CLEVELAND -- The annual Feast of the Assumption Festival is coming to Little Italy this weekend, and this year's organizers expect even more people than normal. That's because it just got a little easier to get to Little Italy.
On Tuesday, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) opened a new $15.6 million Little Italy-University Circle Station at the intersection of Mayfield Road and East 119th Street.
"I take the Red Line twice a day to and from work," said Tadbir Singh, who takes the RTA train from downtown to Little Italy. "This is actually my first time getting off at this stop."
Up until Tuesday's opening, Singh would normally get off a quarter mile away. Folks who drive there have their own problems.
"It's very congested, parking is limited, and it adds for people to be able to move in and out and not have the hassle of parking," said Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
The new Red Line station replaces an old and obsolete facility at Euclid Avenue and East 120th Street, about 0.3 miles away. This is RTA's first new Red Line station in 46 years.
"The 120th spot needed a lot of work, at the very least, or to be condemned," said Singh. "It's really dirty, and this is very clean, very new, and I'm excited about it. I hope it can be maintained."
Approximately 100,000 people are expected to attend the annual Feast of the Assumption Festival in the neighborhood August 13 through 17.
"I think it's great, I think it's wonderful," said Annette Klika, who owns Trattoria in Little Italy.
"We're pleased to be able to open the station in time for this major event," says RTA CEO and General Manager Joe Calabrese. "The Feast is one of the major events, not just in Little Italy, but in all of Northeast Ohio. We are delighted to have the station open in time for the celebration. I think ridership will double or triple compared to the current station we replaced with this, I think this is a real game-changer."
Although there is no designated parking at the station, it is an easy walk to residential areas, merchants and restaurants located in the neighborhood. A growing housing market is nearby for professionals who live in University Circle, as well as the flourishing Uptown development, which stretches along Euclid Avenue, between Mayfield Road and East 117th Street.
The New York Times has called it "The new downtown," for its world-class array of cultural and culinary destinations.
"The impact of this new rail station on the festival will be large, positive and immediate. Located in the heart of Little Italy, the station should help alleviate a long-term, major parking issue and attract even more people to this great annual event," said Calabrese.
Talk of a new station began in 2008, when local institutions helped with a study on transit-oriented development in the area. Included were: the Cleveland Foundation, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), Little Italy, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Circle Inc.
"The opening of the Little Italy-University Circle Red Line Station is incredibly exciting for University Circle. A connector between University Circle, Little Italy, downtown and the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, this new station will improve transit access to our neighborhood and is an important step towards building University Circle as a complete neighborhood," said Chris Ronayne, President of University Circle Inc.
"The Federal Transit Administration is proud to partner with the RTA to bring a new transit station to this vibrant neighborhood," said Therese McMillan, Acting Administrator for the FTA, which contributed $12.5 million in federal funding for the project.
"In Cleveland and across America, investments like this one are helping to revitalize neighborhoods, spur new development and offer residents an attractive and convenient travel option for getting to work, school and other important destinations," said McMillan.
The station includes:
A single-platform head house and entrance plaza that are ADA accessible.
A heavy-duty elevator and stairway from the street level to the platform and waiting areas.
New concrete sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and bridge abutment repairs.
Rehabilitation of two transit track bridges.
Reuse of an old vault under the railroad bridges as the lobby area. The vault was built in the 1920s as a potential commuter rail station by the Van Sweringen brothers, who built the Terminal Tower and the Shaker Rapid.
Artistic lighting of the bridges leading to the station.
Installation of a terrazzo flooring with a leaf pattern design by local artist Suzy Mueller Frazier.
Chandelier sculpture elements in the head house designed by artist Jennifer Cecere.
Italian poetry engraved into the lobby steps by artist Gabriella Mileti.
Construction began in October 2013. The station was designed by City Architecture. The construction contractor was McTech Corporation.