Many Akron-area residents think the city would benefit from a new arena for University of Akron basketball and other events.
They disagree, however, on whether it should go on the UA campus or downtown. And they aren’t sure where the money should come from, although they do know they don’t want to pay for it.
These are the highlights of the feedback the Beacon Journal received from readers in response to an Ohio.com poll on the arena issue, Facebook discussion on the topic, and messages on Twitter and by email. The newspaper sought the input after publishing stories in Sunday’s edition about whether Akron needs a new facility to replace UA’s aging James A. Rhodes Arena to host the university’s successful basketball program, as well as concerts and other events.
The responses from readers echoed the debate that has been raging for at least 15 years among city, university and civic leaders about the need for an arena and how to make the idea move from talk to action.
“A downtown location near existing restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues is sure to create excitement throughout the entire region for the facility,” John Heiser of Stow said in an email. “Akron needs a year round community gathering place where people can go, be familiar, be comfortable and most of all prideful.”
On the other side of the issue, Johnnie Slayton of Akron said in a Facebook message that, “Anyone with any business sense knows that it is a money losing venture. If the university wants to lose their money fine, but in no way should the city contribute a dime in either capital or tax relief in this project. ... We can’t afford it.”
The Beacon Journal received nearly 900 responses to an unscientific poll on Ohio.com that was open for voting Sunday and Monday. The results showed:
■ Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Akron needs a new arena.
■ Respondents were nearly equally divided on whether an arena should go downtown or on the UA campus, with slightly more favoring a campus setting.
■ Seventy percent said they would not be willing to help pay for the cost of building a new arena, such as through a sales tax increase.
“I’m all for a new arena, but not if it involves raising taxes,” one Twitter respondent wrote. “I’m sure the administration can afford a pay freeze/cut.”
“NO new arena!” another Twitter respondent said. “Education should be UA’s top priority, not spending taxpayer money on a new arena. InfoCision stadium: waste of money.”
Others were more positive about the potential boon for Akron that could come with an arena.
“I myself will gladly pay a few tax dollars a year for it,” Tim Ripper Owens, the former lead singer of Judas Priest who lives in Akron, said in a Facebook message. “Downtown is 10 times better than when I worked in it 20 years ago. ... BUT. Will it get used enough?”
Jason McCormick Muhammad of Akron said in a Facebook message that Canton has better events than Akron — he listed WWE (professional wrestling) and the Harlem Globetrotters — even though Akron is a bigger city. He said he thinks a new arena should go downtown.
Pam Miller, an Akron native, wondered where people would stay if Akron got an arena downtown, with the lack of a new, high-quality hotel.
Two new hotels are proposed for downtown, and the owner of the Akron City Centre Hotel, the city’s aging downtown facility, is hoping to assemble the funds needed to renovate it.
“What hotels are close to the venue they are wanting?” she asked on Facebook. “Fairlawn isn’t close. Canton isn’t either. Where r u putting the people who come?”
Numerous Facebook commenters were united on one issue: The JAR isn’t up to par. One called the arena “nasty.” Another said it “stinks.”
A few readers had some off-the-wall ideas for solving the arena dilemma.
Guy Connors of Medina said that with Cleveland State University losing $1 million a year on the Wolstein Center — hurt by competition from the nearby Quicken Loans Arena — CSU could give its arena to Akron, and Akron could tear it down piece by piece, move it to downtown and reassemble it across from the Canal Park baseball stadium, where city officials have said they would like to put an arena.
“If reasonably priced, wouldn’t this be a great solution for CSU, University of Akron and the city of Akron?” he asked.
Dan Stefancik suggested on Facebook that Akron build a combined arena and hotel downtown and provide packages with prime seating and lodging. He said the arena could offer niche trade, arts and product shows with hospitality suites in the hotel, as well as other events to appeal to different crowds, like mixed martial arts and indoor volleyball tournaments. He suggested a design competition among local architecture and design schools.
“C’mon Akron ... Think creatively and cooperatively about this concept!” he urged.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.