The Akron City Council advanced plans Monday to help private developers fill two empty downtown buildings and lease 8.4 acres at the airport for a truck-driving school.

The elected body’s busy planning committee also put the brakes on a rewrite of zoning rules that would shrink the number of parking lots required for future housing developments, nearly eliminating them in some cases.

The committee gave a nod to the sale of CitiCenter, 146 S. High St., for $2.8 million to Weston Inc. The Cleveland-based developer, which would get a 15-year property tax break on residential improvements, plans to put 60 apartments in the old YWCA building and lease 20,000 square feet in the lower two floors back to the city for an employees' credit union and municipal staff dislocated by the development.

Weston Director of Development Kurt Updegraff said the building’s central location and physical connection to City Hall is “a big sales point for” future tenants. Apartments are set from 600 to 1,000 square feet with parking in an attached city deck.

With one to three years before financing is secured, Updegraff said it’s too early to set rental rates. “We’ll determine that when the market study is completed. I can’t really tell you that right now.”

The council also gave an initial nod to buy and sell the old Carlton Building at 201 S. Main St. across from Lock 3 Park.

The short office building, in a block with seven others poised for redevelopment, needs a new heating and cooling system, electrical wiring and plumbing before its new owners, PEG Entertainment, can move in. First, though, the city will buy the property for $1 from JMS Place Limited and then sell it for a buck to Pritt Properties.

Public ownership, even for a few seconds, allows the city to offer a 30-year property tax rebate on the improvements, which a developer might not undertake without the public incentive.

Ryan Pritt, who co-founded PEG with his brother five years ago, said his eight full-time employees will move when the work is done from the corner of Exchange and Main streets into the second floor of the 118-year-old Carlton Building, named for Carlton Clothes, a clothing store that was once housed there.

Pritt, who volunteered on a steering committee for the city’s downtown redevelopment plan, has Groundswell Development Inc., which also redeveloped Lock 4, to oversee the development project.

“As we’ve grown and continue to grow and work with clients all over the county,” Pritt said of his graphics and video production firm, “we really want to put our roots here in Akron.” The repurposing of the Carlton Building’s first floor for retail or other business use would be ”an asset to the community,” he added.

Council has scheduled a final vote on the CitiCenter and PEG deals for Nov. 26.

Trucking

Stark State President Para Jones successfully lobbied the council to swiftly approve the lease of 8.4 acres for $21,000 annually at the city-owned Akron Executive Airport, formerly Akron Fulton International Airport.

In a modular classroom and on a built-to-suit track, the two-year college hopes to put 100 students through a first-in-the-county seven-week truck-driving school for in-demand CDL's (or commercial driver's licenses). James Hardy, chief of staff to the mayor, said the redevelopment in an industrial corner of Akron will allow students to take rigs out on the road without rattling residential areas.

The truck-driving school, which has received $350,000 in state support, is projected to open early next year. Jones said she needed immediate approval of the city lease so she could apply quickly to the Federal Aviation Administration, which takes applications in six-month cycles for new land use at airports.

Jones is also asking the state to fill a revolving fund that the college would manage to disburse loans and grants for students. Populations under-represented in the trucking industry, including women, would be able to earn a CDL at a fraction of the cost or for free, Jones said. Instead of signing bonuses for new hires, companies would replenish the fund with each student they employ.

“This is not new. Other community colleges in Ohio are using it for their CDL programs,” Jones said, noting that the state, recognizing traditional Pell Grants fall short, expanded funding for CDL students earlier this year.

Parking pause

Lastly, the council took a week to consider the administration’s proposal to reduce off-street parking requirements for new residential housing units.

The city has approved several variances in the past two years, allowing developers of multi-unit housing to offer less than the 1.5 parking spaces per unit required under current law. The rewrite would shrink that to 1 space per unit.

Originally presented weeks ago, the zoning code rewrite is designed to align building standards with what city planners believe will be a more walkable, bikeable future in a city with more residents and fewer personal vehicles. A first draft eliminated the requirement for any parking at supportive housing, including large-scale subsidized complexes for homeless and mentally ill residents. City Planner Jason Segedy and Zoning Manager Mike Antenucci worked with council members Jeff Fusco and Linda Omobien to set a bare minimum of one spot for every four units to accommodate visitors in these facilities, which tend to have residents who can't afford cars.

Omobien also asked about the intent of new language that says low-income tenants have "special needs." That concern gave the council enough pause to wait a week for an explanation from the law department, which helps draft all legislation.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.