Design team offers suggestions to improve appearance of East End of Madison Ave.

On paper, the East End of Madison Avenue has some assets that could be used as building blocks to lure positive catalysts of neighborhood growth. There is a large city park, public library, numerous churches, a good live music venue, bowling alley, manufacturing facility, and easy access to the RTA rapid transit.

Reality, though, is a bit different. Eastern Madison Ave. is bounded on either side by neighborhoods that are poorer and rougher than is typical for Lakewood. 15 years ago it was the site of the Vincent Drost murder, the city’s most notorious crime in recent memory. It’s not exactly the Wild West today, but it has some challenges.

One visible difficulty is its lack of desirable retail businesses. Gold Into Cash, for instance, recently opened next to The Flying Rib at the corner of Hopkins Ave. and Madison Ave. It is by no means a shady business, and certainly meets a need for its clientele, but doesn’t bring much vitality to the area.

Gold Into Cash is on of Madison Ave.'s newest businesses

Gold Into Cash is one of East Madison Ave's newest businesses.

Another head-scratcher of a business is A&A Wireless, near the corner of Magee Ave. and Madison Ave. It popped up late in the summer in a storefront that was long vacant. Its presence was particularly conspicuous due to a flimsy business sign — one the city would not likely have approved — that was nailed above its front door.

A&A Wireless on Madison Ave.

A&A Wireless, near the corner of Magee Ave. and Madison Ave, opened this summer.

Last Tuesday its front window was smashed in a reported incident of breaking and entering. The first police officer to arrive on the scene could not locate either a building address number or business name. The police department called at a least a dozen different phone numbers in an effort to reach the person responsible for the store, who had been arrested a month prior for permitting drug abuse. When he finally showed up, he was arrested again, this time on a North Olmsted warrant related to a traffic case.

First steps underway to  improve physical appearance of East Madison Ave.

The Lakewood Planning Commission met earlier this month to review the latest progress on the design study of the Madison Ave. East-End Corridor, made possible through a $50,000 federal grant to the city through NOACA in December 2009.

The design team, led by Lakewood-based architect Scott Dimit, is charged with making plans for Madison Ave. streetscape improvements, which includes things like bus stops, pedestrian spaces, benches, trees, and signage. A major goal of the project is to generate design plans and then use them to attract funding for improvement projects. (see project presentation .PDF)

Team Dimit held a couple of well-attended community meetings this year to solicit ideas from residents to determine what kind of amenities they’d like to see in their neighborhood. Based on the feedback the team received and other research they conducted, the East End of Madison Ave. was divided into three distinct design zones: Madison at W. 117th, Church Square, and Madison Park Gateway.

Madison and West 117th St.

Click on the image to see a larger view.

Dimit explained to the Planning Commission that his team wants to give the Madison Ave and West 117th St. area the more formal appearance of a grand gateway to the city. This would be accomplished largely by creating a short median of planters and street lighting, expanding the existing mini-park on the southwest corner of the intersection, and installing public art on the corners in the form of two large lanterns that resemble birdcages.

Public Art: proposed gateway lanterns

Proposed design of gateway lanterns

The Church Square area runs from Lakewood Ave. to Dowd. Ave. and includes Transfiguration Parish and St. Peter and Paul Church. Proposed improvements include colored concrete pavers, more trees, and public art.

Madison Ave.'s Church Square

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The Madison Park and Library district includes the area between Cohassett Ave. and Clarence Ave. The design team focused on softening the look of Madison Park to give it a more inviting feel. They suggested the addition of a planted median, more benches, bike racks, and a lighted pathway in the park. They also want to remove the existing angled parking on Madison Ave. because it has an accident prone history.

Madison Park and Library

Click on the image to see a larger view.

The Planning Commission warmly received Dimit’s presentation. “We clearly got our money’s worth with that NOACA grant,” said commission member Tom Einhouse. “This makes me unbelievably proud to be in this community.”

Ward 4 Councilperson Mary Louise Madigan also approved of the design plans. “This makes us all smile, but we don’t kid ourselves,” she said. “This is an important economic development project.”

The project’s design plans are expected to be finalized by the beginning of the new year.

A missed opportunity?

As important of a project as she claims this is, it’s a wonder where Councilperson Madigan was on October 14th, when Graftech International, the corporation located at the southwest corner of Madison Ave and W. 117th St., received permission from the city’s Architectural Board of Review (ABR) to remove and replace a retaining wall that runs 250 feet along Madison Ave. (See application .PDF)

Graftech's retaining wall along Madison Ave.

Graftech needed to replace the retaining wall because it had begun to fail.

In granting the approval, the ABR requested that the proposed chain link fence along the top of the new wall be changed to match the color and style of Graftech’s other black metal fence on Madison Ave.

A finished portion of Graftech's new retaining wall along Madison Ave.

A nearly finished section of the new retaining wall.

With a red-colored concrete designed to match the area’s other brick facades, the new wall will be a clear improvement over the previous one. However, taking into account the wall’s highly visible profile, it would have been much nicer if it could have been turned into a public art piece or maybe used as the canvas for a colorful mural celebrating the area’s history. Considering the effort being put into designing streetscape improvements to this area, it is a major disappointment that no one from the city or LakewoodAlive capitalized on this obvious opportunity.

No state funding to upgrade Madison Ave.

Over the last several years, the city has been successful in securing grants or low cost loans from the state to undertake street repairs and watermain replacements.

Year

Project

Funding

2011 Athens Area Watermain Replacement $813,886
2009 Bunts Rd.
Reconstruction
$1.5 million
2007 Clifton Blvd.
Watermain Replacement
$1.7 million
2004 Sloane Ave.
Improvements
$761,280
2003 Belle Ave.
Improvements
$600,000
2001 Watermain Program $1.2 million

Public Works Director Joseph Beno revealed at a December budget hearing that the city’s request for $1.2 million in state aid to assist with the $2.5 million cost of upgrades to Madison Ave. was unsuccessful. The upgrade project would have provided a huge boost in getting Team Dimit’s design plans constructed.

The city is getting some money for a watermain replacement on Athens Ave., but the committee charged with parceling out the funding didn’t find that the Madison Ave. project ranked as high as some of the other 47 projects that were submitted.

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