Stu Lichter’s vision for redeveloping the aging Goodyear campus goes like this:
“Canal Place on steroids.”
Lichter, head of California-based Industrial Realty Group and the force behind the building of the new Goodyear headquarters in East Akron, says he is getting the financing in place to rebuild and reuse Goodyear’s campus — which he owns — starting less than a year from now.
And he says when it is done, it will be an improvement over Canal Place, the 38-acre former B.F. Goodrich campus in downtown Akron that he and partners acquired in 1988 and turned into a business incubator, office and small manufacturer space.
When the last Goodyear employee walks out of the current headquarters around April 1, 2013, and moves to the new headquarters, contractors will walk into the old building and start renovations, Lichter said. The hope is that the first tenants will be in place by the end of 2013.
In an interview, Lichter talked about the latest plan to market his properties and unveiled updated architect renditions of what the redeveloped Goodyear campus is expected to look like.
• The Goodyear Theater, gymnasium and exercise facilities in Goodyear Hall will be retained, as will the clock tower.
• The former bank entrance to Goodyear Hall could become the entrance to a “boutique” hotel in the building.
• A significant portion of Goodyear Hall will be converted into apartments.
• The current entrance to Goodyear’s corporate headquarters will be turned into a restaurant, possibly from a small chain. A new main entry will be built just to the right of the current entrance off East Market Street.
• A giant glass atrium and elevator bank will be built in the center of the headquarters; the atrium will be used to connect a number of buildings that make up the site.
• The current headquarters will be rented out as office space.
• A day-care center and fitness center will be part of the headquarters building.
The idea is to take old, antiquated space built in the early 1900s and create the best modern office space in Akron, Lichter said.
“It’s a spectacular plan to make it really first rate,” he said. “We can’t get started until Goodyear leaves. ... If we hit our timeline, this will start April 1.”
Architects have been released to do what are called the working drawings, which are what is used for bids, he said.
Work needs to start quickly once Goodyear employees vacate the premises, Lichter said.
“Because all we do when the day the last Goodyear person leaves is lose money operating the buildings,” Lichter said. “If we start April 1, we should be able to move people in by the end of the year.”
While some project financing is in place, additional traditional bank financing remains to be negotiated and finalized, Lichter said. He declined to say how much he expects the project to cost, other than it will be in the millions.
It probably will be a few years before the entire complex is finished and fully rented out, although the main redevelopment will be completed fairly quickly, Lichter said.
New design needed
The office space in the current Goodyear headquarters must be redesigned because the layout now “is all over the place if you saw a floor plan of it,” Lichter said. “It’s really four or five separate buildings that are kind of disjointed. We were wrestling with how to create a center.”
The idea is to rip out the ground floor escalators off to the right of the main lobby and in their place put in an enclosed, open-air courtyard and a new glass entrance, Lichter said. The giant glass atrium, with elevators, will connect the structures, he said.
“It ties the entire thing together,” Lichter said. “It instantaneously turns the old buildings into a modern office building.”
The idea for the atrium came from Cleveland architectural firm ka inc., which has done design work for retailers J.C. Penney and Macy’s. ka’s expertise includes designing for the kind of “adaptive reuse” that Lichter’s IRG specializes in.
Carol Smith, director of facility and quality management services for Lichter’s Ohio Realty Advisors subsidiary, and Lichter said the redevelopment plans might keep intact the Goodyear executive suite area called “Mahogany Row.” They are exploring options to lease the offices out as corporate executive space.
A new road will be created off East Market Street to take people to a lower level for inside parking, Lichter said.
East Market changes
Lichter said he and his team are in discussions with Akron officials on reworking the wide expanse of East Market Street between the old headquarters and Goodyear Hall. They want to make it more pedestrian- friendly and to slow traffic down, he said.
“It’s a five-lane street with very little traffic, so people go buzzing through it,” Lichter said.
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic acknowledged the ongoing discussions.
“We have looked at adding street parking,” he said. Among the possibilities are diagonal or European-style angle parking and dividing lanes, he said.
The Market Street corridor in that immediate area will become a different place once Goodyear moves into its new headquarters, he said.
“So, yeah, we’ve been looking at a number of different ideas, concepts, designs to make that a more people- friendly, user-friendly, retail- friendly area,” he said. “We’ve offered some ideas, even some kind of wild ideas about how that might look if we’re really going to help redevelop that area. I think it’s important. It’s a landmark in Akron.”
While Lichter declined to name prospective tenants, he said he is talking with institutional users and others.
The overall concept is to create a work-play-live environment. “We will have retail here and we will have housing,” Smith said.
So far the project is on schedule, she said.
As work starts to revamp the headquarters building, workers also will be inside Goodyear Hall to build a “significant” housing component, apartments for working professionals, Lichter said.
IRG also is looking into the feasibility of putting a 40- to 50-room boutique hotel into Goodyear Hall, Lichter said.
“One of the attractions of the boutique hotel is, they could operate the [existing Goodyear Hall] theater for meetings and conventions, little concerts, things like that,” Lichter said.
“And with the mix of the gym and the theater and the racquetball courts, it’s a great amenity for housing.”
The retention of the theater and gymnasium means the space should remain available to such things as a major local charity ball, Lichter said.
The building lobbies will be designed as friendly places for people to hang out in, not as spaces for people simply to walk through, Lichter said.
The all-encompassing project has not received a formal name, Lichter said. When initial plans were unveiled in 2007, the East Akron redevelopment was going to be called Riverwalk for the Little Cuyahoga River, which runs through the site.
But the Riverwalk name probably won’t be used for the office complex, Lichter said.
Goodyear, Lichter, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and others announced the original $900 million headquarters and redevelopment plans in late 2007, with construction expected to start in 2008.
However, the Great Recession dried up private funding and led to a drastically revised timetable for the project.
Instead of building the headquarters first, Lichter, with the help of public financing, purchased the Goodyear campus and began updating the old buildings, with Goodyear leasing its former buildings from the developer.
Ground broke on the new headquarters in April 2011. Lichter has since repaid the interim public financing.
As for the giant landmark “On the Wings of Goodyear” sign that adorns the top of Goodyear Hall, Lichter and Goodyear said they continue to negotiate its future.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.