North Coast Harbor’s transformation from passenger pier to play place: Remember when

North Coast Harbor used to be a parking lot.

The water hemmed in by Voinovich Park? Yep, it was blacktop serving Cleveland Municipal Stadium, said Downtown Cleveland Alliance President Joe Marinucci.

But for decades long before that, Cleveland’s front porch — downtown district stretching from Burke Lakefront Airport to FirstEnergy Stadium, dubbed “Where the city meets the lake” — was little more than a narrow beach.

The first development came in 1895, when Cleveland Yachting Club built its first dock near where the U.S. Army Corps now sits. The East 9th Street Pier was begun the same year, according to Lake Shore Rail Maps.

The pier was extended to the west to create a basin that was eventually filled to create 50 acres of new land, used for baseball field.  Then three more piers were extended off East 9th Street.  

Steamships full of passengers from Detroit, Erie, Buffalo, Toledo, even Chicago and Port Stanley, Canada, in 1913 began docking in North Coast Harbor, using the East 9th Street Pier and the nearby piers known as B&C and D&C. Excursion boats also came, providing  “moonlight rides” to Cedar Point and Put-in-Bay.

Steamship companies built terminals on the pier, with heaps of coal to power them. Streetcars delivered passengers with a loop where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now sits.

But after the Great Depression, steamship traffic declined, and the pier fell into disrepair.

Ask many Clevelanders what they remember from the pier and they’ll say Captain Frank’s, a seafood restaurant at the end of the pier. You could drive right up to the restaurant, park on the pier and eat lobster. The Port of Cleveland used the old B&C and C&D docks. And the only other reason for the public visit the area was Cleveland Municipal Stadium, home to the Indians and the Browns.

It wasn’t until about 1988 that the name North Coast Harbor took hold. Under then-Mayor George Voinovich, Cleveland spent $10 million to excavate the parking lots and create a body of water modeled after Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Since then, developers have floated many big plans: for hotels and massive condo buildings, for the resurrected Euclid Beach carousel, for an aquarium and the Titanic replicated as a hotel.

Some of the developments have come to life: the museums, the Rock and Dock transient marina, which rents jet skis and paddle boats, finally a full-service restaurant.! Some, like a pedestrian drawbridge linking East 9th Street Pier to the Great Lakes Science Center, have been in the works for a decade and a half. And others, including plans to move the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps west of the Cuyahoga River, never happened.

“There are infrastructure challenges,” Marinucci said in a phone interview. Many plans were prohibitively expensive.

In the past few years, the district has seen incremental growth — including events nearly every night of the summer.

“I think as we progress we’re going to look back on this time as significant momentum,” Marinucci said.

Take a look at the timeline of the area.

1895: Cleveland Yachting Club opened at end of East 9th Street.

1895: East 9th Street Pier opened.

1908: Three more piers built.

1914: CYC relocated to Rocky River.

1931: Cleveland Municipal Stadium opened.

1936-1937: Harbor hosted extravagant Great Lakes Exhibition.

1985: North Coast Harbor Inc. was created to plan and manage development of the harbor area.

1988: $10 million spent to create an inner lake, with a promenade and 3-acre park at the end of East 9th Street Pier.

1990: Site chosen for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

1991: William G. Mather Museum, a former bulk freighter, opened.

1995: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened.

1996: Great Lakes Science Center opened

2004: Lakefront plan created under Mayor Jane Campbell suggests pedestrian drawbridge from Voinovich Park to Great Lakes Science Center.

2005: Mather moved from East 9th Street Pier to Dock 32, closer to the Science Center, which became part of the museum in 2006.

2012: Downtown Lakefront Plan approved, including new commercial development along new arcades and walkways connecting FirstEnergy stadium, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock Hall with seasonal and year-round attractions.

2016: Nuevo Modern Mex opened on East 9th Street Pier. Script Cleveland sign added to Voinovich Park, for the perfect skyline photo.

2016: Republican National Convention hosts massive welcome party on pier.

2018: Harbor Verandas apartments slated to open on pier.

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