In 2013, the city of Akron took out a loan from FirstMerit Corp. to pay to spruce up downtown Akron’s Cascade Plaza outside FirstMerit headquarters.
City Council approved issuing a note or bond for up to $6 million for the project, which ended up costing $4.2 million. In exchange for the city upgrading the aging plaza, which was “outdated and worn,” FirstMerit pledged to add up to 150 new full-time jobs by 2018, according to the original agreement. The bank also agreed to retain 1,150 employees within the city until 2018.
The upgrade included more green space and lowering a 4-foot wall that obstructed the view of the plaza from South Main Street.
With the sale announced this week of FirstMerit to Columbus-based Huntington Bancshares, the question has been raised whether the 150 new employees were added. Huntington officials have said as part of the acquisition, there will be some layoffs within FirstMerit and have pledged to return employment within the city of Akron to 1,200 — the current number — within two years.
FirstMerit officials are not talking, though this week via Huntington officials confirmed that the bank did indeed add the 150 jobs.
FirstMerit “affirms it has fulfilled its 2013 promise to add 150 new full-time jobs within the city,” Huntington spokesman Brent Wilder said.
The city of Akron, however, cannot confirm whether the jobs were added.
When asked whether the city could confirm that FirstMerit lived up to its bargain in the 150 jobs, city spokeswoman Christine Curry said the city does not have accurate employment data for FirstMerit. She referred all questions about employment back to FirstMerit and said city officials were seeking additional answers Friday at the request of a reporter. The city provided the original 2013 legislation and officials said additional documents may be released, in response to a public records request seeking confirmation of the 150 jobs.
There also seems to be a question about FirstMerit’s employment numbers in the city in 2013 when the city legislation was passed.
According to a city news release in April 2013, when FirstMerit was announcing its own acquisition to buy Citizens Republic Bancorp of Flint, Mich., then-Mayor Don Plusquellic said he was pleased that FirstMerit would keep its headquarters in downtown Akron. Plusquellic said as an incentive to keep FirstMerit in Akron, the city would improve Cascade Plaza to keep FirstMerit’s “approximately 2,000 full-time Akron jobs.”
It appears the 2,000 number may have been a misstatement, or that the 2,000 may have been FirstMerit’s employee count for all of Summit County — not specifically Akron.
FirstMerit officials have long declined to be specific about the exact number of employees at its downtown headquarters.
However, in a Beacon Journal story in February 2014 regarding the county’s largest employers, FirstMerit spokesman Rob Townsend confirmed it had approximately 2,000 employees in all of Summit County in both 2012 and 2013.
This week, Huntington and FirstMerit officials have said the total number of FirstMerit employees working within the city of Akron — at the downtown headquarters, an operations center off the Innerbelt and at branches — is currently at 1,200. Other media have been reporting the Akron employment number at 2,000 and citing the city.
Curry said the city does not maintain FirstMerit employment numbers.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty