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Falls, developer ready to close on Portage Crossing

4/25/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

CUYAHOGA FALLS — “Let’s get the show on the road,” Don Nelsh, of the Cuyahoga Falls Planning Commission, said in reference to Portage Crossing, a retail development proposed for the former State Road Shopping Center site. “It is an exciting plan and will be an asset to the community.”

Nelsh commented on the proposed 256,000-square-foot shopping center during the April 22 Cuyahoga Falls City Council meeting. A portion of the meeting was set aside for Council and the public to hear a presentation on the project by city Development Director Susan Truby and Steve Rubin, chief operating officer of Stark Enterprises, the developer for Portage Crossing. A lengthy question-and-answer period also was held.

“Right now, the site is just an open field, and it will stay that way until you make the next move,” Nelsh told Council.

The city administration announced April 20 it was ready to discuss an amendment to the contract for the sale of the State Road property between the city and Stark Enterprises. Truby said the proposed amendment was introduced to Council in November and has been on hold so multiple issues could be resolved. Rubin said most of these issues focused on meeting numerous requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Council President Don Walters (D-Ward 6) said the matter would be discussed by Council at a future Finance Committee meeting — possibly several meetings — before it is voted on.

Laura Petrella, CEO of the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce, asked Council to throw its support behind Portage Crossing. She said the project would bring new business into the city; cause an economic spillover into the community as new workers in town would shop and eat locally; and bring value and vitality back to State Road, increasing the property values in that area.

Local business owner Greg Willis called Portage Crossing “a shot in the arm that State Road needs.”

“The sooner this is completed, the sooner we have prosperity and pride back on State Road,” he said.

The city purchased the State Road Shopping Center for $10.2 million in 2008 and demolished the blighted establishment in 2009. Since then, the city has been working with Stark Enterprises on the sale of the property for the construction of Portage Crossing.

“Three years and eight months later, we are readying to close on the project,” Truby said.

According to Truby, it is not unusual for a large development project to take multiple years to bring to fruition. For comparison, she said it took the city’s Natatorium, a fitness facility, seven years from inception to open for business and Cleveland’s Medical Mart, now called the Convention Center & Global Center for Health Innovation, nine years to construct.

“The Portage Crossing project is no different,” she explained. “It is a complex and multi-faceted project being brought to fruition in a recovering economy.”

Truby also stated it is not unusual to renegotiate a contact if major elements of the project change.

In April 2012, project officials announced Portage Crossing would be anchored on the south side of the development by Giant Eagle and feature a Michael Symon’s B Spot Restaurant, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, Pet Supplies Plus and Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. Several weeks later, officials announced the other anchor tenant would be Menards, a hardware chain store.

However, Menards no longer will be part of Portage Crossing, as enough space was not available for the retailer. Truby explained the owner of the land on which Pizza Hut is located decided it would not provide the space needed for the Menards. She confirmed Cinemark USA Inc. would be constructing a 10-screen movie theater in place of Menards.

The project has evolved over the years, but Truby has said Portage Crossing still would be a unique, state-of-the-art development.

Rubin announced during the presentation April 22 that Portage Crossing also would feature a Fashion Nails, Best Cuts and Huntington Bank location. He anticipates the groundbreaking for the project to take place no later than August. The date for the closing on the project is set for June 30.

Truby said the proposed contract amendment contains two new elements.

The first includes an electric reimbursement reduction for the project, and the second, an economic development incentive grant funded from the admissions tax receipts generated by the movie theater on site.

Truby said the focus of the project continues to be “job creation.” City officials estimate Portage Crossing would bring about 500 new full-time jobs to the city. Truby added the project would bring more than 185 construction jobs to the Falls.

In addition, she said the development would provide the city with about $762,000 in revenue each year and Cuyahoga Falls City Schools with about $265,000 in revenue annually.

“We ask the members of City Council to act expeditiously, yet judiciously, on the commencement and completion of the Portage Crossing project for the sake of our community, our kids and our future,” said Cuyahoga Falls Schools Superintendent Todd Nichols in a written statement concerning the proposed development.

Also during the meeting, Council adopted legislation:

  • approving the site plan related to the construction of a 15,000-square-foot storage building for the city Fire Department at 2580 Bailey Road;
  • urging Congress to support and maintain the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds under the Internal Revenue Code;
  • assigning a newly classified position — assistant street and sanitation superintendent — to an established pay rate;
  • designating two time-limited parking spaces (15 minutes) in the curb lane on the west side of Front Street in front of the Watermark Development;
  • authorizing the sale of a 1996 Freightliner fire engine no longer needed for any municipal purpose to Drive Team Inc.; and
  • authorizing the application and acceptance of a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to conduct an urban tree canopy assessment and associated tree planting.

Council will hold its next committee meetings May 6 and a regular meeting May 13, both beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Natatorium, 2345 Fourth St.

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