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FirstMerit commits; city plans Cascade Plaza update

4/18/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Upon news that FirstMerit Corp. has committed to keep its headquarters in Downtown Akron, City Council gave its OK April 15 for a $3.3 million project to rehabilitate Cascade Plaza to, in the words of Mayor Don Plusquellic, “provide a welcome space for their front door.”

The project to update Cascade Plaza, which was built in the 1970s, is intended to provide a park-like green space that will be accessible to the public.

“This will be probably one of the biggest green roofs in the United States,” Plusquellic said.

FirstMerit, with approximately 2,000 employees in Akron, recently finalized a merger with Michigan’s Citizens United Bancorp Inc. and will bring 150 additional jobs to the city. Reconstruction of the deteriorated Cascade Plaza is an incentive offered by the city to keep FirstMerit headquarters in Akron.

According to a city news release, the city also will provide a job creation incentive in the form of income tax credits to FirstMerit that will provide FirstMerit with help toward the cost of its relocation, expansion and new employee training. The state also is providing incentives to FirstMerit in the form of job creation tax credits and a work force training grant.

“FirstMerit is proud to call Akron our home and we look forward to the mayor’s efforts to not only improve the city’s infrastructure, but to do it in a forward-thinking way that benefits everyone,” stated Paul Greig, chairman, president and CEO of FirstMerit, in the release.

FirstMerit has agreed to provide financing for the project, Plusquellic said. He said he hopes the project will be under way by June and completed by next summer.

In other business, Council approved a resolution “opposing the ‘right to work’ laws and the ‘Workplace Freedom’ Constitutional Amendment supporting fair labor practices to support working families and the economy of the city of Akron.”

Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large), who co-sponsored the legislation with Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10) and Councilman Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7), said special interest groups have an effort under way to place the measure on the November ballot. The resolution states the law “is actually a corporate-backed attack on working families and the middle class.”

“This is union busting; truly, that’s what this is all about, and it’s driven by the Tea Party and big money,” said Fusco.

Several city union representatives were in attendance at the Council meeting and were applauded by Council members.

Also at the meeting, Council:

  • approved a resolution offered by Councilman Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) urging Congress to study and possibly revise its policy permitting the domestic use of drones.
    “There are a lot of good reasons for safety forces to use drones, but with that comes some questions,” Neal said. “The concern is invasion of privacy.”
    Citing not enough knowledge on the topic, Councilwoman Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8) abstained from the vote;
  • approved a $70,000 replacement to the dectron system, which controls the humidity and temperature of the swimming pool at the Balch Street Fitness Center;
  • continued to take time on an ordinance authorizing the city to apply for a federal loan to redevelop Mayflower Manor, a controversial project because it would necessitate the relocation of the 250-plus residents, who are low-income and disabled or elderly; and
  • observed a moment of silence for the victims of that day’s bombing at the Boston Marathon and for the first responders and investigators involved.
    Neal also took a moment at the end of the meeting to ask that Council and the Akron Public Schools Board of Education meet to create a better synergy between the two bodies in light of recent state report card ratings.
    “We can’t continue to do what we’re doing or we’re going to continue to get what we’ve gotten,” Neal said.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place April 22 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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