The number of people living in downtown Akron tripled in the past five years — to 3,600 — and new services are needed to serve them, Suzie Graham, president of Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) said Thursday.
Graham said during an Akron Press Club luncheon that a trolley constantly running through downtown would help residents and visitors get around downtown with more ease. She said downtown also could benefit from a bike-share program and a “way-finding system” that better directs people to restaurants and other attractions.
“This could really help change the dynamic in downtown,” Graham told an audience of about 50 at Quaker Station.
Graham, an Akron native who formerly worked for the city, has headed up DAP since 2011. Downtown Akron Partnership, started in 1995, is a nonprofit organization that promotes downtown and is funded through assessments paid by downtown businesses. DAP is currently circulating a petition to the businesses to renew assessments that keep the agency running.
Graham talked about the services DAP provides, the activities the agency supports and its plans for the future.
DAP has one part-time and six full-time employees and nine ambassadors whose jobs include collecting trash, removing graffiti, pulling weeds and power washing. Graham said the ambassadors collected 43,000 bags of trash, removed 1,200 graffiti tags and did 500 hours of power washing in 2012. The ambassadors also provide safety escorts and parking assistance.
DAP is in the middle of doing a survey — which can be completed at www.downtownakron.com/ — to gather people’s thoughts on downtown. She said the things the agency hears the most are that downtown isn’t safe and there isn’t much going on. She begs to differ, though, on both counts, and points to a listing of events on the agency’s website.
“There is plenty to do in downtown,” she said.
Graham said people in Cleveland suggest going to Akron for the family-friendly activities at First Night that their city lacks.
Graham said Akron’s music scene will soon get a boost with a new jazz club, Jilly’s Music Room, opening in the former Northside space, and Akron developer Tony Troppe planning a music nightclub called Blue.
Graham’s wish list for the future includes:
• Asking Akron City Council to adopt legislation to curtail panhandling downtown. Graham hopes council will consider legislation modeled after restrictions recently adopted by Summit County that would prohibit people from begging at intersections in the central city.
• Hiring a social services ambassador, who would work with the homeless to try to get them the help that they need.
• Better promoting downtown as a destination for towpath users, much like Peninsula.
• A redesign of Downtown Akron Partnership’s website. Graham called the current site “a bit weighty.”
During a question-and-answer session, an audience member asked Graham why she “hates food trucks.” Graham, a member of an Akron council-appointed committee currently studying whether food trucks should be permitted in the city, said she doesn’t hate food trucks, but does have concerns about the negative impact they could have on bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
“What I do think is important is a balance in downtown,” she said. “Main Street is not the best place. There are most likely great places where we could do food-truck events.”
Another attendee asked how Akron can avoid being labeled “a college town” when many of the new downtown residents are University of Akron students living in new student-centered private housing.
Graham said DAP is working with the city on trying to attract housing that caters to an older demographic but is still market rate. She said downtown also offers activities, like the Civic Theatre, Akron Art Museum and soon-to-open music clubs, that appeal to a more mature crowd.
“It is a difficult dynamic,” she said. “We will continue to work to promote a balance and a safe environment.”
Graham asked UA President Luis Proenza, who was in the audience, if he had anything to add and he responded, “That is exactly our plan.”