More than two years ago, the city of Akron took over the task of attracting a new grocery store to Highland Square from Albrecht Inc., former owner of a cramped site at the corner of West Market Street and Portage Path. Soon, the city faced what seemed like insurmountable challenges, especially when it came to lining up private financing.
City planners persisted. Last year, a major breakthrough was achieved, a $3.8-million, low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In recent days, the final steps in the process got under way, the Planning Commission approving the sale of the site to the Highland Square Economic Development LLC, created by the city to be the developer of the new grocery store, and a site plan.
Next month, the City Council is expected to approve the purchase of a strip of land near the site from FirstMerit Bank and a development agreement between the city, Highland Square Development LLC and Mustard Seed Grocers, which will lease, then purchase the property, including a nearby building that houses a Chipotle restaurant.
The city had moved forward on other grocery projects, but the Highland Square situations was more difficult due to the size of the site. Original plans called for a 10,000-square-foot store, tiny by modern standards, making financing difficult and parking a challenge. In the end, Mayor Don Plusquellic deserves credit for asking Mustard Seed owner Phillip Nabors to think big, and Nabors deserves credit for delivering. The result will be a two-story, 23,000-square-foot grocery store and restaurant, in a style similar to the Highland Square library.
The new building will be a big asset for Highland Square, reflecting the city’s commitment to enhancing neighborhoods near the urban core. Studies have shown that access to fresh foods is key to attracting new residents. It is important, too, to note the broad impact of many neighborhood improvement projects on Akron as a whole, a strong central city vital to the fortunes of the entire region. There have been plenty of twists and turns in bringing a new grocery store to Highland Square. What has not wavered is the commitment to keeping Akron neighborhoods strong and vital.