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Akron looks ahead to a Downtown without FirstEnergy

Ryan Loew
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
FirstEnergy announced on Wednesday that it will be moving its headquarters out of downtown Akron into its West Akron campus.

Akron is figuring out what comes next following FirstEnergy’s announcement Wednesday it’s moving its headquarters from downtown.

FirstEnergy’s will be shifting operations from the downtown skyscraper that it’s called home since the 1970s to its West Akron campus.

"We're committed to staying in Akron with our headquarters at the West Akron campus," FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young said. "Different facility but still in Akron, so we intend to continue our relationship with the city as we have."

Greater Akron Chamber President and CEO Steve Millard said he’s happy the company is staying in Akron. At the same time, "It does impact the vibrancy that we can create with the employment base in that building.”

The city has already been considering ways to revitalize downtown in a post-pandemic era, where more companies are allowing their employees to work from home, Millard said.

“So what we’re really looking at is how do you reshape the way the office plays into what a downtown can be," Millard said, "but then also how do you have the amenities and the kinds of activities, programming and destination assets here that make people want to go downtown?”

FirstEnergy leaving is a difficult pill to swallow, Millard said.

"This one is particularly hard," Millard said, "because FirstEnergy is such a beacon in our downtown in terms of the building, the name, the brand, the way they've been involved."

There's a lot of stakeholders who want to see downtown Akron thrive, including the University of Akron, Millard said.

"Dr. [Gary] Miller [Ph.D], who's their president, has made big commitments to the way downtown plays into not only the way the university operates and works but the way his students get to experience our downtown," Millard said.

The move doesn’t change the company’s commitment to Akron, spokesperson Jennifer Young said.

“Keeping the headquarters in Akron though is important to us," Young said.

Millard doesn't see this commitment faltering either.

"Obviously, FirstEnergy has had a rough few years as it's sort of adapted after lots of different things that have happened for the company, but I think that there's new leaders, there's new management," Millard said. "So there's a lot of new about FirstEnergy in our community, but what continues is everything I've seen is their commitment."

There’s no set timeline for the move, which FirstEnergy expects to take a few years to complete.

FirstEnergy currently rents the building on Main Street that houses its headquarters. As part of its planned move to its West Akron campus, the company intends to buy the downtown building to get out of its long-term lease.

"One day we could wake up and hear they weren't renewing a lease, and that could be a real surprise for us," Millard said. "The fact they're taking the steps that they are to do this over time, that they're making the investment in the building, that makes them a stakeholder in what happens going forward as well."

That actually gives the city a chance to work with FirstEnergy to repurpose the space, Millard said.

"It is a chance for us to have conversations with the company and with others about how do we repurpose, how do we think differently, how do we make different kinds of opportunities from this obviously difficult change," Millard said.

In a statement, Mayor Dan Horrigan said he's committed to continuing to work with FirstEnergy.

"I am pleased they will continue to have a strong presence in Akron," Horrigan said. "While downtown Akron will surely be impacted by their absence, I remain optimistic for the future of the building and for our downtown corridor.”

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.