With estimates as high as $1 billion, civic leaders in Cleveland argue the city can't afford to shut down Burke Lakefront Airport, which sits on the southern shore of Lake Erie, and redirect plane traffic to the region's existing airports. (There's reportedly three in the immediate area.)
But, as a growing movement of Great Lakes cities set in motion aggressive plans to make their industrial waterfronts cleaner, greener, and more accessible, the pressing question for Cleveland is whether the city can afford NOT to move the busy transportation hub.
Because right now it's blocking the city's ability to fully leverage one of its greatest and most unique assets: Lake Erie.
The broader context that Cleveland now operates in is best described as nothing less than a waterfront revolution. Across America, cities are redeveloping lake- and river-fronts to boost the quality of life, attract new residents and businesses, and compete in the 21st century.
The movement has begun to take hold in the greater Great Lakes region as well. Fresh off persuading BP to rethink its pollution plans for Lake Michigan, residents in Northern Indiana continue to push for investment in the Marquette Greenway Plan, which would consolidate the steel industry's land holdings and bring new parks, trails, and redevelopment to struggling central cities like Gary.
Detroit recently opened the first phase of its ambitious riverfront boardwalk.
And it's no secret what's happening to the Lake Michigan waterfront in Chicago, the most popular and competitive urban metropolis in the Midwest.
Cleveland has a visionary lakefront revitalization plan, too. But the plan for storefronts and condos likely will struggle to takeoff if 380 acres of waterfront property remain dedicated to runways and airplanes. Along with landfills, highways, and nuclear reactors, airports tend not to be ideal and inviting neighbors.