CUYAHOGA FALLS — As Front Street continues to transform from a pedestrian mall to a bustling downtown thoroughfare full of shops and restaurants, Cuyahoga Falls officials hope free Wi-Fi attracts even more people downtown.
“You can take a laptop and sit out on the patio or in the front of any of the buildings and do homework, do work, whatever you want to do,” said Mayor Don Walters. “We thought it was important to have it down there.”
As part of the $13.6 million project to reopen Front Street to vehicle traffic and on-street parking, the city spent $50,000 to provide free Wi-Fi along Front Street between Broad Boulevard and Oakwood Drive. The service has been available since the summer, and the city hopes to expand the Wi-Fi coverage area in the future.
Twelve nodes, or access points, were installed on light poles throughout downtown. The Wi-Fi, with a bandwidth of eight to 10 megabytes per user, is administered by internet service provider ACD.
The network is titled DTCF-Guest. No password is required. Once users connect once, their devices should connect automatically in the future.
Walters said as the city worked to reopen Front Street, officials wanted to make sure they were meeting the needs of residents and visitors.
“When we redid everything, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss out on any of the amenities,” he said. “It’s obviously dog-friendly, bike-friendly, family-friendly ... But we also knew that the Wi-Fi’s important for people, especially out on patios. There’s a lot of patios, with more coming.”
A portion of Front Street closed to vehicles in June 1978. At the time, city officials hoped the pedestrian mall would attract both people and businesses — but that didn’t happen.
"It was pretty much a failure,” Walters said.
Forty years later, in June 2018, the road officially reopened to vehicle traffic.
Since then, new businesses that have opened include Yum Yum Sweet Shop, Good Co., Celia’s, McArthur’s Brew House, The Kitchen on Front Street at Cashmere Cricket, Missing Mountain Brewery, Clean Eatz, PWI Insurance and VIVO Beauty Bar. Bar 2209 was transformed into Barro Di Mario.
One of the first shops to move to Front Street in 2018 was the candy store Yum Yum, which was previously located in Peninsula.
Sandi Saffles, who owns Yum Yum with her son, Keith Saffles, said she remembers Front Street becoming a pedestrian mall more than 40 years ago.
“I remember telling my husband at the time they’re gonna kill downtown, and they did,” said Saffles, 66. “It’s exciting to have a downtown again, and people are down here walking around and enjoying downtown. And it’s going to get better. This is just the beginning.”
Saffles said she enjoys seeing life coming back to the downtown.
"I’m just proud to be a small part of downtown Cuyahoga Falls,” she said.
Upcoming new businesses include Pav’s Creamery (expected to open any day), Rose’s Italian Kitchen, Ohio Brewing Co., Akron Coffee Roasters, the Darby’s expansion and Portage Community Bank, opening in the former Westfield property at Portage Trail and Second Street.
There’s a contract for the two-story retail space under the Red Parking Deck, with S&T Bank occupying the first and second floors.
The new businesses already open have resulted in the creation of at least 30 new jobs downtown, and another 30 to 40 jobs are expected to be created with other business openings.
"The development down there is exploding,” Walters said of Front Street.
Nik Pappas, who’s opening up Pav’s Creamery with the Saffleses and his mother, Michelle Micochero, took some persuading from the Saffleses to move to Front Street. But once he heard the plans to reopen the street to vehicle traffic, he jumped on board.
“I think that if you have a good product and a good location ... people will come just to see it,” Pappas said. “This will be an experience for somebody to come here.”
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.