CANTON —City Council has appropriated $12.9 million to develop Centennial Plaza — the grassy block downtown formerly known as Market Square.

The supplemental appropriation is in excess of the project’s estimated $12.3 million cost, some of which is expected to come from state and private funds. A name change and other measures that should enable the start of construction by mid-July also were approved in the single ordinance.

City leaders expect the revamped design to be complete before the NFL centennial celebration in September 2020.

“We need to take pride in our city,” Mayor Thomas Bernabei said during a council committee presentation. “It’s long overdue.”

Newly appointed Councilwoman Christine Schulman joined the majority of council in voting for the ordinance. Several described Centennial Plaza as an investment in the city’s future and fulfillment of the promise made by last year’s income tax increase.

“This affects all the wards, the whole city,” Councilman Nathaniel Chester III said.

Councilman Frank Morris cast the only vote in opposition, saying his constituents “firmly believe that this is an absurd amount of money for two acres of property.”

Last summer, the council authorized officials to enter contracts for a $5.5 million renovation based on an early design by the Columbus-based MKSK firm. An iconic element, similar to a tower in later designs, was discussed as a privately financed option.

The newest renderings incorporate elements from past plans and add new features. They include:

• A covered stage backed by a video board.

• An oval, steel structure made by 75-foot arches, the base of which could be a second performance area.

• Digital kiosks, a sound system and programmable lighting.

• Fire pits and outdoor seating.

• A “Canton” sculpture similar to the “Cleveland” feature near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

• A cafe with restrooms and storage rooms.

• An oculus, a circular opening in the cafe roof, that’ll project light into the sky.

Ted Swaldo, the founder of Gervasi Vineyards who is leading a private fundraising campaign, shared his opinion during the committee meeting. He touted the lighting on several structures, which could allow for nightly light shows, and predicted the design would attract visitors and year-round residents to downtown Canton.

“It’s what Canton needs right now,” Swaldo said.

The most recent presentation compares the plaza to other city centers, such as Public Square in Cleveland and Market Square in Pittsburgh.

The renovation of Public Square cost $37 million, according to media reports, while Market Square cost $5 million.

Monday’s vote set aside $7.4 million for Centennial Plaza, which is in addition to $5.5 million appropriated last year. The source is the comprehensive plan fund, which was created last year with the city’s income tax increase.

The total appropriation is $600,000 more than the estimated cost. Morris questioned the discrepancy and proposed amending the ordinance to match the estimate.

His proposed amendment failed. Councilman Robert Fisher was the only other member to support it.

Public Service Director John Highman said adding “wiggle room” is common in case bids come in above the estimate.

“That is not outside the normal scope of what we would normally do for a project, as it pertains to appropriation funds,” he said.

Finance Director Mark Crouse said the comprehensive plan fund has nearly $14.8 million available for 2019, and the appropriation will not deplete the fund.

Of the total $12.3 million project, the city would supply $7.3 to $8.3 million.

The remainder is expected to come from the state, which already allocated $1.5 million, and private donors, who already have committed more than $2 million. Bernabei said an additional $1 million in state funding is being sought.

Monday’s council vote also authorized the mayor to enter an agreement with the Pro Football Hall of Fame for programming and maintenance of the plaza at no cost to the city for 10 years.

 

Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or kelly.byer@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @kbyerREP