City officials face off on downtown project
By Maria Lindsay
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Legislation that paves the way for a $25 million project that involves the construction of two new four-story buildings for student housing and retail in Downtown Akron was approved after a contentious Dec. 3 Akron City Council meeting.
At-large Council members John Conti and Mike Williams, both Democrats, squared off with Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic on the merits of the project. The legislation was approved 10-3, with Conti, Williams and Bruce Kilby (D-Ward 2) voting against it.
The legislation that was approved
involves the city’s $2 million investment in the
project, which is bounded by South High, Cedar, South
Main and East Exchange streets,
and includes the city purchasing the Akron Area Board
of Realtors’ property at South High and Cedar
Streets, which will be used to provide parking space;
selling 1-acre of city-owned property on South Main
to the developer; moving the historic Richard Howe house;
and creating the Exchange Street-Opportunity Park Urban
Renewal Area Economic Development Plan.
“This project will be beneficial
to the block,” said Kevin Davis, owner of the
Akron Area Board of Realtors’ property.
The two new buildings will create
450-bed units for students and five to seven retail
shops catering to students’ needs, which are planned
for the ground floor of one of the buildings.
Martin Mehall, owner of Richland
Communities Ltd., the company that will operate the
facility, presented details of the project.
want something different,” he said.
The furnished units, to be rented
for $640 to $740 a month, will include Internet and
cable access, private bathrooms and laundry facilities,
and fitness, game and study rooms. About 250
parking spots will be added for the project, but students
also will have to use off-site parking.
The units will cost $100 to $150
a month less than the new University of Akron residence
hall, according to Mehall. The buildings will be ready
for occupancy in 2009.
Conti questioned whether taxpayers
would benefit from the $2 million investment and suggested
existing blighted homes should be revitalized for student
housing before building new.
“I support downtown housing,
but there are lots of vacant homes that need work,”
Conti also expressed concern
for the probable increase in the number of vacant homes
in the wake of predicted foreclosures due to subprime
mortgage lending problems.
Williams agreed with Conti, stating
the project was in the wrong location and the cost to
taxpayers was too high.
“The money we are allocating
is disproportionate to what we are getting,” he
Plusquellic told Council that
city officials have worked for 30 years to create downtown
“This project will bring
life and retail downtown and
create more jobs,” he added. “Do what’s
right for the city.”
Economic Development and Job
Creation Committee Chairwoman Terry Albanese (D-Ward
6) also supported the project, reporting the move to
create downtown housing is finally able to move forward
because there are only two property owners involved,
rather than a block of owners to work with in developing
“There is a benefit to
extending the downtown campus community,” she
added. “It is better to build rather than leave
things as they are.”
Plusquellic accused Conti and
Williams of playing politics.
They both responded to the mayor’s
“I’ve had about as
much of your stuff as I can take,” Williams said.
“Anybody that disagrees with you has to have some
kind of agenda.”
Conti suggested city officials
should focus on “priorities,” which he identified
as deteriorating existing neighborhoods.
In related business, a 10-3 vote
resulted in rezoning the corner of South High and Cedar
streets to a Retail Business Use District following
a public hearing. Conti,
Williams and Kilby again voted against it.
In other business, Council approved
an authorization to allow the city to facilitate Title
V Community Prevention grant funds for the Akron area
YMCA, which provided gender-specific programming for
at-risk adolescent female offenders ages 12-17 during
the summer and placed into the consent agenda an authorization
to grant $30,000 to the city’s Recreation Bureau
for the purchase of hospitality items for various activities
in 2008. The consent agenda typically is passed with
one vote at the next week’s meeting.
A public hearing is scheduled
for the next Akron City Council meeting, which will
take place Dec. 10, to designate almost 14 acres on
Smith Road, 2.6 acres on Smith and Riverview roads,
and 2 acres on Foxglove Circle, as part of Ward 8 in
the city of Akron. The properties were formerly part
of Cuyahoga Falls and incorporated into the city limits
A public hearing also is scheduled
for that meeting to rezone the properties, including:
establishing a Unified Planned Development District
(UPD-23) on the Smith Road
properties; a Limited Business Use District (UHLB, H1,
A1) for the Smith and Riverview property; and Single-Family
Residential on the Foxglove Circle property.
Akron City Council meets at 7
p.m. in Council Chambers, located on the third floor
of the Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee
meetings are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.