A year ago, Neighborhood Development Services stepped up to save the Lake Theater, a historical movie house on West Tuscarawas Avenue closed by its previous owner.
Now the nonprofit community development corporation is working on three new downtown investments, all with the aim of turning the city center into an arts and entertainment hub.
Later this month, NDS will open a coffeehouse and art gallery just east of the theater.
In the former East of Chicago pizza restaurant that closed last year, the new Kave Coffee Bar will offer free Wi-Fi, a conference room, a niche for musical acts and two window bays that roll up to take advantage of good-weather days.
It will share space with Nine Muses Gallery, which will feature the work of local and Ohio artists on a two-month rotation. The first artists reception is planned for June 27.
Also under renovation is the old Goodrich tire store to the west of the theater, which NDS will lease out as an art studio and gallery. A prospective tenant is in mind, with a summer move-in date.
The coffee bar, gallery and art studio renovations are costing NDS $1.2 million.
And once the Summit County Health Department moves from its three-story building cater-cornered to the theater, NDS is in line to purchase the property and sink up to $400,000 into renovating it for another gallery and space for community and public-school art classes.
“We’ll have teachers offering specialties, like photography or woodworking,” said community arts director Emily Speelman, who will be curator for the Nine Muses Gallery.
The additions to Barberton’s downtown will build on a theme that already is supported by a pair of existing photo studios, a quaint bookstore and craft and antique stores, NDS Executive Director Dave Vaughan said.
Mayor William Judge said the city would like to see all of downtown designated an arts and entertainment district, a distinction that would allow for more liquor licenses in the hopes of attracting additional restaurants.
“We want people to think of downtown Barberton and ‘arts and entertainment’ in the same breath, the way someone equates Holmes County with the Amish,” Judge said.
In addition to brick-and-mortar businesses, he envisions regular summer activities, such as weekly street fairs and events that feature music, dance and art.
There also could be significant changes to downtown’s physical look, Judge said.
The city is studying the costs involved with eliminating parking on the south side of Tuscarawas so the sidewalk can be extended to make room for outdoor cafes. When Kave Coffee Bar opens, there will be three restaurants on the south side of the street that could take advantage, he said.
While Barberton is viewed as a blue-collar town once known for its many factories, Vaughan said he is confident the community and region will support an arts center in the pedestrian-friendly downtown with its preserved century buildings just a block from scenic Lake Anna.
“Barberton is between Canton and Akron, which have big arts communities,” he said. “Is it a risk? Yes, but that’s what a community development corporation does.”
NDS, which opened a branch in Barberton five years ago, serves many Northeast Ohio communities.
“But no place are residents more dedicated to a town than Barberton,” Vaughan said. “It’s a tremendous town.”
Among its downtown office, Lake Theater and the new coffee bar and gallery, NDS will employ more than 30 people in Barberton.