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Akron's Bowery Project Called Catalyst For Residential Growth

The 1929 Civic Theater will get an extra performance space and an expanded box office [Mark Urycki / ideastream]
The Akron Civic Theater marquee advertises the Bowery "coming soon"

Friday was the groundbreaking for a $42 million effort to bring residents back to downtown Akron. City officials say the plans to restore a block of buildings on Main Street will be crucial to the city’s future. 

The block of vacant buildings between the Lock 3 Park and Bowery Street in the heart of Akron has been an eyesore for the past two decades. The Akron Civic Theater was its only heartbeat.

Now, a group of developers and investors using 15 different sources of money are going ahead with the Bowery restoration project, including former Deputy Mayor of Akron and historian Dave Lieberth.

“I think I can get agreement from several people here this morning that this has been the most complicated real estate transaction in the history of Summit County,” said Lieberth.  

Bowery project concept drawing looking south on Main St. [Welty Building Company]

At Main and Bowery Streets, the Akron Savings and Loan, or Landmark Building, will house apartments. [Mark Urycki / ideastream]

The city owned the six buildings and transferred them to Summit County’s Development Finance Authority. 

Financing for the project includes both state and federal historic tax credits. The National Trust Community Investment Corporation attracted Citibank of New York with federal historic tax credits.

DFA president Chris Burnham says they pulled in partners, including Cleveland Development Advisors who, for the first time ever, made an investment outside Cuyahoga County, bringing $6 million in New Market Tax Credits.

“Just think about it for a minute,” said Burnham. “A group from Cleveland supporting a project in Akron, a national organization supporting a project in Akron, bringing a big money-center bank to finance a development that is so important."

The Welty Building Company will do the work and own 50 percent of the development. Welty CEO Don Taylor says turning this block into an entertainment and residential center will lead the way for other residential ventures downtown.

“We are standing in the shadow of three other projects that I think will – once this project gets established — have a much easier time of moving forward with probably 700 additional residents being able to move downtown,” said Taylor. “So this really is at the forefront of making things happen.”  

The Lock 4 area and the Ohio Canal runs behind the block of six buildings. [Mark Urycki / ideastream]

Design plans to develop Lock 4 as a swinging hot spot. [Welty Building Company]

Developers who recently purchased the CitiCenter building nearby and the Law Building across Main Street are both planning to convert floors to apartments.

Taylor says apartment residents in the Bowery Project’s 12-story Landmark building will have an advantage.

“We’re connected to the Cascade parking deck,” said Taylor. “So all the residents in this building will have access to covered parking.”

Taylor notes the Bowery project hopes to bring an amenity that all of downtown could benefit from – a grocery store.

“We’re still exploring the Amazon effect, if you will,” said Taylor. “Do you need a grocery store or do you need a way to have groceries delivered to you?”

One attraction already in place is the venerable Civic Theater. The Knight Foundation has announced a $4 million grant with the GAR Foundation to develop a new box office addition to the theater and a smaller, 200-seat performance hall in the neighboring Whitelaw Building.

Candice Carlyon of the Civic also announced they are about to reach $8 million in their campaign to finish the restoration of the 1929 atmospheric theater.

The partners say adding vibrancy to downtown will radiate prosperity to the rest of the city and region.   

By the numbers:

  • Six historic buildings
  • 36,000 square feet of retail space
  • 4,000 square feet of boutique office space
  • 92 market-rate, affordable apartments
  • 150 parking spaces reserved in adjacent city-owned Cascade Parking Garage