Retired Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth is credited with many of the improvements to downtown Akron in the past 10 years, but he said Wednesday there’s one thing still lacking: a quality hotel.
Lieberth told an audience at the Akron Press Club the city has distinguished guests stay at the Sheraton in Cuyahoga Falls or the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn in Fairlawn.
“We are now the largest city in the United States without a decent downtown hotel,” he said during his luncheon speech, titled Indiana Jones and the Temple of Local Government.
Lieberth, who retired in December after a decade as Akron’s deputy mayor/chief of staff, said establishing a quality downtown hotel is the city’s No. 1 priority, but the challenge is the inability to secure financing. He said it would cost about $6 million to make the needed improvements at the aging Akron City Centre Hotel, a former Radisson that is downtown, or $12 million to build a new hotel. He said several sites have been discussed for a new location, but none of the developers has been able to get the financial backing needed to make them a reality.
“The mayor and his team are constantly working on the issue of how to find a first-rate hotel for downtown,” he said.
Lieberth used his remarks at the press club to reflect on his career, what it was like working 50 feet from Mayor Don Plusquellic, the role of mayors in making policy and whether he’ll seek office. He also highlighted his concerns about the anonymous comments permitted on the Beacon Journal’s website, Ohio.com.
Lieberth said his aversion to the comments began in 2007, when the Beacon Journal wrote a story about his daughter, Emma, who was working for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. He said the comments were hateful and very personal, and he was so disgusted he stopped reading them. He continued, however, to hear complaints about the comments when they involved personal attacks against Plusquellic.
Lieberth challenged the editors of the Beacon Journal, which has been involved in a project promoting civility for the past year, to stop allowing those who comment on its website to be anonymous. Other newspapers have done this, taking steps like linking comments to Facebook, which requires people to use their real names before making a comment.
“Those anonymous comments on Ohio.com have as much to do with free speech as pornography has to do with the First Amendment,” Lieberth said.
Lieberth said the newspaper will have “zero credibility” on the issue of civility until the “hate-mongering, anonymous comments” are removed.
Beacon Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger said the newspaper also is concerned about the comments, but must balance this with the desire to provide a forum for readers to discuss stories. He said the newspaper has taken steps to address this issue, including making it so that the comments don’t automatically appear at the end of a story and require an extra click to access them, being aggressive in banning people who make inappropriate remarks and not allowing comments on stories expected to draw offensive remarks.
“We are looking at other things right now — to figure out how to limit bad behavior,” Oplinger said.
Lieberth also used his talk to tip his hat to the important work of cities — not just Akron, but those across the country. He said federal government in Washington, D.C., gets more attention, but “city hall’s where the action is.” He pointed to mayors who have been leaders on policy, including Michael Bloomberg in New York on gun control, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago on education past high school and Plusquellic on Joint Economic Development Districts (JEDDs) that allow tax sharing among municipalities and townships.
He said mayors also are less partisan than office holders at the state and national levels because “there’s no Democrat way or Republican way to fill a pothole.”
Lieberth answered questions from the audience after his remarks, including whether he’s enjoying his retirement. He said he’s still up at 4:30 a.m., but his days no longer are as tumultuous as they were in the mayor’s office. He’s working on writing a book about what Akron has done in the past 20 years.
Lieberth said he thinks Plusquellic’s biggest strength is the stability he brings to the office, while his biggest weakness is the fact he doesn’t necessarily have the fresh ideas of a new mayor. He said Plusquellic pledged when he began his historic seventh term to go into office as if he were new to the job.
“That won’t be a problem,” Lieberth said. “He’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met.”
Lieberth said he thinks the community needs to nurture and encourage quality people to seek public office. He said he is concerned there aren’t better people on the school board, city council and state Legislature.
“I look at some of the resumes of some of the people who are there now and I shake my head, wondering, ‘How did they ever get there?’ ” he said.
Asked if he’d ever consider running for office, Lieberth just laughed.
“The only thing I’m running for is the county line,” he said, drawing chuckles from the audience.