STOW — Stow officials aren’t giving up on establishing a downtown area and considering the possibilities, whether that’s retail shops, restaurants, apartments or a community gathering area.
"We don't want to be that sleepy little suburb right outside Akron,” Stow Mayor John Pribonic told a group of about 60 real estate agents gathered Thursday at a luncheon where details and updates on the downtown project were shared.
Since the city’s 2006 comprehensive plan, officials have envisioned a walkable retail development at the City Center complex at the northwest corner of Graham and Darrow roads, which includes Stow City Hall, a senior center, the police/fire station and the service center on 64 city-owned acres, according to a Stow Sentry report.
Last year, Stow City Council discussed establishing a Community Entertainment District, or CED, in an area that included the City Center property and part of the Darrow Road corridor.
But council ultimately withdrew the entertainment district plan — although supporters viewed it as an effort to create a destination downtown, critics were concerned about bars dominating the proposed development, the newspaper reported.
Pribonic said the city last year requested but did not receive any downtown development proposals — something he said “shocked” him and other city officials.
But, he said, over the next two weeks the city will be in talks with at least four developers who are "very interested" in the project. He said they just didn’t want to submit formal proposals due to cost factors with the proposals and concerns about the city potentially not being fully invested in the project.
Both Pribonic and former mayor and current at-large council member Jim Costello said they’re serious about it. The city has been discussing the latest downtown concepts for nearly two years, and Pribonic said it’s time to “let the rubber hit the road.”
“It isn't a dead subject,” Pribonic said.
Sherri Nemeth, a Cuyahoga Falls resident and Keller Williams real estate agent with 30 years in the real estate industry, said she’d like to see a downtown similar to the Front Street development in the Falls.
“There's a lot of community interest” in a downtown that would include shops, wineries and breweries, she said.
Barb Wise, a Stow resident and Keller Williams real estate agent with 42 years experience, suggested relocating Stow’s senior center to allow room for a Front Street-style development.
“Stow will be more recognizable to the people in the area,” Wise said. She envisions a downtown in the City Center area with restaurants and a recreation center, something she said many surrounding communities offer.
Wise and Nemeth recalled when Stow was a “country town” with little more than farmland.
“To sit back and see everything that's come along so far," there’s a lot more to come, Nemeth said.
Karl Schwarzinger, who’s lived in Stow more than 30 years, said the city needs quality restaurants, which he said will help attract people, including new residents. Schwarzinger said he sees potential on Darrow Road, adding it would be faster to create restaurants in existing buildings than establishing an entire downtown near the City Center.
“We have not one good, quality restaurant in Stow,” he said. "To me, that helps define a community if you have quality restaurants."
Pribonic said if the city and developers aren’t able to reach a common vision for a downtown — something that’s still in the very early stages, with no definitive plans in place — he still wants to see some kind of a community gathering space created, whether that’s an amphitheater, a splash pad, a park or another option.
"How I am envisioning this downtown, more than anything else, more than the retail or anything else, is a gathering place,” he said.
Stow Munroe-Falls Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Doris Stewart said she’s looking forward to the ideas city officials and developers come up with.
"Whatever it does look like, I think that the common two words that come to mind [are] community gathering,” Stewart, who is also a Stow resident, said.
During Thursday’s meeting, the real estate agents also heard updates about the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library, the Stow-Munroe Falls school district and other programs and projects in the city. Pribonic said the city hopes to meet with the agents quarterly.
"You are the backbone of our community. Without you, we do not have people living in homes. We do not have businesses that actually support our community with a great tax base,” he said. “You also are our eyes and ears."
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.