A plan to turn the Martin University Center building at the University of Akron into a 60- to 70-room hotel is getting a boost, with the state awarding the project nearly $1.6 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

Also Wednesday, the state said that the effort to turn the former Steinway Hall in Akron into offices is slated to receive $250,000 in the tax credits. The building is the last original mansion on Millionaire's Row on East Market Street.

Forty-nine historic buildings across the state are to receive a total of $28 million in the latest round of tax credit awards, the state said Wednesday.

The credits are designed to spur the rehabilitation of historic properties. Developers help finance their projects by selling credits to investors, who use them to trim their tax bills. The credits aren't received until projects are completed.

Cleveland developers Joe Shafran and former Hiram College president Tom Chema estimate spending $15.6 million to turn the century-old Martin University Center building into lodging that would cater to the university as well as the community.

"We're steaming full speed ahead" on the project, Chema said after learning that the project had been awarded the credits.

He said the plan is to begin construction in October and have a "soft opening" of the hotel around the end of February 2021.

He's still lining up financing, and plans to bring in local investors. He said he and Shafran expect to receive federal tax credits to help finance the project.

Market studies, Chema said, show downtown Akron is "underhoteled and could use additional rooms even beyond what we are proposing here, plus we have the benefit of being on the university campus," and attracting guests visiting or doing business with UA."

Chema led the development of downtown Cleveland's baseball park and basketball arena.

The proposal calls for an addition on the back of the 40,000-square-foot building; the addition would complement the existing structure and house about half of the 60 to 70 guest rooms.

A brick and concrete structure with a front balcony supported by pillars, the building was constructed in 1916-18 as a private club. It was designed by local architectural firm Harpster & Bliss. The building is at 105 Fir Hill, near the historic Hower House.

In the 1970s, the building became part of UA, and the university located its development offices there. This was after the club's membership had significantly declined.

With its banquet hall and luncheon restaurant, the center served as the site of university, as well as community, functions.

In 2013, the development offices moved to office space at InfoCision Stadium, and UA stopped using the property.

The former Steinway Hall — the other Akron project awarded tax credits in the latest round — is a 44-room mansion built in 1906 at Buchtel Avenue and Market Street, east of UA.

The property is also known as the Byron W. Robinson residence. The Robinson family worked in the clay pipe and tile industry. The mansion's original clay tile roof will be repaired.

The owner for 30 years — until earlier this year — was Ted Good, president and CEO of Steinway Piano Gallery Cleveland.

He operated Steinway Hall and the T.S. Good Organ Co. for much of that time in the mansion.

Six years ago, Good moved his business to a former Harley-Davidson dealership in Boston Heights off state Route 8, and put the property up for sale.

Earlier this year, it was sold for $375,000 to the Robinson Revival Group, which consists of Akron developer Tony Troppe and investors. Troppe specializes in rehabilitating historic properties.

Troppe has said the building will have a mix of uses, including room for companies or organizations and loft-style apartments. The carriage house in the back will be a second phase project for more loft apartments. The project is expected to cost about $1.6 million.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.