A French Riviera on the coast of Cleveland? A Case Study

This client is easily the most decorated architect in Cleveland, and one of the most decorated architects in the world. Richard Fleischman has won just about every award an architect can win.

On the line? A project worth tens of millions of dollars.

“Keith,” he says on the phone, is his usual hyper-direct manner, “I’ve designed the French Riviera on the coast of Cleveland. I need your particular skill set to sell it.”

I consider. Putting the “the French Riviera” and “Cleveland” in the same sentence is pretty damn bold, and I tell him as much. “Let me send you over my proposal,” he says. “You tell me how to sell it.”

The proposal zips in a few moments later, and I read through it. Here’s what I email back:

Richard — 

I looked through it. What it lacks is soul and a compelling story, a “reason to believe”. I think we could keep the Riviera metaphor, but also bring in successful waterfront revitalizations from other cities. A few questions: 

1. Who is your target audience?
2. What do you want this shorter brochure that I write to do? Inspire and what else?
3. How creative do you want to be? 

He emails me back immediately.


Jonathan Swift said,  “The definition of vision is the art of seeing the invisible”. 

1. The target audience is the Governor, Senators Portman and Brown, and billionaires such as Mort Mandel, Les Wexner, and Don Washkewicz.
2. Yes, inspire.
3. It cannot be creative enough.  I sent this opportunity to you — I want something very creative.

Here was the existing opening salvo in the document sent to me:

Futurists constantly remind us that responsible planning is essential to ensure dynamic growth; it is our imagination and creativity, rather than our technology that allows us to initiate change and to channel our intellectual resources in positive directions. Frequently, those who can challenge these encompassing forces and who can act as catalysts for the future of planning, will not be overwhelmed by negative thinking but pursue a totally new continuous urban concept rich in recreation, research, education and business opportunities.

Those who recognize change as a constant will always be excited about the future of our cities, our urban lifestyles and the result of economic development of the entire region. Societal factors, such as economics, politics, and technology have a monumental effect upon the thought processes that influence visionary planning and to ideal environments. Our thesis is that we must recognize the constant of change and commit ourselves to an awareness of new regions of visionary thought that allow us to utilize the dynamics of current societal and political forces and to make them work for us. 

Here is my rewriting of it:

The right vision at the right time is the catalyst that transforms a city.

In 2005, a couple approaches the rusting tracks of the High Line in Manhattan, a decrepit piece of abandoned railway marking off the livable parts of the city from the industrial. Although they wanted to watch the sunset on the water, with a sigh they turn back from the blighted beams and decaying metal.

In 2014, a couple picnics on the lawn of the High Line in Manhattan, sharing laughter and wine and posting photos of the city online. Afterwards they walk hand-in-hand to the West Side and, after watching the sunset, have dinner in a boutique restaurant overlooking a teaming Hudson River.

The only difference between these two realities was a vision, and the passion to realize it.

A generation ago “waterfront city” meant Stockholm, Venice, Santa Barbara, Nice. Today the best waterfront cities of the world include Chicago, Montreal, New York City, and Baltimore, cities once renown for their iron-tinged industry, not their scenic byways. 

Cleveland has more waterfront potential than most, but right now it sits largely dormant.

Visionaries are busy at work in our sister cities. Waterfronts and warehouses once used for manufacturing are being converted into the ultimate win-win for communities in Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and London. As the 20th Century’s industrial economy is giving way to the 21stCentury’s informational, waterfront development means increased tourism, stronger local commerce, more robust property values, and growing local chamber of commerce.

In short, our time has come and our time is now. 

The North Coast Necklace: A Riviera for Ohio and A Boon for Our City  

There was a time when saying that the North Coast could be the next French Riviera would elicit a snicker and a roll of the eyes. Yet with the emergence of so many great waterfronts across the Americas, it should come as no surprise that Nice, France is actually further north than Cleveland, Ohio.

What separates these two great cities is more than just culture. It’s a willingness to invest in the great waterway that lies at the city’s feet. 

I went on to write an entire proposal, which was about 1,500 words, or 4 single-spaced pages. The new content spoke directly to the politicians and powerful businesses people that have the means to turn this vision into a reality, not in some distant future, but starting this year.

Oh, and Richard? True to form, this is his response:


Document received 3:05 p.m. Tuesday.  Very impressive.