Monday, May 24, 2010

Raskind kills port relocation

The plan to move Cleveland's port to East 55th Street is dead. Peter Raskind, the port authority's interim CEO, put a sharp one-paragraph stake through its heart in a Plain Dealer op-ed yesterday.

Raskind, the former National City CEO, took over the port for six months to clean up the mess left by its deposed chief Adam Wasserman. With a week to go in the job, Raskind's finishing the task by exorcising the wildly optimistic, wildly expensive relocation Wasserman championed.

He writes:

The Port Authority's plan to move the port to East 55th Street was ill conceived and built upon layers of questionable assumptions. Although it may be appealing to think about a very large new port and a wholly redeveloped waterfront, the East 55th Street plan was, unfortunately, never viable. The port does not need to relocate for maritime purposes; there is plenty of capacity for growth at the current location, including the (doubtful) possibility of significant container traffic.

Raskind isn't just downgrading the port relocation to "maybe someday," as the port board did after Wasserman left. He's debunking the whole idea that Cleveland could lure lots of container cargo away from ocean ports -- the main justification for a big new half-billion-dollar port at East 55th Street. He's also got a triple caution for lakefront-development dreamers:

Further, the unused northeast corner of the current port property can be redeveloped now, as detailed in the port's Waterfront Development Plan. If the community would like to see the port relocated to facilitate the complete redevelopment of the port's current downtown location, another suitable site will need to be identified, analyzed and secured. But the Port Authority should not be the sole champion of such an effort.

Let me translate: 1) If you want to build a new neighborhood on port land, start with the site north of Cleveland Browns Stadium. 2) If that development works, and you want to make all of the port into a neighborhood, the port has to move somewhere other than East 55th. (He doesn't say why.) 3) The port can't make that decision itself. The whole city has to get behind it.

Why would Raskind step out so boldly? First of all, he doesn't want incoming CEO William Friedman to have to spend political capital to kill the port relocation. Like any good interim-turnaround CEO, he's throwing out the old regime's troubled ideas so the new guy can start with a clean desk. Second, Raskind may also be providing cover for the port board. He either knows that a majority of the board wants to drop the relocation, or he thinks they're close to dropping it and wants to help them get there. Most of the port's board answers to Frank Jackson, who was pushing the container-port strategy as recently as last year. After June 1, Raskind won't answer to anyone.

Raskind also defends the port's financing of economic development projects, argues that its budget is in better shape than people say, and defends against the accusation that it's screwing up its most basic function, dredging the shipping lanes. For anyone who's been following the debate about what the port authority's doing on the lakefront, it's a must-read.

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