Nancy Molnar

CANTON: Within blocks of the Canton Arts District sit tired-looking stores and houses surrounded by weed-choked lots.

But with the arts district transforming several blocks of the city, other areas downtown are showing their own signs of rebirth.

Creative businesses have sprouted east of Market Avenue, outside the official boundaries of the arts district. Walnut Avenue has a furniture gallery, fashion design studio and a deli featuring foods from Ohio. They are within walking distance of a construction company that relocated from the outskirts of town.

Developers working on two long-vacant landmark downtown properties say the success of the arts district has created momentum that boosts their chances for success.

“Obviously, the arts district has really become a primary draw downtown, for people who are looking to be entertained and stimulated and to get a sense of what urban renewal looks and feels like,” said Robert Timken, managing director of Cormony Development, who plans to turn the vacant Hercules Engine Co. factory on downtown’s south side into apartments and retail space.

“One, I think the arts district as much as anything has given people a realistic belief that you can live downtown,” said Timken, whose great-great-grandfather invented the tapered roller bearing. “With the creation and success of the district, you’ve now begun to see residential development in the district and in the immediate proximity. Absolutely, it helps me a lot.”

“There’s no such thing as a bad corner in downtown Canton anymore,” said Steve Coon, whose Coon Restoration & Sealants would perform the restoration work on Hercules. “There will be more downtown redevelopment done in the next 10 years than in suburbs.

“This is where it’s at. We’ve got energy downtown. There’s no energy in the suburbs, period.”

Coon plans to bring 90 families downtown in the next 1˝ years as he redevelops the Hotel Onesto and Bliss Tower into apartments with an adjacent parking garage.

Coon describes himself as a follower of urban studies theorist Richard Florida, who holds that the presence of the “creative class” spurs economic development.

Timken and Coon met for lunch recently at the Asian bistro Basil, located on the edge of the Arts District’s official boundary at Market Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest.

Basil owner Anthony Ly is remodeling a former group home on residential Harvard Avenue Northwest. He plans to move his family there from North Canton. If he does, he’ll live a mile from work.

After working in the city and getting to know its people, he said, “This is the only place I want to be.”

Michael Gill, director of the Canton Development Partnership, a department of the chamber, said more will join Ly in choosing to live in and near downtown’s vibrant arts scene. He sees a demand from young professionals who have returned home after studying or working in cities where became accustomed to parking on the street and shopping at farmers markets.

The arts’ flourishing has “been absolutely wonderful for downtown,” said Gill, a former banker. “No. 1, it has created a new energy, and No. 2, it has used up some of the buildings that really have sat there vacant.

“Everybody’s looking for a model that really works, and I think at least for us for the last 10 years this model has really worked and, hopefully, over the next 10 years we can take it to the next level.”

Nancy Molnar can be reached at nancymolnar2002@yahoo.com.