A project as ambitious as the University Park Alliance will encounter bumps, detours and other assorted obstacles. Thus, it makes all the difference having a steady, reliable partner who shares the vision — transforming 50 blocks at the core of the city, surrounding the University of Akron. Count the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as that invaluable presence.
On Tuesday, the foundation awarded the alliance an additional $7.8 million. One part comes in the form of a $6 million grant to continue working with residents, businesses and institutions. The other element is a $1.8 million loan to support the redevelopment of University Square, a centerpiece of the project, along East Exchange and Brown streets, providing shopping and housing for residents and UA students.
That’s $18 million in all for the alliance from the foundation the past decade, the project gaining true momentum when Eric Anthony Johnson arrived as executive director two years ago. Under Johnson, the alliance has operated as something of a start-up, gathering talent, developing plans and launching the execution.
As with any start-up, the flow of money is key, the foundation stepping up to ensure the alliance has a solid chance to show results. The work won’t be finished in a year or 10. What is required is progress, and if the alliance is going to keep advancing, it must succeed in getting residents to take ownership of the challenge. More, the leading stakeholders, the university, hospitals, city and public schools, must fulfill their pledges to collaborate.
What Anthony and the foundation see is something defining and distinctive about Akron, or just what a city in transition needs.