Akron’s tallest building is for sale.
Nick Browning, Huntington regional president for the Akron region, which includes Summit, Portage and Medina counties, on Wednesday morning confirmed that the Columbus-based bank is looking to sell the white tower building at 106 S. Main St. in downtown Akron.
But the bank isn’t going anywhere, Browning said. Huntington has a total of about 1,200 employees at its tower, built in 1931, nearby Cascade III building and operations center on Opportunity Parkway.
Browning notified employees Wednesday morning of the pending for-sale listing. There is no asking price yet.
“I shared with colleagues today making them aware of the beginning of this journey ... and sharing the why behind the what. We’ll be flexible regarding maintaining space in the tower depending on the needs of the selected developer and buyer and concept. It will depend on what the prospective developer sees in the building,” said Browning, who is on the board of many Akron organizations looking at regional development including the Greater Akron Chamber, Downtown Akron Partnership and the Northeast Ohio Team NEO.
Huntington acquired the downtown building — previously known as First National Tower and FirstMerit Tower — as part of its purchase of FirstMerit in 2016.
Browning said Huntington wants to be part of the renaissance happening in downtown Akron and over the years has been approached by developers looking to make the tower a mixed-use building with commercial, retail and residential units.
The building is about 40 percent vacant and Huntington occupies about 11 of the 28 floors. Browning said he would be open to keeping offices in the building under a new owner, but Huntington has enough room in Cascade III and the operations center to house all employees. He believes it's important the first floor should still be a Huntington branch.
The regional headquarters for the former FirstMerit were moved to Cascade III, and Brown said the Huntington Akron-based executives are spread across all of Huntington’s downtown buildings.
He stressed that the bank’s regional headquarters will remain in Akron and jobs are not moving out of downtown.
“We’re looking to grow in the city,” he said. “This has nothing to do with employment. ... We have continued to move and build up employment in the city of Akron.”
Huntington has 1,600 employees in the Akron region of Medina, Portage and Summit. In the five-county region including Wayne and Stark counties, the bank has 1,963 employees.
Huntington purchased Akron-based FirstMerit in 2016 for $3.4 billion in stock and cash. Office jobs and branch locations were consolidated after the acquisition. The bank shrank its footprint again this year, announcing that it would close 70 branch locations in America, 30 in Ohio and two in Summit County.
Since Huntington acquired FirstMerit, branch locations have closed in New Franklin, Lakemore, Norton and Akron, which lost local bank branches on Kenmore Boulevard, Arlington Road and Britain Road.
Browning said he believes the potential sale of the tower does not violate the deal the bank made with the city as a result of Huntington’s acquisition of FirstMerit.
In November 2018, Huntington updated a revolving five-year deal with the city to keep jobs at its downtown headquarters in exchange for public infrastructure improvements and income tax breaks. The bank promised to maintain 1,200 jobs and $63 million in payroll — the same levels as it had in Akron before the acquisition.
The economic development deal, which would have netted at least $7.875 million in income taxes, expires in 2023.
The deal negotiated by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan’s economic development team last year also gives tax incentives for any payroll over the promised $63 million in payroll from last year, which does not include “one-time bonuses” and “termination pay” for 179 employees trimmed from the company in 2017.
"Huntington has been a lead partner in our efforts to revitalize Main Street and breathe new life into downtown," Horrigan said in a prepared statement. "We know Huntington is steadfastly committed to our community’s success and vice versa. We are excited at the potential to reimagine First National Tower as vibrant mixed use development that will complement the incredible transformation happening downtown. I look forward to working with Huntington and the developer to create the best possible plan for the next chapter in the history of this iconic building."
The Huntington-Akron Foundation, which is funded by $2 million a year for 10 years, also was created as part of the acquisition. Browning is president of the foundation and said last year it “awarded grants of $2 million to more than 71 organizations benefiting our neighbors of Akron."
A Huntington downtown Akron employee, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job, said he was relieved during Wednesday morning’s conference call with employees to hear there were no layoffs.
“That’s my knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
While he’s temporarily relieved that jobs are safe, he’s disappointed about the potential sale of the tower.
“It’s always been the FirstMerit Tower. Then it changed to the Huntington Tower, which is kind of sad and who knows what it’s going to be, which is even sadder,” he said.
Suzie Graham, president and CEO of the Downtown Akron Partnership, had not heard about the potential tower sale when reached Wednesday morning, but said it was good news for downtown, especially that Huntington will maintain its regional headquarters.
“It’s a beautiful building, a historic landmark in our downtown skyline. It presents a tremendous opportunity, as Nick said with the potential mixed use and residential development,” Graham said.
Graham said the building has had a number of different names throughout its history, “but it has been our tallest building forever. Even though the name or brand of it has changed, it is certainly an iconic building.”
Browning did not know how soon the building would be listed and that Huntington has no particular timeline for the sale.
“We want this to be developed in a quality fashion that benefits the downtown Akron area,” he said. “We recognize that we’re not a developer. We have been trying to re-tenant the property for many years. We are where we’re at based on what we’ve accomplished.”
Browning doesn’t think the construction along Main Street in front of the tower will be a deterrent for potential buyers, who would see it as investment being made in infrastructure.
“The private developers see value in our downtown," he said. "I’ve not seen this level of engagement in downtown development in the 26 years I’ve been downtown.”
Many of the older commercial buildings in cities like Akron and Cleveland weren’t designed for collaborative space and connectivity that current tenants want, so mixed-use redevelopment is good, said Steve Millard, president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber.
“These would be some fabulous, fabulous places for driving residents [to live downtown],” he said. “I think we are maybe where Cleveland was 15 years ago in starting to do that work.
“We have to create jobs here for them and the kind of experience people need in their downtown. Thinking about these buildings differently is not a bad thing.”
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com.