How to make downtown Akron more vibrant: New redevelopment plan offers many ideas

December 7, 2017 GMT

How to make downtown Akron more vibrant: New redevelopment plan offers many ideas

AKRON, Ohio – New townhomes along the Ohio & Erie Canal, stronger connections to the Towpath Trail and a pedestrian bridge from downtown to the Northside Arts District are all recommendations in a plan to make downtown Akron more vibrant.

The Downtown Akron Vision & Redevelopment draft plan was revealed Wednesday night at the Akron Civic Theatre at a meeting led by MKSK urban designers. The plan focuses on five key areas of downtown that could be re-enlivened and redeveloped over a 10-year period. The ideas are based on resident input gleaned throughout the year from meetings, surveys, interviews and interactive tools. MKSK, based in Columbus, will release a final plan in early 2018.

The vision and redevelopment plan has been led by Downtown Akron Partnership and was launched by Mayor Dan Horrigan as part of an initiative to boost Akron’s population to 250,000 by 2050.

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Enlivening downtown, which is Akron’s largest employment hub, is at the heart of the effort.

“Since becoming mayor I’ve stated that Akron is going to grow through its urban core,” Horrigan said Wednesday night. “It must become a thriving neighborhood and this plan gives us a road map to get there.”

A main component of the plan is to add more residential housing downtown, primarily through renovation of older commercial buildings. That effort is already underway, Horrigan said, with 200 new units planned to become available in the next two years.

The Bowery project involves the historic Landmark building and five smaller retail buildings between Bowery Street and the Akron Civic Theatre on Main Street. The back of the buildings open onto the canal. The project offers about 60,000-square-feet of space for offices, shops, restaurants, bars and a grocery store. The floors above will house about 85 market-rate and affordable residential units.

The City Center Hotel, which local developer Testa City Centre LLC plans to renovate, also will create about 100 market-rate apartments on Main Street.

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The city made such projects more enticing to private developers through a residential property tax abatement, launched in July, exempting 100 percent of the added property value on new residential construction or renovation valued at about $5,000 or more, for 15 years.

All of this will be further enhanced as the city completes the downtown promenade through a $5 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant awarded in 2016. The project includes a green corridor on Main Street, with street and sidewalk repairs, new on-street parking and dedicated bike lanes. Transit and traffic enhancements, a roundabout, new signage and green infrastructure are also planned.

MKSK’s strategic recommendations also include fostering an entrepreneurial downtown, facilitating public-private investment, investing in a welcoming, multimodal downtown and activating it through programming.

To that end, MKSK tailored recommendations for these key downtown areas. Here are highlights:

South Side – With the Canal Place complex and Bounce, the city’s new hub for innovation, the south end of Main Street is ripe for improvement and activation. Short-term improvements could include boosting commercial offerings and activating historic buildings on Main Street. With its close proximity to the Towpath Trail, long term, the South Side could host new townhomes along both side of the canal.Main & Exchange – Anchored by Canal Park, home of the Akron RubberDucks, this intersection is one of downtown’s highest-profile spots. But it suffers from large areas of surface parking creating a gap in walkability. To capitalize on RubberDucks games and attract young professionals, short-term ideas include adding mixed-use development, a linear green and residential housing on adjacent streets, and long-term, expanding development east toward High and Broadway streets.Bowery District –Locks 3 and 4, and now Lock 2, are some of the most visited sites downtown. Short-term ideas for this area include mixed-use development along Main Street, with new connections to the parks the canal and the nearby Towpath Trail. Adding bike lanes and enhancing walkability on Bowery Street is also recommended. Long-term recommendations include redeveloping Mill Street as well.Northside – Encompassing Maiden Lane on the south side of Martin Luther King Boulevard and the Northside Arts District to the north, this area is considered one of the highest profile areas of downtown but one of the least friendly for pedestrians. Shorter-term recommendations include either an at-grade pedestrian connection or a pedestrian bridge at the intersection of MLK and Main Street. An urban plaza near the intersection and ground level retail on Main Street near Market Street are also recommended. Longer-term ideas include adaptive reuse of the historic trolley barn on Main Street.Route 59 – Deemed the least friendly pedestrian area in all of downtown, Route 59, west of Lock 3 and Cascade Plaza, is still considered a popular location for development. Route 59 will offer more than 20 acres of developable land that require additional study. Developing the north end of the Innerbelt could be followed by improvements to adjacent sites near Glendale Cemetery and Bowery Street near Akron Children’s Hospital. Long-term improvements could include new vehicle and pedestrian connectors to both sides of the Innerbelt, and mixed-use development along Center Street.

MKSK, based in Columbus, will release its final plan in early 2018. All materials associated with the Downtown Akron Vision & Redevelopment plan are available at Downtown Akron Partnership’s website.

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