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Issue Date: October 2013


Cable Deal

What you need to know about the Cleveland SkyLift.
John Hitch

Jon Stahl has often looked up at Cleveland's skyline from his company's floating headquarters, the former Hornblower's Barge & Grill near Burke Lakefront Airport, and wondered how to make it easier for people to get to Lake Erie. The president of LeanDog software thinks the Cleveland SkyLift could be the way. But the proposal, which uses cable cars boosted 100 feet in the air to whisk riders around downtown and to lakefront hot spots, may not be as pie in the sky as you think.

1  It connects the dots.  Stahl envisions an 11-station system that links the Cleveland Convention Center to Voinovich Park, winds through the Flats and ends at the Horseshoe Cleveland's future Phase II site. It would also branch out to Edgewater Park. "Cleveland's character is fragmented," he says. "What Cleveland SkyLift would do is connect all that."

2  The early reviews are good.  Stahl used a helicopter mounted with three GoPro cameras to fly over the proposed route, then showed the footage to skeptical cable car manufacturers. "They got really excited," he recalls. "They couldn't believe there was that much empty land."

3  Lake effects? It's really snow problem.  Similar skylifts run in the Alps and Rockies, so our harsh winters wouldn't impede operations. Stahl thinks it could actually help offset them. "Imagine coming to Cleveland, being able to stay at a hotel and not going out in the weather," he says.

4  visitors are on the uptick.  Positively Cleveland projects 11 million people will visit downtown this year, double the number two years ago. "Anyone who brings their friends to Cleveland, they'd probably want to take them for a ride," Stahl argues. "It'd be too hard to see a cable car in the distance and not wonder where it would go."

5  It's already here.  Getting potential manufacturers excited about an estimated $200 million job is not difficult. Persuading increasingly cynical citizens is. So Stahl spent $20,000 on a demo car from Colorado. It's usually displayed outside Quicken Loans Arena, to generate buzz and give passersby a chance to sit inside the eight-person aluminum cabin.

6  It won't hijack riders' wallets.  Tickets could be as low as $3.50 for one-way rides and $7 for all-day passes. "We don't want to make it too expensive," Stahl says. "It's for anybody to get to our waterfront."

7  Some heavy lifting remains.  The project isn't going anywhere until Stahl raises $500,000 for a feasibility study, which would predict economic impact and examine the costs. A crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo generated an underwhelming $4,290 by mid-September.

8  Don't forget the beach towel.  The skylift could make Edgewater Park and the county-owned Wendy Park more accessible. "For the 20,000 people living downtown, having this system would allow them to hop in a cable car and go to parks that might be out of their reach," Stahl says. "And it's cheaper than a cab."


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