Akron's Downtown Vision and Redevelopment Plan
Deep below downtown Akron, a series of explosions are being set off this month. The dynamite is preparation for a 27 foot diameter boring machine that will drill a mile long tunnel for wastewater.
Meanwhile, above ground, city officials are trying to shake up the design and life of the city core. Ideastream’s Mark Urycki reports.
In a year long brain-storming effort, city officials are joining with dozens of government, business, educational, and foundation groups to formulate a Downtown Vision and Redevelopment Plan.
In Phase One, they’ve come up with ten recommendations. The first two are: focus on Main Street and develop a residential market on that street.
Inside one of the old buildings the city has purchased and rehabilitated, Mayor Dan Horrigan talked about using a new federal transportation TIGER Grant to convert Main Street into a more walkable and bicycle friendly corridor.
“With the TIGER Grant a lot of that is going to change what this may look like out here. That’s our investment plus what we’ve already put in to acquiring some of these things so we’ve been the risk taker, so to speak. Now we’re trying to turn these into a performing asset rather than just sitting here empty.”
Converting part of those empty buildings to housing is the goal. Former Mayor Dave Lieberth is one of the Committee members.
“The housing that’s missing for example is market rate housing for that young professional who is in their first job and they have a salary in the $30,000-$45,000 a year range. That’s the person who’s not able to find the housing they want – the one-bedroom apartment for $1100 or $1200 for example.”
Officials will have to figure out how and what incentives the city can offer to developers. Mayor Horrigan says they can use more than Tax Increment Financing –or TIFs- to attract developers to some city-owned buildings.
“We’ve got to incentivize some of this. TIF is one way to do it. We’re also looking at some other options. Don’t have anything to announce. We’re just going through some different things that we may be able to do as a city. We have some assets, right? I mean the city owns all of this. So that’s a little bit easier for us to be able to control as we come up with a plan to be able to do it.”
Lieberth says the committee has been looking to Cleveland.
“Property tax abatements have been the tool that Cleveland has used to cultivate downtown residences and our Planning Director has a proposal in the works right now to imitate that to some degree and to bring to council a proposal on how that might work and how that might benefit Akron.”
One developer who has had success downtown long before it became a trendy thing is Tony Troppe. He says Cleveland shows a tax abatement can pay off.
“They been very effective with implementing abatements or accelerants that are showing how the money that is not spent on vacant buildings and vacant property – if it can be parlayed and elongated into multiple years – it really makes sense to start looking at how the abatement affects everyone positively.”
The President of the Downtown Akron Partnership, Suzie Graham, generally works with businesses, but she says having residents is good for the health of downtown.
“They’re also a catalyst audience because when they are here 24 hours, 7 days a week, they create more activity on the streets. They have a greater sense of ownership for the downtown neighborhood, and they also help build retail activity.”
Tearing up the inner belt expressway downtown to gain new land is on everyone’s mind, but Graham says it’s best to occupy the old buildings first, preferably with ground floor retail and housing on the upper floors.
“You’ve got beautiful historic bones, you have a wonderful storefront facing Main Street, and then you also have a beautiful back facing the canal. So you have the ability in this one development to both activate the canal side and the Main Street side of downtown which is really unique and fabulous.”
The Vision Plan identifies five entertainment hot spots in downtown that the city can nurture and then build new connections among them as well as to outlying neighborhoods.
Phase two of Vision Plan will involve hearing from the public in the coming year.