September 25th, 2015

John Galbreath (left) and Carl Stokes (right)

John Galbreath (left) and Carl Stokes (right)

I had a talk with a friend recently who happened to mention that the Cleveland City Planning department years ago was busily preparing the city’s new downtown master plan in the late 1950s.

It was a useless plan costing $100,000.

He laughed because he said that meanwhile another city official was planning what was actually to become the plan for downtown.

It would make the official city planner’s plan null and void even before it was published.

The truth is that neither city official really was producing a plan that the city would actually use to revamp downtown. Or try to.

A business/civic group was doing the plan that would be used, though not well.

Therein lays the truth about power and who runs this city and any other.

Not your elected officials. So voting often is much of a charade.

Eric Grubb was the planning director. My knowledgeable friend—who became a city official himself later—felt that James Lister, urban renewal director at the time, was drawing the REAL city plan—essentially the city’s urban renewal plan. It was called Erieview.

I was a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1966. I was relatively new but did some urban reporting at the time.

What I found was that a private entity called the Cleveland Development Foundation was really doing the city’s planning.

The unelected civic organization represented the powers that be.

I was working with Don Sabath, who was the regular urban renewal reporter at the time.

One day we sat down with Upshur Evans, director of CDF, and got the real story. Evans, as it often works, was a retired big shot at Standard Oil of Ohio. Castoff corporate officials often played this “civic” kind of role.

When Sabath and I returned to the paper after the interview we told City Editor Ted Princiotto, what Upshur had told us. They secretly produced the downtown plan, not the city planners.

He said that essentially CDF, which ironically had given the City Plan Commission $50,000 to help finance the city’s plan, all along knew that the city’s plan would be useless. Why, because CDF had paid to produced a downtown plan that would supersede the city planners product. (It also promoted the devastating housing urban renewal plans that essentially destroyed the east side of Cleveland.)

Princiotto, who was a luncheon companion of Upshur (that’s the way it works, take the editor to lunch and you own him or now her, too), didn’t like the sound of what Sabath and I were telling him.

But we both heard the same thing, we said. Duplicity. Admitted.

We can’t print that, he essentially said. He knew it was telling how things really work—the non-governmental powers made the really big decisions.

On Feb. 28, 1966, we got some truth into the paper whether anyone really noticed or not.

We wrote:

“In a recent interview, Upshur Evans, president of the Cleveland Development Foundation, said in assuming a quasi-planning function, the foundation, through special consultants performed a ‘voiding filling job.’

The void, he said, was created by the weakness of the planning commission and its staff.

The headline of the story was: “Planners Last to Hear of Plans.”

This was just one episode of business/foundation intrusion on Cleveland in the volatile 1960s. Times were tough. It called for unusual corporate action.

Because of the urban strife in the city, the forces that typically work quietly behind the scenes had to come forward and work—if anyone really noticed or discerned—somewhat it public.
The proof was in where dollars went and to whom.

It’s a story still to be told.

POSTSCRIPT: The many failures of the urban renewal efforts in Cleveland, along with politics, in early 1967 resulted in the cutoff of federal funds by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. One major building had been erected Erieview Tower, now attached to the Galleria.

Carl Stokes in his book “Promises of Power” revealed his frustration with the lack of development even after HUD restored funding when he became mayor.

He wrote:

I told Dick Green, my urban renewal director, to approach (John) Galbreath, who owned undeveloped parcels, and tell him that he would have to start developing his remaining parcels or we would revoke the agreement giving him options to the land. It didn’t take long for me to discover that although the power to do it was ostensibly in my hands, the effective conspiracy of the business and newspaper interests tied my hands.

First, a prominent bank president came to see me. He explained how much it had meant to Cleveland to get Galbreath to come in and put up the first Erieview tower, and how if we moved to revoke the city’s agreement with Galbreath there undoubtedly be a lengthy and costly law suit, during which time there wouldn’t, of course, be any further development of Erieview…

Next, when I went to the editors of both newspapers, explained what I wanted to do and asked for their support, they kept trying to change the subject… They made it clear enough, simply by not addressing the issue, that I would not have their support…

Finally, James Davis, a prominent Cleveland lawyer (Squire-Sanders) whose firm monopolizes bond counseling for nearly every city in Ohio, came over to suggest that it really wouldn’t be wise to move against Galbreath at the time, and he suggested we sit down with Galbreath and try to work things out.

It came, Stokes wrote, “to no avail.”

Some of that land eventually went to Dick Jacobs. He promised to build two large office buildings. He held on to the land for years, ran parking lots and never developed the office structures. (As he did with land on the west side of Public Square. it remains a parking lot.)

Today the property near the Erieview Tower is occupied by housing. The project, known as The Avenue, shows apartments are available, according to its web site.

By Roldo Bartimole…

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