Does Store Closing Spell Doom For Downtown?

CLEVELAND - The announcement that Dillards is closing its downtown store was not a completely unexpected development, but does the closing spell doom for Downtown Cleveland?

Not only will Cleveland's last remaining downtown department store be leaving soon, but another downtown project has been scaled back, 19/43 News' Paul Orlousky reported.

The basement was dug for a hotel and office project at Courthouse Square on Lakeside Avenue, but now the hole has been filled -- the brakes put on while financing is secured.

Across the street, however, the Warehouse District booms.

So which is Cleveland? A town growing as you see in the Warehouse District or one falling behind as witnessed by the closing of Dillards.

The corner window of Dillards, formally Higbee's, on Public Square was used in the movie A Christmas Story to dramatize a bustling Midwest downtown circa 1930.

The movie, shot in 1983, was fantasy, but the reality at the time was that Downtown Cleveland was already in decline. Over the next 15 years, millions and millions of dollars were poured into downtown.

Could the closing of Dillards foretell trouble ahead?

"My mother-in-law, many years ago, was one of the window dressers for the downtown Higbee's," downtown worker Wendy Kinsey said.

Many Clevelanders have warm feelings for the store, but given the economy and job uncertainty, that doesn't translate into spending.

"Unfortunately, I'm spending less and saving money," downtown worker Bonnie Milligan said. "Just in case."

No one can argue that the decade of the 90s was good to downtown. Jacobs Field, Gund Arena, Key Tower and Cleveland Browns Stadium are all cornerstones of the rebirth, but what is the legacy that the city's new leadership will inherit.

"From 1990 until the year 2000, downtown was the fastest growing neighborhood in the city," Downtown Cleveland Partnership president Lee Friedman Hill said.

Friedman Hill said that a new convention center and drawing people to downtown to live are key components of saving downtown. She said that current department store space simply would not work.

"We are a region with a lot of malls relative to cities of our size," Friedman Hill said. "There's 11 regional malls in the Greater Cleveland area. Pittsburgh, as an example, has three."

As a region, we are likely fighting ourselves -- suburbs versus the city.

It costs $500,000 to prepare an acre of land in the city for development. In Medina, for example, it's only $25,000.

While 4,800 new housing units downtown have been created in recent years, 96 percent are rentals.

Combine those figures with the fact that the office space market has weakened and with LTV's future in doubt, and it's clear that Cleveland is a city, like many others, at a crossroads.