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City Will Lose Johnston Park If It's Not Restored
by Ashley Murphy

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lisa Ferguson, representing the Trustees of the Estate of Joe C. Stuart Trust, came to speak of several issues surrounding the Johnston Memorial Park in Downtown Cleveland. The Park was donated to the City of Cleveland in 1937 by Clyde Johnston Hardwick donated the park in honor of her parents, John Tucker and Mary Tipton Johnston.

Upon gifting the property over to the city, Mrs. Hardwick negotiated certain terms in the deed, which the city agreed to at the time. These terms are:

- Johnston Memorial Park be kept and maintained substantially as it appeared at the time of the property's conveyance with the improvements contemplated at that time.

- Other than existing monuments in memory of Mrs. Hardwick's family, no buildings, monuments or other structures are to be placed or erected in the park.

- No playground equipment or other objects, which might otherwise obstruct the view across the park, are to be erected.

- The park is not to be used as a picnic ground or venue for public speaking.

- If the City of Cleveland violates any of the conditions, restrictions or limitations set out in the deed of conveyance, then the property is to revert to Mrs. Hardwick's heirs.

The terms of the deed were honored for more than forty years, until federal grants allowed the city to add structures inside the park. The amphitheater currently in Johnston Memorial Park was built in 1979 and the first complaint came in 1980 about violations pertaining to the deed. However, the structure was not removed.

Another complaint followed in 1995 and it was requested by the Family that the park be restored to its original state in compliance with the deed. At that time, the city approached Mrs. Joe Stuart, who was heir at the time, to negotiate a deal and keep the events in place, such as the Evening Shade concert series and the Veteran's Day celebrations. The family stated that Mrs. Stuart reluctantly agreed, but nonetheless, she agreed to these negotiations.

It has been stated that the restoration of Johnston Memorial Park was one of Mrs. Stuart's last wishes.

Ferguson stated that if the park is not fully restored, the Family will retain ownership of the property and it can no longer be used as a public park. The Family does not wish to do this at this time, because they want the residents of Cleveland to be able to continue to use the park for leisurely purposes. In addition, if the family regains the deed, this land would put back on the tax rolls and the City of Cleveland would no longer be responsible for the upkeep, the Family would.

It was stated that over $350,000 would be needed to remove structures and "restore" the park to specifications set out by the Family. In addition, the Family has given the City of Cleveland a 5 year timeline in which these specifications must be met and a 1 year timeline to stop the Evening Shade concerts and Veteran's Day celebrations.

After concerns about the financial situation of the city in regards to the, more than, $350,000 needed to remove the "improvements" made to the park, many councilman were up in arms. A vote was taken to postpone the discussion until further information could be gathered.

The council then approved annexation of 4 separate areas in the southern part of the county. Benton Pike and Michigan Avenue; North of APD 40 and South of APD 40 between US Highway 11 and Interstate 75; and South of Exit 20 on I-75.

Greg Dale was present at the City Council's work session to give an update on the Bradley Cleveland Charleston 2035 Joint Strategic Plan. Dale gave a listing of all projects completed to date, such as discussion meetings, reports, models and growth scenarios. Some of the main recommendations for growth coordination included creating coordinated city/county comprehensive plans consistent with the common goals and visions of the strategic plan, create a joint master/area plan for the Southern Corridor Exit 20/McDonald area, create a joint master/area plan for the Northern Corridor/Mouse Creek
Road area, create a master/area redevelopment plan for the Central City area and update land use regulations consistent with updated comprehensive plans and the strategic plan vision.

The City Council will meet again on October 11th at 2 p.m. for their work session and at 4 p.m. for the regular session at the Cleveland Municipal Building.