The University Park Alliance already had enough problems in the shape of unpaid bills and questions about its mission going forward. What its partners hoped to avoid were lawsuits, or the sort of thing that can entangle an organization looking to regain momentum. Unfortunately, the lawsuits have begun, a Cleveland fund-raising firm looking for payment and a Bath Township couple seeking the same for homes near the University of Akron that the alliance agreed to purchase.
More, Valley Savings Bank has put an “administrative hold” on the organization’s funds.
The actions are understandable. Many are jittery about what comes next. Consultants and others have performed work, and they want to get paid. At the same time, the alliance has started to sort through its financial obligations, making plain its commitment to keep its word while acting responsibly in the interests of its leading backer, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The trouble at the alliance has been rehashed, Eric Anthony Johnson, its executive director, departing in the spring after failing to prove forthcoming, leaving the alliance board and the Knight Foundation in the dark about key details. The foundation withdrew $7.8 million in funding, providing enough money to allow the alliance to devise a plan for moving ahead and seeking eventually to have the funding restored.
The failings of Johnson pointed to a larger problem. This ambitious project, remaking 50 blocks surrounding the university at the city’s core, depends on steady collaboration among the alliance benefactors and members, the three hospitals, the university, the city, the public schools and businesses, including this newspaper. If Johnson failed to communicate, so did others, to lesser and greater degrees. With that idea of working together in mind, it is disappointing to the see the lawsuits, and the bank action. Might these episodes, too, have benefited from more collaboration?
As things stand, the alliance must find a path to resolving matters with its creditors, especially the bigger players such as KUD International. The hope is, those at the forefront will recognize their own stake in making the project work, steering clear of allowing the project to flop, their reputations tarnished as a result.
Worth stressing at this point are the real accomplishments of the alliance. The master plan by EE&K Architects of New York balances well practicality and vision. The alliance has positioned itself to make good use of properties, adding an ability to act quickly and nimbly. Neighborhood groups have been mobilized, especially through local churches, residents eager to elevate the quality of their streets and lives.
Put another way, the concept has gained hold. People see the possibilities for the city.
The thinking isn’t that this should have been easy and swift. Other cities have struggled with plans so bold. What appeals is the payoff, whether in attracting talent to a fresh urban landscape or reviving the housing stock or deepening the collaboration required to address other difficult problems. Here is a chance to deliver something distinctive and defining about Akron, the University Park Alliance still an opportunity to seize.