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Akron Tries to Figure Out How to Make Main Street Residential, Retail and Green

Civic Theatre lobby
WKSU public radio

Consultants helping Akron figure out what to do with its downtown met with about a hundred people last night to consider how to make Main Street more residential, green and vibrant.

About a hundred people attended the session in one of downtown’s destinations – the Akron Civic Theatre -- to talk about ways to fill in the gaps between “set” pieces like the Civic, ballpark and art institute with housing, retail, recreation and business.

It was the second meeting of urban landscape consultants MKSK about the Downtown Akron Vision and Redevelopment Plan, and it was designed to start filling in the framework to draw people downtown.

Map residential downtown
One goal is to fill in the gaps between downtown hotspots such as the Akron-Summit County Public Library.

Andrew Overbeck said it all must focus on the aptly named Main Street “from stem to stern, from Canal Place all the way to North Side. It’s the thing that’s going to hold downtown together. From there, we can spill out into these other streets, but we have to get Main Street right first.”

Overbeck says some of the redevelopment is already underway with a new cycle track in the south and residential development in the area near the canal-lock parks. And fellow consultant Chris Hermann says the key in urban cores today is residential first.

“You need to get enough people in first, then you’ll get the retailers and the services that everybody wants to see. So it kind of turns into this virtuous cycle. … And actually, corporations and companies are starting to follow where the residents are living.  So if we can get enough people downtown, that actually makes downtown even more of a destination for office and corporate users.”

The consultants told the crowd that some things are unique to Akron. On the not-so-great side, Hermann noted a lot of greenspace is hidden.

“We want people to experience these great spaces along Main Street. But some are sunken down below Main Street; not necessarily visible. Some are raised up above Main Street; you don’t really know they’re there. So unless you’re going there as a destination, you’re not really invited into those spaces.”

On the plus side, the consultants said this is the first community they’ve worked with where the community quickly moved beyond what it wants to see happen to how to get it done.

The final meeting on the plan will be Dec. 6