The transformation of CSU
While most of the publicity surrounding the new development projects underway in downtown Cleveland has focused on big-ticket items like the proposed casino, convention center and medical mart, Cleveland State University has slowly but surely been undergoing a dramatic expansion that is turning its once-staid environs into a traditional, urban-style campus with a lively, neighborhood feel.
And because its expansion involves bringing in significant numbers of students, staff and others to actually live downtown, it can be argued that what CSU is doing with its transformation is as important in revitalizing Cleveland’s core as are the higher-profile projects.
“The best way to make this a more vibrant area is to have more people living around here,” says CSU spokesperson Joe Mosbrook, echoing a view embraced by most experts in the field of developing major downtown districts.
To accomplish this goal, CSU last fall opened the first phase of Euclid Commons, a new residence hall complex of four buildings on Euclid Avenue that are more like residential apartments than traditional dormitories. When phase two of this project is completed this fall, another 800 students will be added to the “living-on-campus” number, bringing the total to about 1800 staying in official residential facilities — or nearly double the current figure.
Perhaps the most innovative and exciting project undertaken by CSU will break ground this summer: a $50 million mixed-use residential and retail development on the north side of campus with an estimated 230 market-rate, two and three bedroom apartments geared to grad students, young professors and, according to Mosbrook, “anyone who wants to live in a campus environment and take advantage of the numerous events and activities at the university.”
The North Campus development, scheduled to open in the spring of 2012, will consist of three-story buildings with the two upper floors being apartments and the ground floor devoted to things like art shops and “campus-type” retail. Mosbrook has seen more retail opening on Euclid Avenue already and expects more to come with the North Campus project.
Enhancing the thriving neighborhood feel of the revitalized CSU area is the Campus International School, which opened last fall at E. 30th and Euclid. A joint venture of CSU and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the school has 120 students in kindergarten and grades one and two. Utilizing the International Baccalaureate curriculum that demands high academic achievement and even teaches Chinese to elementary students, Campus International is open to any student in Cuyahoga County.
Currently, there is a waiting list to enroll for this fall, when the school will add about 40 more kindergarten students and move the present second graders up to third grade. The goal is to keep adding students each year until Campus International grows into a K-12 educational program.
“Having a top-notch public school right here on-site will be a great selling point for young couples to move into our new North Campus apartments or other dwellings nearby,” says Mosbrook, who lives in Cleveland Heights but is considering sending his step-daughter to Campus International. “It will also benefit CSU by serving as a teaching laboratory for our education majors.”
Another project which will be completed next year and is sure to help with student recruitment and generate broad public interest involves CSU, the Cleveland Play House and PlayhouseSquare reconfiguring the historic Allen Theatre into three separate stage theaters — including a smaller laboratory theatre — and moving the CSU theatre, dance, art and media programs into what will essentially be a new fine arts campus.
According to Mosbrook, CSU will then have the only undergraduate theatre program in the nation that works side-by-side with a professional theatre (the Cleveland Play House) and the outstanding performing artists who appear in PlayhouseSquare productions.
“This will help us attract kids from all over the country,” he says. “There will be around 180 shows per year — more than triple what is going on now — so that almost every other night there will be some sort of performance. This promises to bring a vast number of people downtown and into our campus area.”
With enrollment up 10 percent this year over last, ACT scores for incoming freshman above the national average and the number of traditional students (those aged 18-24) at an all-time high of 80 percent, CSU is getting bigger, smarter and younger. And nothing embodies this growth and vibrancy as much as the gleaming $44 million Student Center, which opened last fall and is called by Mosbrook, “the living room of the campus.”
The three-story center includes a bookstore, a dining hall, food court, restaurants, a game room, lounge and also provides spaces for various student organizations. The second floor is linked to classroom buildings on either side by enclosed pedestrian bridges and has thousands of students passing through it daily. The third floor includes an expansive ballroom, which can hold up to 1000 people, outside of which is a heated terrace. Community groups are currently renting out meeting rooms in the center on almost a daily basis.
Throughout the building, students can socialize in a white open space with soaring windows that provide panoramic views of the campus and city. According to Sandra Emerick, associate dean of students, the center was designed following student suggestions, with special attention given to providing flexible spaces to interact. “We wanted to create a sense of place and space,” she says. “We want to keep students on campus, to experience campus living.”
When Joe Mosbrook came to Cleveland State as a student in the ’90s, he had been working already for seven years and CSU was a place he could work and study at the same time. It was perceived as a commuter college catering to the non-traditional student. But as this “campus neighborhood” changes and grows that old perception is disappearing.
“Our goal is to be one of the best urban public universities in the nation,” Mosbrook says. “We’ve always kind of slid under the radar, but as we develop a more traditional campus we will become a destination university for people all over the country. We’ll have more people, especially in our region, saying I want to go to CSU and I what to live on campus.”
Larry Durstin is an independent journalist who has covered politics and sports for a variety of publications and websites over the past 20 years. He was the founding editor of the Cleveland Tab and an associate editor at the Cleveland Free Times. Durstin has won 12 Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards, including six first places in six different writing categories. LarryDurstinATyahoo.com