A beach is coming to downtown Akron — or to be more precise, 568 tons of prime volleyball sand is on the way.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and Summit Sports & Social are installing four public sand volleyball courts and a park along the Towpath Trail in Canal Place, the massive industrial complex that once housed B.F. Goodrich.
The new outdoor sandy space will sit within the shadow of the old tire-maker's smokestacks amid red brick buildings and serve as the new home for Summit Sports, which has been running popular volleyball leagues in downtown since 2016.
"The whole idea with this is to create a destination downtown on the Towpath," said Logan Jennings, who owns and operates Summit Sports with friend Andrew Novak.
The Knight Foundation provided a $155,000 grant to the Canalway Coalition for the project. The nonprofit trail group is leasing the property for $1 a year for five years, with an option for another five years, from the Covington Group, which operates Canal Place.
Lewis Landscaping of Copley, headed by Kyle Lewis, is starting to build the courts atop an existing concrete pad and design the landscaping around them. GPD Group also assisted with the design. Lewis will install a gate and construct a short walkway so people can access the courts from the Towpath, which is now separated from the space by a black metal fence.
That walkway will be known as the "Towpath Spiking Trail."
Summit Sports, which recently changed its name from Stay in Play Recreation, hopes the courts, which will have lights for nighttime games, will be ready by late May.
Jennings and Novak have been running a summer volleyball league on courts near the Canal Park baseball stadium for several years, attracting hundreds of players, many of whom work downtown. But their business lost access to those courts because of the ongoing construction of a new State Street bridge and Main Street being torn up.
The volleyball league proved so popular that there has been a waiting list for teams. The additional courts should help.
But Jennings and Novak, who also have offered other sports such as kickball, want the space to be about more than volleyball. They'd like to add other activities, perhaps sand castle building events and even some ice-related activities like curling in the winter.
The goal is for the park to become a gathering place — a "rec room" for downtown, Novak said.
While Summit Sports will control the courts during the league time, the space will be open to the public and people will be welcome to play for free anytime outside league hours.
Kyle Kutuchief, Akron program director for the Knight Foundation, is excited about the volleyball courts drawing people to the south side of downtown where they may not have ventured before. They also should attract spectators and help fledgling businesses in Canal Place.
The foundation and Canalway Coalition have been working on projects to promote economic and social activity in and around downtown, particularly along the Towpath.
"This is a really big piece that will invite more people to come downtown on the trail," Kutuchief said.
In a sense, history is repeating itself at Canal Place, which is filled with office, commercial and storage space. In the early 1990s, one of the buildings near the future volleyball courts housed Benny's Rubber City Sports Bar & Grille, which included indoor sand volleyball. That building — located near where the new courts are being built — is now home to Summer Ready Fitness, Missing Falls Brewing Co. and the new R. Shea Brewing production brewery and restaurant that's slated to open this summer.
Mark Milakovich, a partner with Covington Group, is looking forward to the volleyball courts.
"It really is a great complement to everything we've been doing to the complex over the last three years," he said. "We have been reimagining what Canal Place is. ... It's really a great evolution of the property."
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.