SOLON, Ohio — A day after the city council approved agreements that will allow construction of the Solon to Chagrin Falls Trail to move ahead, Mayor Ed Kraus spoke about another trail project the city hopes will also become a reality.
During his annual State of the City address on Wednesday (February 23), Kraus spoke about the city’s interest in acquiring land for a walking trail on the former Norfolk Southern railway line.
“It’s one of the coolest old railroad tracks in town,” he said at the event, which was hosted by the Solon Chamber of Commerce and streamed live on the city’s website.
Kraus said the abandoned rail line begins in downtown Cleveland and cuts through Solon behind City Hall. It then travels east, through Aurora and to Youngstown.
The city is trying to acquire land for a 7.1-mile path from Harper Road in Solon to Treat Road in Aurora, he said.
Kraus told City Council Tuesday (February 22) that the city will likely seek a grant to fund the purchase of this property.
“We will be meeting with Norfolk Southern to get the right-of-way to make sure that happens,” he said.
In his 46-minute speech, Kraus said the city can look forward to this year after last year’s great success.
He thanked Angee Shaker, the city’s director of economic development, for her efforts which resulted in 33 businesses opening in the city last year despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“All of these people found a way to open a new business in our community,” he said. “It says a lot about Solon, and it says a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit of our community.”
The highlight of the city in 2021, Kraus said, was the August opening of Swagelok Co.’s new global headquarters and innovation center. The 124,000 square foot building has occupied the same site as Swagelok’s corporate headquarters at 29500 Solon Road since 1965.
Meanwhile, Nestle, which has its headquarters at 30003 Bainbridge Road, continues to grow in the city, with two major projects planned for this year, Kraus said. The company’s Culinary Innovation Center is undergoing a refurbishment, and a redesign of the test kitchens and main auditorium is also planned.
As the city’s first Jewish mayor, Kraus said he was proud to welcome the city’s first mosque when the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center opened its new 7,000-square-foot facility in November. The $3 million building sits on 12 acres on Liberty Road.
Kraus urged residents to check out some of the city’s “great new restaurants.” He said City Barbeque is expected to open on SOM Center Road between Station Street and Aurora Road in a few weeks.
Elle Restaurant and Lounge, a new fine dining restaurant on Bainbridge Road offering Mediterranean cuisine, opened in December and recently had its grand opening. Also, a Korean barbecue restaurant will be coming to Solon Square mall soon, he said.
Regarding the development, Kraus said he’s excited about the 105 single-family homes that will be built for people ages 50 and older on the 32.6-acre site adjacent to the former Hawthorne Valley Golf Club on Aurora Road.
“We hope that one day there will be an agreement with Cleveland Metroparks so that they take over the 150 acres that are hopefully being developed there and have beautiful walking trails like they did on Acacia (Reservation in Lyndhurst)” he said said.
Kraus said he is also very proud of the development, which will become Solon Community Living on Aurora Road just west of Portz Parkway. The non-profit organization was founded by Solon residents Ara and Leslie Bagdasarian to create a safe and accessible neighborhood for people with disabilities.
When voters approved Issue 19 to make this housing project possible in April 2020, Solon became the first municipality in the country to reclassify a property for adults with disabilities, according to Kraus.
“It says a lot about who we are and what values prevail in the community,” he said.
To encourage redevelopment in the city’s central retail district, the city council approved the creation of a municipal reinvestment area last year. Kraus said this means property owners could be eligible for tax breaks for new construction and the remodeling of aging buildings.
“That makes it much easier to create tax incentives,” he said.
“The legacy Liberty Ford site and some of the aging malls that no longer meet today’s market needs will be able to benefit from this CRA, which will greatly enable us to attract much-needed new developments in the Central Retail District.”
Kraus said the city has a potential developer for a possible mixed-use project on the former Liberty Ford site on Aurora Road.
Kraus said the Cuyahoga County Public Library has partnered with the city to invest in a new innovation center that will nurture manufacturing workers as “a positive career path to building the future in safe, clean, and state-of-the-art facilities.”
The center, which will be located at the Solon Branch Library on Portz Parkway, will allow the city to reach out to its business community for ideas and support, he said.
Kraus said the city hosted a successful job fair last year, which was attended by more than 70 local businesses, and looks forward to partnering again with the Solon Chamber of Commerce for another job fair on May 19 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. in the Solon Community Park.
Solon Connects plan
The city has worked with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission for the past two years to develop the Solon Connects plan, which received an award from the Ohio chapter of the American Planning Association last year. The intent of the 12-year plan is to build stronger bicycle and pedestrian connections across the city, Kraus said.
“When you build a community for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic,” he said. “We did that for a long, long time.
“But when you build a community for people and places, you get people and places. So we’re making a complete shift in the way we plan and build our community.”
The plan, broken into four separate time frames of three years each, will expand the city’s bicycle infrastructure to create a web of connectivity across the city, Kraus said.
Kraus said the city will create connections to what he sees as the two most difficult roads to bike and walk: Harper Road and Liberty Road.
“There will be a rebuilding project to ensure people who are on Harper Road can access the Hawthorn Parkway,” he said. “Liberty Road is probably the most dangerous single street in the city, so we’re going to build a link road there.
“By the end (of the 12-year plan) we will have a completely transformed, connected community, so you will no longer feel unsafe as you hop on your bike, walk or walk through our community.”
The Solon Connects plan isn’t just about community safety, Kraus said.
“It’s about business appeal,” he said. “That’s what businesses want when they come into our community. It’s about attracting new families and it’s about living healthy.”
Ashley Holloway, the city’s new director of planning and community development, will lead an update to the city’s master plan, Kraus said. The city will work with City Architecture of Cleveland on the plan.
“We want to make sure that our actions (with the master plan) are compatible with Solon Connects,” he said. “We want to put new buildings closer to the street to make them more inviting for people to walk or cycle there.”
The city also hired Brandstetter Carroll, a Cleveland-based architectural firm, to evaluate its entire park system against a park master plan.
“We have a beautiful park, but it’s underused,” he said. “We can do a lot more with our community park.
“We will also look at Bicentennial Park across from City Hall. Hopefully we can have some shows there.”
The city plans to reconfigure Bainbridge Road to allow children to more safely cross the road from the Solon Center for the Arts to Bicentennial Park, which is adjacent to the Solon Historical Society building on Bainbridge Road.
Kraus’ presentation also included a video tour of the city’s industrial area to show “how important transport and mobility are and how they affect our job centers and companies”.
The video, narrated by Kraus, included stops at about 10 companies in the city’s industrial area, which he called “the heart and soul of Solon.”
Kraus concluded by saying that everything the city does — “whether it’s hiring, promotions, or treating people” — must be done through the lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Tom Jackson, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Solon Chamber of Commerce, acted as the moderator of the programme.
The event was sponsored by Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., a Solon-based law firm.
It can be viewed on the Solon City YouTube page.