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Grocery project coming off shelf

7/25/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Groundbreaking set for August; Akron Council also discusses CSO project

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Plans for the long-awaited grocery store in Highland Square got a big push forward July 22 as Akron City Council approved a joint development agreement among the city, Mustard Seed Market and Highland Square Economic Development LLC (HSED).

Groundbreaking for the new Mustard Seed Market grocery store is anticipated for late August at the intersection of West Market Street and North Portage Path. The store will be a two-story, 23,500 square-foot building.

The city, which currently owns the property on which the grocery store will be located, as well as the retail property that houses several businesses, including Chipotle and Market Path, will sell the grocery property to HSED for $3.8 million and the retail property to HSED for $2.1 million.

Per the agreement, Mustard Seed will lease, with the option to purchase, the grocery property from HSED and will manage the other retail property.

Mustard Seed will begin making rent payments three years after the lease begins, according to the agreement. The rent payments will be based on the city’s payments on a $3.8 million Housing and Urban Development loan utilized by the city to purchase the grocery property in 2010, tax increment financing and net operating income.

Mustard Seed is expected to create and maintain 45 jobs as part of the grocery project, according to the agreement.

Following the unanimous approval of the agreement (excused absent from the meeting were Council members Mike Freeman [D-Ward 9] and Bob Hoch [D-Ward 6]), Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) said it is now “up to the community to support the store.”

In other business at the unusually lengthy meeting, Council discussed and unanimously approved three pieces of legislation intended to employ Akron residents in the course of the upcoming $870 million project to correct the city’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) situation.

Mayor Don Plusquellic and Council members Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3) and Ken Jones (D-Ward 5) offered an ordinance authorizing $25,000 to be used toward implementing a training program for Akron residents to obtain a commercial drivers license (CDL). The city will collaborate with the Akron Urban League and other partners in the development of this adult education training program, and seek additional funds from the Summit County Workforce Development and other private sources.

Plusquellic, speaking to the Public Service Committee, said the $25,000 is “seed money” to get the program off the ground. He said the program is anticipated to start in the fall to prepare for work that is expected to begin next summer.

“This is something that we think is a right first step … to make sure more of our residents have the opportunity to get jobs,” he said.

Plusquellic said a more than $200 million segment of the CSO project will be the construction of tunnels, which potentially will create hundreds of trucking jobs for the removal of dirt.

Councilman Jim Hurley (D-Ward 1) said he has a CDL, and the benefits of earning one would extend beyond the CSO project.

“No one can take away the craft that you’ve learned,” he said. “You can always take it with you.”

Two additional pieces of legislation were brought before Council by Plusquellic, Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 7) and Fusco calling for Council to support hiring local residents for construction projects and to support the heightened enforcement of all Akron income tax regulations, respectively.

Moneypenny said the resolutions are intended to ensure that Akron will, to the limits of the law, see that jobs created by the CSO project will go to citizens of Akron. The latter resolution is aimed at contractors and sends the message that “if you come to Akron, Ohio, you’re going to be held to a higher standard … and you are going to employ our residents,” he said.

Moneypenny said approving the legislation was meant to be a positive move, but Councilman Bruce Kilby (D-Ward 2) introduced a bit of controversy when he raised the issue of the cost of the massive project falling to Akron taxpayers.

City officials have long characterized the project as an unfunded mandate, saying the Environmental Protection Agency, with the backing of a federal judge, is requiring the upgrades without providing funding options, necessitating sewer rate increases to pay for the project. Several other U.S. cities, including Cleveland and Atlanta, face the same mandate.

In response to Kilby’s assertion the city needs to find another way to pay for the project, Deputy Mayor and former Public Service Director Rick Merolla said every other funding option had been explored and other cities with similar projects also were examined.

Also at the Council meeting, several people spoke during the public comment period to urge a “fair hiring policy” for the city that would “delay the box” or “ban the box” — referring to the question of prior felony convictions frequently found on job applications.

Moneypenny said the mayor has already asked the Civil Service Commission to look into the city’s hiring policies specific to the issue.

“I do believe this is a good policy,” said Moneypenny, a former law enforcement official who said he well understood that some ex-felons are not dangerous and perhaps made a single and consequential mistake. To those who spoke, he said, “I believe you’re going to get what you want,” drawing hearty applause.

Jones asked Council to consider bringing up for a vote a resolution supporting such a fair hiring policy.

In related news, Sommerville noted she worked with The University of Akron School of Law to organize a free expungement clinic taking place Aug. 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Antioch Baptist Church, 670 Vernon Odom Blvd. For more information, visit www.uakron.edu/law/clinical/cqe -clinic.dot.

In other business, Council held a public hearing on a conditional-use permit to allow for the construction of an apartment building and parking lot for Rockynol and Westminster Presbyterian Church. The three-story townhouse addition to the Rockynol complex would house 33 single-occupancy apartments. The additional parking is proposed as a shared lot with the church. Council took time on the issue, as some neighbors have concerns about buffering and the protection of mature trees on adjacent property.

Other legislative action included the approval of an annual $185,000 contract with Akron Public Schools for the Akron After School program, now in its 14th year and serving more than 4,300 students in 30 elementary schools, three middle schools and one middle school/high school combination, according to city officials.

The next Council meeting will take place July 29 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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