By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Akron’s new hotel reached a high on Tuesday.
The Hilton Garden Inn, part of the ongoing redevelopment of the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. campus, was “topped off” about 3 p.m. as a massive crane delicately placed a 5-ton concrete slab holding a small evergreen tree and an American flag on the roof.
The crane operator was working blind — he couldn’t see the slab high over the hotel from his position inside the ground-level cabin.
“It’s all radio communication,” said Joe Flowers, foreman for the company that made the pre-cast concrete pieces used to form the 135-room hotel. “I can hear everything they’re saying. It looks good all the way down.”
And it was. The big slab went smoothly into place.
Hotel construction is on budget and largely on target, said Carol Smith, vice president of IRG Realty Advisors. IRG Realty is overseeing the project that has been named “East End” for parent company Industrial Realty Group, owned by developer Stuart Lichter. The cold and snowy winter pushed things behind by about five days, Smith said.
“We’ll catch that up,” she said.
The full-service hotel — the first new Akron hotel since 1980 — should open as planned in September and serve as an anchor for the East End project, Smith said. The investment will total $18 million.
The topping-off ceremony, also known as a topping out, gave the 56 construction workers on site a way to celebrate their progress. Many of the workers signed the slab, also called a plank, including putting down their union affiliations.
The live, undecorated evergreen tree is supposed to bring growth and good luck; its use goes back to an ancient Scandinavian practice. The topping-off ceremony typically recognizes putting into place a new building’s highest piece.
Meanwhile, work started Monday inside Goodyear Hall, which will be converted into one-, two- and some three-bedroom residences on its upper levels, with street-level retail and restaurants to come. This part of the project will be called the “Residence at East End,” Smith said. The residences should be ready for occupancy in late spring 2015, she said.
The building will retain the 1,500-seat theater and large gymnasium, she said. “The Goodyear sign on top of the building will remain for now,” she said. Plans call for the former bank at the western end of Goodyear Hall to be turned into a restaurant.
The former Goodyear headquarters building across the street has one tenant so far, a charter school. Smith said IRG is talking with prospective tenants.
“The economy seems like it is coming back,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of interest.”
Work will begin this spring to tear out part of the interior off the main entrance and build a new, large glass atrium and a new main entrance, she said. The renovations include removing the Goodyear “Speedramp” passenger conveyor/escalators inside.
IRG continues to have discussions with Akron city officials about reworking the part of East Market Street that runs by the development. The road plans would retain two lanes of travel in each direction but add street parking, Smith said. The intent would be to slow traffic down through the East End development, she said.
The East Market Street work is scheduled to start in the summer of 2015.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.