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Grocery store agreement comes before Council

6/6/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

DOWNTOWN AKRON — At a future date, Akron City Council will vote on a development agreement pertaining to the Highland Square grocery store project, but some hesitation remains in the meantime, despite the more than seven years the grocery store has been in the works.

The development agreement — among the city, Highland Square Economic Development LLC and Highland Square Mustard Seed Market LLC — has yet to be drawn up in entirety. Therefore, Council requested time on the legislation, which provides for the sale and redevelopment of property in Highland Square.

City Development Manager Adele Roth, who has been the point person on the planning for the grocery store, gave a presentation during Council’s June 6 Planning Committee meeting. She said the total project cost is $6.1 million. The city will sell the retail building that is currently occupied to Highland Square Economic Development LLC for $2.1 million. Construction will cost $2.8 million, and $1.2 million will go for equipment and design.

Helping to finance the project are a $3.8 million Department of Housing and Urban Development loan secured by the city last year, as well as rent equity and a $2.1 million city note.

Highland Square Economic Development LLC, a nonprofit entity comprised of the Akron Development Corp., will build and develop the grocery store and lease it to Mustard Seed Market, which will also manage the retail building currently housing Chipotle and other businesses. Mustard Seed will receive three years of free rent.

The Akron Planning Commission recently approved plans for the store and the sale of the property. Construction is expected to begin soon, with the project slated for completion in the fall of 2014.

Roth said the development agreement and the process as currently proposed honors the spirit of the original idea for a Highland Square grocery store that was put into motion in 2005. The key, she said, was removing the need for a developer to make a profit. With Highland Square Economic Development LLC, a nonprofit entity, acting as that “middle man,” she said, there is a feasible chance for a grocery store to be financially successful and thrive.

Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large), however, found the process to be overly convoluted and said that, in addition to the complete language of the agreement, Council would also be requiring a flow chart to fully understand how the project would play out.

“I have a banking background, and I’ve been [on Council] for 25 years, and I’m still a little confused, and I know my [Council] colleagues are still a little confused,” he said.

He also questioned Mustard Seed’s readiness to serve in a property management function.

Roth responded that Mustard Seed has enough experience as a tenant to fully grasp its new role as a property manager.

While reiterating that he still has concerns, Williams said he is in favor of a Mustard Seed grocery store going into the neighborhood, and he thanked Roth for her work on the project.

Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9) also acknowledged the complexity of the steps of the agreement.

“This is not a 10-piece puzzle, it is a 100-piece puzzle,” he said. He added, however, that citizens should know the city has been creating limited liability corporations — LLCs — for economic development purposes for many years.

“We don’t reinvent the wheel,” agreed Roth.

In other business, Council members — amid much joking about who would be the first volunteer rider — discussed plans for a zipline to be constructed in the Mustill Store area of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.

Cascade Locks Park Association Executive Director Ferris Brown brought renderings of the proposed attraction to the Council meeting. He said it is still being worked out who would operate the zipline and how much it would cost for a 30-second ride, although he estimated $10 or $12. He said riders would need to be between 70 and 250 pounds.

Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10) suggested the organization auction off the first ride, and he offered to start the bidding at $100.

An ordinance pledging city support in the form of a $75,000 grant and a $50,000 loan was placed on next week’s consent agenda, a listing of routine legislation typically approved with one vote at the following week’s Council meeting.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place June 10 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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