Ann Zoller says she thought that survey respondents were joking when she first asked them to evaluate how much they used the city's downtown parks.
"People responded, 'What parks?' " she recalls. "We really took that to heart."
For the past two years, the ParkWorks executive director has helped her nonprofit organization — known for building playgrounds and providing educational programming for needy Cleveland neighborhoods — raise $3 million to create and refurbish parks as a way to build a sense of community in the city's core.
"You have a certain wave of folks who are willing to be urban pioneers and want to live downtown," she says. "But to really expand that market, you need a place to walk your dog and a place to read your Sunday paper and not feel that the sidewalks have been rolled up and you're out there alone."
Mall C's Strawbridge Plaza, a new park built atop a parking lot adjacent to City Hall, was dedicated last October. The Plaza at Huron Point, currently under construction near East Ninth Street, will be finished by September. ParkWorks is also raising money for a future makeover of Perk Plaza at Chester Commons.
"If you want to attract a younger work force, we know engaging public spaces where you can really feel the energy of the city are a factor," Zoller says. "We're not trying to save downtown by ourselves. We're making sure someone is looking at these public spaces that can be real opportunities to bring people together."