Cuyahoga County and the state of Ohio have deemed the Chagrin Falls Main Street bridge safe, but if it is to stay that way repairs will be needed sooner than later.
That’s a good call. Safety and the public welfare is government’s duty, but the double arched stone bridge dates back to 1857 and in Chagrin Falls “old” is “historical” and preservation is a calling.
The bridge represents an economic imperative for the village as well. It is a major link between the outside world and its downtown shops and restaurants. Now consider the fact that the folks who own the buildings and run businesses pay half the village’s tax revenues.
To close the Main Street bridge for extensive repairs involving historic restoration would have a devasting effect. Think, ghost town.
The expedient and least damaging thing to do is to fix the bridge and keep it open to traffic so this prime entrance to downtown Chagrin Falls is maintained and shops and restaurants unfazed.
What’s not to like? All those in favor say “aye.” But not so fast. There is a trade-off. Isn’t there always?
The most efficient and least costly fix allows traffic to flow, ends with a sturdy bridge but encases its 1857 stone façade with cement slabs stamped to look like stone.
Examples of this faux rock approach are seen on bridges along River Road and, in the eye of many a beholder, they are a jarring sight out of synch with the nature around them. Plus, they look like stage scenery from a high school production of “Brigadoon.”
To do this to the Main Street Bridge would be an insult to carefully preserved downtown Chagrin Falls and the natural falls which will be framed by the fakery.
And so we ask, is there is another way to repair the bridge, restore its original rock walls and maintain traffic too?
The good news is, yes, it is possible. The bad news is the time and cost.
We all learned that when two years ago such a bridge preservation plan was given the green light but attracted just one bid that came in double the budgeted cost of $3.6 million and would take two summers to complete.
In January, after rethinking the bridge fix, the state and county people officially recommended the fake stone option.
Now the public will get a chance to weigh-in during soon-to-be-announced public meetings. No one wants a ghost town. But covering history with cement castings is a terrible solution.
That is particularly true in a town where preservation minded residents just saved Grove Hill from a condo development and whose zoning and building codes are weighted on the side of preservation.
Can we preserve our history and keep our downtown business district thriving? Or are they an either/or choice? And, if push comes to shove, economic interests will prevail.
Even the Chagrin Falls Historical Society – a reliable champion of preservation – is hesitant to endorse historic restoration of the 1857 bridge, calling full closure of the span as “impractical.”
In a report to the membership, historical society President John Bourisseau calls for more study after hearing comments from village officials, downtown property owners and merchants predict a “disastrous” result for the entire village if the bridge is closed.
The process of investigating is underway and decision making will be fair. Public meetings will be announced soon and a committee of citizen experts has been formed to represent the interests of the entire community.
They may even find that elusive best case scenario, one that won’t throw the baby out with its bathwater.