribution, and scrap metal businesses were scattered along the edges of the project.
The City Planning Commission found that about 79 percent of residential and about 26 percent of industrial structures were dilapidated and unfit for use. They also found that virtually no public recreation space existed in the project area.
Gladstone, however, quickly encountered problems as the project developed. Among the biggest problems was the cost. Gladstone was more expensive than originally anticipated, which made it difficult to find businesses that were willing to pay the extra cost for land. The city of Cleveland was selling land in Gladstone at about $3.00 per square foot to cover the cost of obtaining and clearing the land. Industry at this time, the 1950s and 1960s, usually did not spend more than $1.75 per square foot of land.
There were also claims that the City Planning Commission intentionally condemned properties and labeled them as dilapidated and unsafe in order to drive down property values. This, in theory, would have allowed the city to buy the condemned land at a cheaper cost in which they could then sell back to industries interested in building or expanding in Gladstone. A more accurate survey by Housing Commissioner Robert Greenhalgh in 1960 found that only about 10 percent of the structures were in such a dilapidated condition that they had to be torn down.
The cost of land in Gladstone brought private investment to a standstill. Because industry was not willing to pay the prices the city needed in order to not lose money on the project, Urban Renewal Director James M. Lister and Mayor Celebrezze had to seek federal aid in 1963 to ensure the project would move forward.
Even with federal aid for urban renewal, the project took a long time to get underway. By 1966, the Plain Dealer noted that only about three acres of land were sold by the city. By 1968, ten parcels of land in the area still needed to be acquired by the city. The lack of industrial interest in Gladstone demonstrates that, even with federal price reductions through urban renewal aid money, land in the suburbs was cheaper.
The City of Cleveland was also required to help relocate families for the duration of the urban renewal project. The Plain Dealer also noted in 1966 that of the 700 families that were living in Gladstone at the beginning of the project, roughly 300 were still living in the area. To make matters worse, about 70 percent of the families that were relocated were either unaccounted for or moved to substandard housing somewhere else in the city.
As the project stagnated into the late 1960s, the area became little more than a dumping ground for other urban renewal projects in the city of Cleveland. The large trash heaps that accumulated in Gladstone were often burned, which in a few cases spread to nearby abandoned buildings. Some businesses in the area even noted that the trash fires caused their insurance rates to increase, which unfortunately only further deterred new investment in Gladstone.
Although the Northern Ohio Food Terminal did retain its facilities in Gladstone, other companies and industries were not attracted to the area with the fervor that was anticipated. Stouffer Foods Corp., a new postal service office, and a new terminal for the Railway Express Agency all chose to move or build outside of Gladstone for the same reasons; it was cheaper to buy land and build in the suburbs, and the city of Cleveland was taking too long to actually have land ready for sale.
Some businesses and industries did build in Gladstone, though too many years after the start of the project to justify all the problems it created. The federal government put a freeze on funding for Cleveland urban renewal projects because of concerns of mismanagement. It was not until Mayor Carl Stokes took office in 1967 that projects, including Gladstone, started showing improvement. Gladstone, however, never quite realized its full potential and became little more than an example of what could go wrong with urban renewal.
In 1990, a local non-profit called Maingate Business Development Corporation was created to work at reversing the negative impact the Gladstone project had on the area. Maingate actively works at regaining the confidence of corporations and businesses in the area and forty new companies have chosen to have a location in the Maingate area. Although the effects of Gladstone are being reversed by Maingate, work is still being done to fully realize the potential city officials believed the area had in the 1950s and 1960s.