Plans for a new student housing and retail building fronting on East Exchange Street have now gotten bigger — and more expensive.
The cost of the project has more than doubled — topping $40 million — along with the number of buildings, going from one to two. The complex now calls for 578 beds, rather than the originally projected 400. And the project now encompasses an entire block, rather than just a section of Exchange.
Akron City Council approved plans Monday for the revised project on the block bordered by Exchange to the north, Allyn Street to the east, Torrey Street to the south, and Sumner Street to the west. The plans now involve a building with retail on the bottom and student housing on the top on Exchange with parking behind it and a second student-housing building with more parking on the bottom floor.
Council approved legislation Monday that will help facilitate this and two other projects that involve $265 million in new, privately funded construction, said Akron Councilman Jeff Fusco.
Council voted to:
• Vacate property for a portion of Locust Street, Pine Street, Pine Alley and West Buchtel, which was requested by Akron Children’s Hospital for its $200 million improvement and expansion project.
• Approve plans for the construction of a new $35 million transmission control facility by Ohio Edison Co. on the north side of Mull Avenue, east of White Pond Drive.
John Wheeler, an architect on the project, told council members the facility will control the flow of power and will be built out of thick, pre-cast walls that “can’t go down,” no matter how bad the weather. He said it will be able to withstand winds of up to 200 mph.
“It will take a beating and keep on working,” he said.
Scott Gross, who owns property in this West Akron area, expressed concern about the project, which is expected to create 100 to 150 high-tech jobs, generating more traffic on the already congested Mull Avenue.
Planning Director John Moore said the city’s traffic engineer is evaluating the project, and the plans moving forward will be subject to his approval and to any conditions he requires, such as adding a traffic light or a turn lane.
Council originally approved plans for the East Exchange Street student housing and retail project in June.
Kevin Fallon, vice president of development of Levey & Co., an Akron development company, said all of the parcels in this one block area are now under contract, though not all of them have closed.
“We look forward to the opportunity to turn around this section of Akron,” he said.
Rick Kirk, president of Hallmark Campus Communities in Columbus, which also is involved with the project, said most of the student housing will consist of four separate bedrooms, each with their own bathrooms and closets, clustered around a common space with a kitchen and living room.
Larry Levey, president of Levey & Co., said he can’t yet announce the retail establishments for the project. He said some are new to the market and will be a “huge amenity for the neighborhood.” He is hoping the project will be complete by August 2014.
Council also voted to expand the University Square “renewal area” to reflect the new boundaries of the student housing/retail project. The designation makes any development on the property eligible for tax-increment financing, or TIF.
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 — often to the municipality that bought property or made public improvements, like new streets and sidewalks, needed for the project.
“Renewal is needed for certain in this particular area,” Fusco said.
In other business, council approved plans to turn the former Navy-Marine Corps Reserve Center at 800 Dan St. into Akron’s new police training facility. Akron’s current police training facility is in the garage of the Cascade Park building, which has limited parking and the city is leasing.
Akron is seeking a federal grant to pay for the cost of renovating the building, which the military stripped clean when it was vacated. The federal government already is giving the city the 34,000-square-foot building and 3.1 acres of property on which it sits.
Police Chief James Nice said the city is studying other potential uses for this property, such as potentially having some larger vehicles stored there, like the crime-scene vans.