The announcement of a proposed new arena in downtown Akron leaves the city with possibilities and challenges.
The arena would be a new draw for downtown, helping enhance the central entertainment district that already is home to Canal Park stadium, Lock 3 and the Akron Civic Theatre.
But, the 8,500-seat arena also would be built in place of several existing parking lots, raising the question of whether enough parking would be left to serve the arena, stadium and other attractions. Plus, the city’s charge with the arena project is to acquire the privately held properties in the footprint of where the facility would be built. And, sitting beside the proposed arena site is the Mayflower, a former hotel turned apartment building that the city has expressed interest in acquiring and redeveloping.
“We have a number of things we have to look at,” said Planning Director Marco Sommerville.
The University of Akron’s Board of Trustees Wednesday approved an initial plan for a $76 million arena that would be built across from Canal Park Stadium. The arena would be paid for with a 0.25-percent, permanent sales tax increase that Summit County plans to put before voters in the November election. The tax also would help to pay for other county expenses, including jail and dispatch improvements.
The arena would house the University of Akron’s basketball program, other sporting events and such events as concerts. The university would be responsible financially if the arena lost money — up to a certain amount that still needs hammered out — and would benefit if it turned a profit.
The arena is a joint venture of UA, Summit County, the city, and the Development Finance Authority of Summit County, formerly the Summit County Port Authority.
The idea for an arena has been kicked around for two decades, with indecision about whether to put it on campus or downtown and a lack of funding hampering the process.
“This is a very exciting time for downtown,” Sommerville said. “This can do nothing but strengthen downtown and make Akron the type of city we want it to be.”
Sommerville said his staff is busy looking into several issues created by the arena proposal, including:
• Parking: A parking survey will be done to determine what parking would be available to service the arena and other attractions and whether more would be needed. “People coming downtown have to got to have some place to park,” Sommerville said.
• Property: The city’s main contribution to the arena project is securing all of the property in the two-block area roughly bordered by Main, Spring and High streets. The city already owns three parcels, while UA has rights to four. The rest, however, are privately owned.
Sommerville said he’s not sure how much the property will cost and hasn’t yet talked to any of the property owners. He said the city will try to reach an agreement with the property owners and, if this isn’t possible, will “look at legal options and exercise those.”
Akron City Council would need to approve any property purchases.
Sommerville said the buildings next to the Mayflower would be torn down to make way for the arena, and Buchtel Avenue, which crosses through the arena site, would be vacated.
• Mayflower: Akron announced plans a year ago to acquire the Mayflower, which currently is home to about 350 low-income, elderly and disabled residents, relocate the residents and renovate the building. The city planned to pursue a federal grant to help pay for the cost.
Sommerville said the arena proposal put a “new wrinkle” in the plans for the Mayflower. He said the city, which has been meeting with the Mayflower’s owner and potential developers, will explore various options for the site. He said the primary goal will be to make sure the Mayflower residents have a “nice, decent, safe and sanitary facility to live.”
Sommerville said he isn’t sure about a timeline for a decision on the Mayflower.
This leaves the building’s residents, who have been concerned about having to find a new place to live, in limbo.
Marilyn Babo, who heads the Mayflower’s tenant association, said Thursday that she hadn’t heard about the arena plans. She said she had heard that Akron hadn’t gotten federal funds to acquire the building, but that there was continued interest in the building.
Babo said she’s been at the Mayflower for 18 years and there’s been interest in the building that whole time. She said she’s waiting for someone to tell her something definitive has been decided and that she has to move.
“We’re still standing,” she said of the Mayflower. “We’re still here.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.