CUYAHOGA FALLS: Bicentennial festivities, the Portage Crossing development and a dam removal project that could inspire new river attractions are among the reasons 2012 is going to be a big year for the city, Mayor Don Robart said.
“As I look at 2012, I don’t think you’re going to find a city with more going on than in Cuyahoga Falls,” said the man who has been at the helm since 1986.
A milestone committee has been busy planning activities for every month of the year, from the Frozen River Festival last week to year-end holiday celebrations.
Many other plans on the city’s drawing board will last long after the birthday candles are blown out.
Here are some significant changes in store for 2012:
Some residents have been skeptical about the progress of Portage Crossing, a proposed 500,000-square-foot retail center that has met with delays and is now supposed to break ground this spring on the site of the former State Road Shopping Center.
“I’ve never lost sleep” over the matter, said Robart, who added he’s in contact with developer Stark Enterprises “almost daily” and knows the progress being made.
“We are one big-box lease away from the domino effect and everything falling into place,” he said. To date, 15 as-yet-unidentified stores have signed commitments, including an anchor grocery store. Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing with that final “big box” piece of the puzzle.
“We are this close,” Robart said, pinching to within an inch.
Meanwhile, the $9 million Watermark project — a four-story senior housing complex on Front Street — is almost done, Robart said, and many of the condo and apartment units have been leased.
The city’s charter is more unusual than most in that it requires the city set aside 30 percent of annual revenue for use on capital projects.
Robart said he supports that caveat because when times get tough, the city is forced to find ways of cutting back without allowing roads, safety equipment and other needs to suffer.
This year, the city will spend about $1.2 million on a variety of road projects.
One project on Robart’s wish list, however, needs a funding source. The city wants to reopen a portion of Main Street that was closed years ago to make more room for a now-defunct Dairy Mart.
Because Main Street stops short of taking its traffic to Howe Avenue, cars flow onto Newberry Street. That creates a lot of congestion because motorists cross paths with trucks using the loading docks at Schwebel Baking Co.
The city would love to work with Schwebel to restore Main Street and reduce traffic on Newberry, Robart said, though a grant would be needed to help pay for the work.
This summer, two dams that have regulated the flow of the Cuyahoga River will be removed, returning the river to a natural state not seen in two centuries.
The move not only will improve the habitat for plants and wildlife, but also will create new recreational opportunities, including Class 4 and 5 rapids for kayakers and better water quality for fishing and swimming, officials say.
“It opens so many opportunities for the city to redirect its focus on the river,” Robart said.
At two city-owned amenities — the Natatorium and Brookledge Golf Club — it should be business as usual. But the city will work harder this year to market its 2-year-old Center for Functional Fitness, a special program operated in the former municipal court space at City Hall.
The center is geared toward baby boomers who want to stay active and keep the nursing home at bay, Robart said.
Membership stands at about 150, “but our goal is 500 members,” Robart said. “We’ll work harder at getting the word out this year.”
The city has been in discussions about merging its dispatch center with one operated by Summit County. Those talks could bear fruit this year, Robart said.
Meanwhile, Robart hopes 2012 will help reinforce Cuyahoga Falls’ growing reputation as “Ticket City.”
The mayor said he encouraged new police Chief Tom Pozza to crack down on speeders and was happy to see traffic ticket revenue climb 34 percent last year.
Robart wants to see even more.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say the revenue wasn’t nice,” Robart said, “but it’s mostly about safety.”
A city that is aggressive about handing out traffic tickets suggests a city that is tough on overall crime, he said.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.