Work has begun on a new $40 million private student housing and retail development at the University of Akron’s front door.
Buildings that date to the 1920s and front East Exchange will be razed — as early as today. The project will bring 578 beds and businesses on the first floor. Demolition of the back rental houses has already been completed.
The project, called University Edge, grew from originally being a $15 million, one-building complex to two. It covers the block bordered by Exchange to the north, Allyn Street to the east, Torrey Street to the south, and Sumner Street to the west.
The developer, Akron-based Levey and Co., is a commercial real estate firm with many properties throughout the Akron area. The company is the developer of the proposed Walmart in Copley Township.
The University Edge project might be the first new residential/retail project for the company, said Kevin Fallon, vice president of mixed-use development.
“We got into it because we were looking for a retail site for someone on this block and from there, it just grew,” said Fallon.
Luxury apartments will be geared toward university students, with individual rooms and bathrooms, kitchens with granite countertops, dining and living room space. There will also be a fitness room, a business center and Zumba or yoga room and two horizontal tanning beds.
The company has partnered with Hallmark Campus Communities, based in Columbus, which has similar luxury student housing projects around the country, including in Kent and at Notre Dame. It is the first time Levey & Co. is partnering with Hallmark, Fallon said.
University Edge is the fourth project specifically geared toward university students in downtown Akron. Recently, Akron City Council members have questioned whether there was too much housing geared toward students.
Council previously approved plans for three other student housing developments. One development, 22 Exchange, is already up and running, while another at Cedar and Main streets called 401 Lofts is scheduled to open in August. Also, a group called Exchange Housing LLC has an option to buy property from the Akron Beacon Journal for a proposed $20 million student housing development planned at South Broadway and East Exchange Street.
Fallon said Levey & Co. is confident in its location.
“We think our location is more unique than any other off-campus location. We’re probably closer to the university than one-third of the university beds. We think we’ll get the lion’s share” of off-campus housing, he said.
“You don’t have to ride Zippy’s bus. You just walk across the street and you’re on campus. The amenities will be right below us. Retailers want to be here,” he said.
The only retailer that has been announced so far is Penn Station. Levey & Co. paid the Penn Station franchise owner a settlement “to go dark,” meaning the closed store will not re-open until 2014 in the new building.
The other store still operating on the block was Miracle Custom Awards and Gifts, a 30-year-old business owned by Craig and Katherine Miracle.
The couple owned a half acre along East Exchange Street, including their award shop, an adjoining space that was empty, two rental houses and a parking lot. The Miracles said they have decided against their longtime plan to sell their business and move to California and instead reinvested in the Akron area. They purchased a site at 565 Wolf Ledges Parkway and have relocated the award shop there, as well as Katherine Miracle’s small marketing firm, Miracle Resources. A studio will be built in the building so commercials can be shot for Miracle’s customers.
Craig Miracle said 15 years ago, he realized his business was at the university’s front door.
“I started realizing I’d better be ready to move because I thought the university might take us by eminent domain. I thought I might need a backup plan. Somewhere between the last 10 or so years, I really wanted to move. I was waiting for the right project,” said Craig Miracle.
Miracle said he won’t be sad to see the buildings come down where he had his business for 25 years and with his father for five years before that.
“It had gotten so old. We’re dealing with a 1926 building. Other than the location, the building was ready. The building was tired. I was holding it together with tape,” said Miracle.
Eric Anthony Johnson, executive director of the University Park Alliance, an organization dedicated to revitalizing city neighborhoods, said the University Edge project represents an example of a private investment that relates to the group’s overall plan.
The buildings will be ready for rent for August 2014 occupancy.