As contractors have begun chipping away at the old Erie warehouse in downtown Akron, railroad enthusiast Fred Stuckmann has been there, snapping pictures of the process.
The building was once a freight house for the Erie Railroad and Erie Lackawanna Railroad, and Stuckmann worked as a freight conductor for the railroad in the 1960s through the 1980s.
When Stuckmann heard the building would be torn down to make way for new student housing, he got permission to take pictures of the inside of the facility at East Exchange Street and South Broadway, and returned this week to chronicle its dismantling.
“I got to go inside this before it was put to sleep — to look at what I supported all those years when I was putting cars in front of it,” Stuckmann said on a recent morning, in between taking pictures he plans to post on his page at the railroad aficionado website http://rrpicturearchives.net.
Stuckmann, though, isn’t particularly sentimental about the building, which in more recent years the Beacon Journal has used to store giant rolls of paper. When he saw the inside, he said he came to the conclusion it was beyond saving.
“I’d like to see it not be destroyed, but I realize you can’t stop progress,” said Stuckmann, 65, of Akron, who retired in 2011 after a second career working for Akron Public Schools.
Erie Railroad began construction on the freight house about 1916 during the heyday of railroads. At its peak, the complex had a clerical staff of nearly 30 and a dock force of 150. Originally there were two parallel platforms.
The developer behind the new $20 million student housing project, which has been dubbed The Depot as an homage to the site’s rail history and close proximity to CSX railroad tracks, is excited about the project and all of the development going on around it in downtown and at the University of Akron a few blocks away.
“We’re at the confluence of that,” said Aaron Pechota, vice president of the NRP Group, a development company based in Garfield Heights.
Across from the site, the former Board of Realtors building is being torn down to make way for a parking lot that will service 401 Lofts, another student housing building, at Cedar and Main streets that is expected to be finished by the end of the summer. Up a block on Exchange Street, the Printer’s Club recently was purchased, with the new owner planning to turn it into a convenience store and coffee shop.
“We’re thrilled to have that,” Pechota said of the planned nearby store.
The Beacon Journal sold the 3.4-acre Erie warehouse property to the NRP Group, which created Exchange LLC for the project. Officials for the newspaper and the developer declined to disclose the purchase price, saying it was a transaction between private entities. A city official familiar with the project pegged the sale price at about $3 million. The Beacon Journal bought the property in 1967 for more than $200,000.
The city was involved with the sale because it is in the process of granting Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, for the project. A TIF deal freezes the value of the land before any improvements are made. Taxes are paid as if the land had never been developed. Additional money collected for the increased value of the land goes for a specified time to the project instead.
Mark Moore, the city’s strategic initiatives division manager, said the TIF on The Depot project would be for 30 years and is expected to raise about $19 million during that time, with the money split between the developer and the city.
The Akron City Council will vote Monday on the TIF.
The Depot is among four private student-housing developments Akron approved that will provide off-campus housing for nearly 2,000 students. The others: 22 Exchange, which has been accepting tenants since fall 2009; 401 Lofts is expected to open in August; and University Edge, is under way closer to the UA campus, taking up a block on the south side of Exchange between Allyn and Sumner streets.
Moratorium on requests
After approving plans for The Depot, the council in April adopted a 120-day moratorium on tax incentives or rezoning requests for student housing to give the city time to study the overall student-housing situation.
Still, city leaders say they think The Depot will be a good addition to downtown.
“It will complement 22 Exchange and all the development on South Main Street,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee and co-sponsored the moratorium. “There is so much activity when you drive by there — you see so many students and so much energy. It’s a real positive, I think.”
NRP Group, which conducted research before pursuing The Depot property, remains convinced there is a market for more student housing. Pechota, though, said it’s prudent of the city to examine the need for future development.
Pechota expects the four-story Depot to include amenities that will set it apart from its competition when it opens in August 2014, which is also when University Edge is expected to be completed. One feature the 624-bed Depot will have that the others won’t is a 312-space, five-story parking deck that will be attached to the building. It also will have an outdoor amphitheater, a heated, saltwater pool and a tiki bar-style seating area.
Before any of that can happen, though, the Erie warehouse must be razed, a process expected to last into next week. Contractors plan to save a few features from the old facility to incorporate into the new building. Those will include ornate brackets that once supported a wooden awning that will become part of the mantel on an indoor fireplace and four tile E’s surrounded by a diamond shape (an Erie Railroad symbol) that will be reused in the courtyard.
“Anything with some architectural significance, we tried to grab,” Pechota said.
Stuckmann is pleased to see the effort to preserve part of the history.
“Some college kids in 2020 may look at that and say, ‘What’s the E stand for?’ ” he said, smiling as he prepared to snap another picture.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.