City of Akron leaders are entertaining the idea of more liquor permits to support growing interest in living, shopping and eating at East End.
Industrial Realty Group (IRG), which is behind the mixed-use redevelopment of the old Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. headquarters on East Market Street, received a warm welcome at City Hall Monday as leaders endorsed a plan to designate the company’s 80 acres as the only entertainment district in Akron outside of downtown.
State law allows cities to approve a limitless number of “community entertainment districts.” Akron has only two, covering the northern and southern ends of downtown. Each district creates 15 new D-5 liquor permits for establishments that serve food, which are part of the business plan for restaurants and bars opening soon at East End.
The state limits cities to one D-5 liquor permit per 2,000 residents. “We’re pretty much maxed out. So, there are no other liquor permits available," said Mike Antenucci, zoning manager in Akron's Planning Department, which supports IRG's proposal.
IRG executives said tenants such as their two restaurants, a lobby pub and café and a theater would have to pay $30,000 or more to get a liquor permit from a private holder.
Brewer Chris Surak, who plans to open 83 Brewery in East End this summer, sees more liquor-serving establishments as a plus. "The more business they can get in that area the better,” said Surak. “I don’t know how many of those [new permit seekers] would be breweries. And I don’t know if it would be competition, but it would be more attraction to get people in the area, which I think is a good thing.”
Brad Beckert with Akron's economic development office said the lobby bar and cafe in the old Goodyear headquarters is expected to open in two weeks. But the business might be limited to food and soft drinks if the entertainment district legislation does not pass.
IRG owns all 80 acres in the proposed plan. A blanket tax break for all of East End has helped the developer with the cost of converting the commercial space into apartments and offices with a full menu of amenities.
All but the old Goodyear Bank is full on the east side of Market Street. The 105 mostly single apartments, ranging from $800 to $3,200 for the few three-bedroom units, are at 97 percent occupancy, said Carol Smith, senior vice president and director of development services for IRG. Sixty-five more apartments are going in across the street.
The residential building has a barbershop, diner, theater and gymnasium. A Handel's Homemade Ice Cream and Starbucks are opening in mid-April in a new building next door. Toward Kelly Avenue is a 139-room Hilton Garden Inn. Between the hotel and Goodyear Heights Branch Library, IRG has closed portions of Mary Avenue and Cook Street to make way for a second hotel, which Beckert announced as needing liquor permits on Monday despite IRG executives saying the project is years away.
The old headquarters where Babcock & Wilcox will move to later this year houses SummaCare, a charter school, a fitness center and a golf simulator. Rubber City Sports runs a gym in the residential building where the Elevation Group books and manages the theater. Joining LaBellas barbershop in a few months are 83 Brewery and Marques Diner.
Residents left out
Before coming to City Hall to ask for entertainment district status, IRG did not contact homeowners in the neighborhood to the immediate north. It’s mostly commercial and highway to the south, east and west.
In the two downtown entertainment districts, 20 of 30 liquor permits have been assigned. The thought of unleashing 15 more in Goodyear Heights gave some residents pause.
Kris Lonon, who heads up the Goodyear Heights Community Action Group, would rather see more retail and restaurants than bars and nightlife. Right now, the community must drive to Chapel Hill or West Akron to shop. And the influx of alcohol should be monitored closely, she said. "We've been having an uptick in shooting crimes across the city, which is now reaching our area, and some gang problems. So I do see this as a concern. And I'm not totally against progress over there."
IRG owns residentially zoned land on either side of East Akron Cemetery, which together form a buffer between the proposed entertainment district and the neighborhood. “We really don’t have any neighbors except the library, because we own everything on both sides of the street,” Smith said.
“There will be really no impact to them,” Smith continued, adding that the 15 additional liquor permits, if granted individually by the state and city, would not be transferable outside of the 80-acre entertainment district.
If the plan is approved, the city would also retain the right to revoke the entertainment status by a majority vote of council “if things go bad,” as one city attorney put it.
At-Large and Ward 10 council members Linda Omobien and Zack Milkovich added their names to the entertainment district proposal, which should be decided next week. “I am in full support of this project. I think it’s fantastic,” Milkovich said.
At-large councilman Jeff Fusco, a former mayor who pushed for the development-incentivizing tax breaks at East End, said: "Now we’re able to see added value in terms of investment" from the $200 million in city, county and private development. “What this brings is a vibrant area over there, which we have" prepared for with public infrastructure upgrades.
Surak likened an entertainment district not far from downtown to East Fourth Street in Cleveland, where bars, breweries, music venues and restaurants thrive in the shadow of a massive sporting arena — which Akron still lacks. “Hey," Surak said, "there’s still a lot of empty land over there [at East End] to develop."
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-997-3792.