A significant redo of a key downtown Akron plaza will require the precision of a surgeon.
Cascade Plaza, in addition to being a gateway to several downtown buildings, also provides the roof to a parking deck below.
That makes the city’s multi-million-dollar plan to refurbish and modernize the plaza more complicated.
“They will have to be like a surgeon to demo the top layer of the plaza,” said Brad Beckert, Akron’s development engineering manager. “This affects the roof of the parking deck.”
Akron City Council voted Monday to move forward with the project, which is being done as part of a package to keep FirstMerit Corp. from leaving downtown Akron. The bank was being wooed by other states, including Michigan, that were hoping it would relocate.
The plaza, several decades old, sits off South Main Street, in front of the downtown office building where FirstMerit’s headquarters is located. It provides the roof to an underground, five-level parking deck.
FirstMerit will provide the city with the financing for its project. Council approved issuing a note or bond for up to $6 million for the project. A preliminary estimate for the plaza project puts the cost at $3.3 million. A development agreement includes a cap on the city’s cost at $4.2 million, with FirstMerit potentially picking up any additional cost above that or changes potentially being made to the plans.
The city also plans to spend about $1.3 million on new LED lighting in the parking garage, an improvement that already has been made to part of the deck, according to a development agreement for the project.
The financing will initially involve a note to cover the construction costs, with a 20-year bond issued after the work is complete to pay off the project. The interest rate on the bond will depend on the rate at the time the bond is issued, said Diane Miller-Dawson, the city’s finance director.
FirstMerit has pledged to create 150 new full-time jobs, as well as retain its current workforce in Akron. The company completed a merger in April with Citizens Republic Bancorp of Michigan, which doubled its size, adding branches in Wisconsin and Michigan to its operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
The bank employs about 2,000 in its downtown headquarters. That includes workers in the FirstMerit Tower on Main Street; Cascade III, an adjacent building; and an operations center near the Akron Innerbelt, according to FirstMerit spokesman Rob Townsend.
The city will provide FirstMerit with a Job Creation Incentive in the form of income tax credits. The money will go toward the cost of relocation, expansion and new employee training.
The company will receive a grant equal to 1 percent of its income taxes for the new jobs it creates each year for the next five years, Beckert said.
Planning Director John Moore said the plaza project will involve ripping off the concrete plaza, resealing the deck underneath and converting the plaza to green space, including adding plantings, benches and tables. A wall will be taken down so the plaza can be seen from Main Street.
“It should be a significant improvement,” Moore said of the work, which is expected to be completed by next summer.
Kenmore Construction of Akron is the contractor for the project, and GPD Group of Akron is the designer.
Councilman Bob Hoch asked during a committee meeting Monday how long the new plaza is expected to last.
Beckert said the existing plaza lasted 35 years. He said the life of the new plaza will depend on the concrete.
“I would say 30 years is good,” he said.
FirstMerit also is making improvements to its facilities. Beckert said the company plans to invest $5 million in updates to its Akron buildings and $11.3 million in software and system upgrades.
In other business, council voted 11-1-2 to approve a resolution supporting four issues on the Nov. 5 ballot — three for levy renewals for local agencies and one for a proposal allowing the city to donate its downtown steam plant to Akron Children’s Hospital. Councilman Bruce Kilby voted no, while council members Mike Freeman and Linda Omobien abstained because of conflicts of interest involving associations with an agency with an issue on the ballot.
Kilby, who opposed the steam plant proposal, pushed for the resolutions to be separated, but didn’t gain enough support.
The Akron Zoo, Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADM) Board, and Metro Parks, Serving Summit County have renewal levies on the November ballot.
“Our message to residents is that there are three tax issues and our issue,” said Mayor Don Plusquellic. “All are important to the future of the city.”