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Industries blend with ecology under new plan
Tom Breckenridge
The Plain Dealer
03/29/04


After 34 years in the Cuyahoga River's industrial valley, Jim Krimmel knows the grief of industry run aground.

Maybe now it's time to think green, he says.

Not tree-hugger green. But the kind of green envisioned in the newly unveiled Cuyahoga Valley Initiative, in which industries reuse and profit from waste, communities link with the river, and the valley itself stands as a national destination.

A good chunk of the 35 acres owned by Krimmel's chemical company, Zaclon Inc., could be a springboard for the initiative's vision of industry advanced- technology businesses, fringed by green habitats that protect the river and marked by public art and historic displays of the valley's industrial past.

Cuyahoga County Planning Director Paul Alsenas rolled out the initiative last month to an enthusiastic crowd of civic, business and elected officials.

It's not a blueprint of how the valley's 47,000 acres should be used. Local governments, not the county, decide those issues.

Rather, county planners want those governments, property owners and businesses to view their slice of the valley as part of an interconnected whole a region where economic development and the environment are not mutually exclusive.

Planners have lopped the valley into eight segments, ranging from its northern link with Lake Erie, the 12th-largest body of fresh water in the world, to its southern link with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of the country's busiest national parks.

They believe the valley can be harnessed into a dynamic blend of new housing, retail, parks, trails and business, in symbiosis with existing industry.

To realize the opportunities, county planners are offering "green building" codes, architectural guidelines and "the brain," innovative software that links land uses with planning tools and potential collaborators.

But the hurdles are numerous and imposing. Alsenas and his staff have a sales job that is years in the making. They must spread the word to a dozen cities in the valley, as well as thousands of property owners and businesses.

And there are questions of money and leadership. Restoring and developing polluted stretches of the valley will take decades and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

David Goss, senior director of transportation and infrastructure for the Greater Cleveland Partnership, said the initiative needs a boss, "someone or an entity who takes it on as a job, to make sure it gets done . . . assembling land [for projects], clearing it, financing it."

He suggested that the valley's top 20 businesses and landowners convene to discuss the area, which he believes could be more valuable than a new convention center.

"Just think about the thousands of acres that are zoned industry and are underused," Goss said. "Why can't we start the momentum today? This should be the focal point of an economic development agenda for the region."

As for money, county commissioners put $375,000 into the initiative in 2001 and $200,000 this year.

Some $90,000 more came from the Joyce Foundation in Chicago, which supports projects benefiting the Great Lakes region. That money went to the Rocky Mountain Institute of Snowmass, Colo., a leading proponent of eco-friendly industrial practices.

The Rocky Mountain Institute pumped enthusiasm into the initiative with brainstorming sessions that gathered people who had never discussed the valley's future business owners, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regulators and the area's top experts in "green" development.

The timing is right for the initiative, proponents believe. Civic and political leaders in Greater Cleveland are discussing, and in some cases acting on, new visions of economic development and governance as a way to lift the region.

And the initiative could dovetail with two evolving efforts. City planners are crafting a 50-year master plan for Cleveland's lakefront, and the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway has begun marketing assets in the valley, including the Towpath Trail and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Observers said pushing the Towpath Trail its final six miles, from Harvard Road north to downtown, will be critical to the initiative's success. Bringing thousands of hikers and bikers up the valley's northern end will spur development that is already percolating to the valley's south in Cuyahoga County, such as the $13 million Thornburg Station, a retail-and-restaurant complex in Valley View.

The six-mile stretch will cost more than $25 million and could be done in three to seven years, said Tim Donovan, director of the Ohio Canal Corridor.

Farther south, beneath the Interstate 490 bridge in Cleveland, Zaclon is embracing the valley initiative and the call for businesses to boost their bottom lines by reducing energy use and reusing wastes.

Zaclon's Krimmel and co- owner Joe Turgen have long had an interest in tapping into the steam lines of next-door neighbor International Steel Group Inc. The chemical company believes it could cut energy costs, while the steel maker would gain a customer for excess steam. ISG is open to the concept.

"There's a lot of brainstorming going on," Bill Brake, ISG vice president and general manager, said of the initiative. "It's exciting to be a part of it, both from an overall vision of the region and a better use of our resources."

Several valley industries are discussing a shared-energy plan, which might include generating power by burning garbage and nontoxic wastes from valley businesses, said Eric Loftquist, president of General Environmental Management. The company refines waste into fuels.

Zaclon itself could be home to the initiative's vision for cutting- edge business. The company has up to 27 acres available for development, much of it along the river. Alsenas and others see the area as home to businesses in advanced building materials, fuel-cell technologies or research in solar and wind energy.

Farther south, property owners also are intrigued by the initiative. John Kurtz's family owns about 100 acres and operates a variety of businesses in Independence and Valley View, including a demolition-debris landfill, soil deliveries and composting.

Kurtz said his land could benefit from the traffic spurred by the Towpath Trail and Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

"I've called the cities and the national park," Kurtz said. "We're exploring, trying to make sure we do something that will coincide with the long-term plans down here."

Krimmel, too, sees promise of a transformed valley, even if it's years in the making.

"I've been in this place for 34 years, seen businesses shut down," Krimmel said. "When you see the glimmer of making this valley into something again, it's definitely exciting."

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