A history of planning and developments

Planning and designing for The Flats is a demonstration of expertise in the economics of park design, historic and heritage interpretation, site technical issues, major park design, technology, water resources, and enduring solutions.  These are the strengths of this landscape architecture firm.


A Chronological narrative of the flats

William A. Behnke Associates developed one of the first plans for The Flats Development, and presented it in 1977 to the Woman's City Club and Mayor Ralph J. Perk.  Thus was the beginning of our role in Cleveland's long and exciting transformation of its industrial lower river valley into a regional and national mixed-use destination.  

We remain part of the Flats planning today, and look forward to utilizing our historical perspective to help make the Canal Basin Park a reality.  Stop by our office to view and discuss the Flats' history.

 "The Flats" 1977

"The Flats" 1977

 Flats Hub Trolley System May 1990

Flats Hub Trolley System May 1990

 The Flats Hub Master Plan 1990

The Flats Hub Master Plan 1990

 Ohio & Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor Management Plan, June 2000

Ohio & Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor Management Plan, June 2000

1977:  THE FLATS

The Women’s City Club (WCC) of Cleveland approached William Behnke, and asked if we could help them develop a plan that would identify opportunities on the downtown riverfront – THE FLATS.  The WCC and Behnke met with city officials, property and business owners and environmental organizations to identify opportunities and constraints.  This effort culminated in a luncheon attended by over 200 members and guests of the WCC, including the Mayor and the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.  The plan, the first of its kind for the Flats, was presented and was instrumental in leveraging a renaissance that continues today.  

1978 – 1982:  HERITAGE PARKS 1 & 2

These two riverfront parks were the first public improvements ever on the banks of the Cuyahoga that allowed people to really access and experience the river.  Constructed with limited resources, they helped change the perception of the Flats from a dirty and unfriendly place to one that is welcoming, interesting and exciting.


In conjunction with Cleveland City Planning staff, Behnke developed design standards for a river walk system that would allow maximum, safe access to the river edge while preserving private development opportunities.


Working for and with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Behnke prepared a master plan for the “Flats Hub.”  The center of the “The Hub” area is the Ohio and Erie Canal termination into the Cuyahoga River and is approximately 25 acres in size.  The Hub catchment area encompasses about 130 acres.  The planning process included extensive interactions with local business and government, citizens and other stakeholders.  The deliverables included a market study, site analysis, recommended physical improvements, cost projections and phasing recommendations.  A specialized study for an East Bank River Walk was also prepared.


In association with URS, Behnke analyzed five alternative alignments based on technical feasibility, user convenience, landowner impact, start-up costs and stakeholder input.  The study area extended from East 9th Street, west along the lakefront, and up river to the rear of the Terminal Tower complex.  The eventual implementation of the recommendations came in the form of the GCRTA Waterfront Line.


Congressional designation of the corridor as a National Heritage Area in 1996 provided access to tools for local governments and non-profit organizations to encourage historic preservation and an appreciation of the history and heritage of the corridor.  The designation requires a management plan, to ensure resources are used wisely and Heritage Area goals are met.

As part of the planning team led by Icon Architecture, Behnke played a key role in the plan's preparation and recommendations, which included:

  • Identifying and protecting key natural resources
  • Identifying development opportunities and the partnerships required to complete them
  • Identifying appropriate themes and story lines for canal segments

Behnke also played a key role in programming the Canal Way Centers, including the North Center, which includes the Canal Basin Park as its central feature. 


This portion of the Towpath Trail passes through an industrial area of the Flats.  As a member of the design team led by the Michael Baker Corporation, Behnke was responsible for grading, layout, planting, habitat improvement and the design of the observation deck and bridge.  The project restores and monitors 3000 feet of aquatic edge, includes almost 5 acres of riparian buffer restoration, and 3000 feet of Towpath Trail.  It improves access and connectivity for a rapidly-growing central city population.  The project includes green infrastructure and interpretive materials.  The northern terminus of this phase of the Towpath Trail is within 2000 feet of Canal Basin Park, and is a key link in the overall 100-mile long trail.

2009 – 2015:  FLATS EAST BANK

The Flats East Bank project is a 20-acre, mixed-use development on the East bank of the Cuyahoga River.  Behnke has been involved in the site planning, design, and construction of this project since 2008.  The project is registered to become a LEED-Neighborhood Development sustainable site. 

The Behnke scope of work included schematic design of the entire neighborhood and design and construction documents for the green roof/courtyard for the central 400-unit apartment building, outdoor dining areas, central plaza, streetscape for the public realm, Zack Bruell Restaurant landscape, and a 1,200 foot Riverwalk along the east bank of the Cuyahoga River.


The Scranton Flats Towpath Trail & Urban Habitat Restoration is part of the Towpath Stage 4.  As a member of the design team led by the Michael Baker Corporation, Behnke will be responsible for the Towpath’s dramatic entry into the Canal Basin Park.



Several of the plans listed above led to the awards listed below.  We look forward to the opportunity for another award-winner in the future!

  • Merit Award - Scranton Flats Towpath Trail + Urban Habitat Restoration, Cleveland.  Ohio Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects
  • Merit Award - Flats Hub Study, Cleveland.  Ohio Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects
  • Best Trail Project Award - Scranton Towpath Trail & Restoration, Cleveland.  Greater Cleveland Trails and Greenway Conference
  • Design Award - The Ohio and Erie Canal Heritage Corridor Master Plan, Akron.  Akron Chapter, American Institute of Architects