The head of an international economic development firm says he believes the University Park Alliance and Akron leaders have come up with a great master plan to revitalize four districts around downtown.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Why Akron?’ My gut response is, ‘Why not Akron?’ In fact, there are better reasons than that. We do projects all around the world. We look for public/private partners who meet criteria,” such as groups of people who are working together, said Marvin J. Suomi, KUD International president and chief executive.
Suomi appeared Wednesday at a welcoming event at the Andrew Jackson House in Akron attended by local government and business leaders.
The partnership between Akron and KUD is a marriage, said Suomi, adding KUD has never left a partnership with communities.
“It’s a marriage that will have hiccups and challenges, but lots of rewards. We have high expectations of you, as you should have of us,” Suomi said.
He joked that he found out on Tuesday that there are no direct flights from London, where he had been traveling, to Akron.
KUD, with offices in New York, London, Long Beach, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., is joining with the UPA in a “master services agreement” to give the company responsibility for developing some projects outlined by UPA.
KUD might actually develop some of the projects, but it will also work closely with UPA and local developers. KUD services include guarantee commitments, which means a project is delivered by a certain date and if not, KUD will pay the fees and fines. The company, which is paid for its guarantee by developers, also guarantees the projects will be completed according to agreed budgets and, if not, will pay cost overruns.
KUD has worked on aquariums in Tampa and Long Beach, baseball and football stadiums in San Francisco and Philadelphia, and what it calls a large-scale research park in Israel. Its parent company, Kajima Corp., has offices in 20 countries worldwide.
UPA last spring unveiled a master plan, put together with the university, business partners and city and county government. The plan divides the downtown area into four districts along three major roads: Market, Exchange and Main streets. The four districts are University Square District along East Exchange Street, South of Exchange District along the canal and Cedar Street, the Main Street District downtown and the Crossroads District along East Market.
After the news conference, Suomi said KUD wants to be able to say there were substantial changes made in the community. The company looks for partnerships only early in the process, such as the UPA master plan, he said. “For us, this feels like the absolute opportune time. If this had been a project that was half developed and they wanted to breathe new life, we would have said no.
“We like to enter the project at the visioning stage.”
UPA Executive Director Eric Anthony Johnson said the goal is to have projects moving forward in each district at the same time — and soon.
“A lot of communities do great plans. What they don’t have is what we have, superior collaboration,” said Johnson, who noted the redevelopment of Akron will be a combination of local developers and outside firms.
UPA has developed a “model of redevelopment that engages the entire community” and now nationally and internationally with the partnership with KUD, said Jennifer Thomas, Akron program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the major fund source for UPA. “This partnership provides an unprecedented opportunity in Akron to provide a greater sense of place and vibrant economy.”
Mayor Don Plusquellic said the vision provides “great opportunity here for success in the future” and he thanked local developers for taking a risk to put their money out first for Akron projects.
Johnson said he was excited about the future.
“People have asked me, ‘Are you going to slow down?’ Why should we slow down? What would we slow down for? It’s about competition. It’s about moving this community forward,” Johnson said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.