The mostly-abandoned site of the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber headquarters on Akron’s east side is starting to come back to life.
Last weekend, a new concert venue opened in the 90-year-old Goodyear Theater with two sold-out concerts featuring rock acts The Smashing Pumpkins and Gavin DeGraw. Developer Stu Lichter says it’s just the beginning. His California company, Industrial Realty Group, is behind that and about a half dozen other major revitalization projects at old factories in Northeast Ohio.
A vision and a concept
Back in 2007, Stu Lichter shared his vision for a new Goodyear headquarters when he heard the tire company was considering leaving the state.
"We presented them with a concept: Let’s create a new neighborhood," Lichter says. That resulted in the first phase of the project -- a new corporate headquarters that was completed in 2013.
Then, Lichter says, the rest of the vision came into focus -- residential, retail and office space at the old complex on East Market Street.
"From the beginning, this was going to be a long-term project because they weren’t going to leave the buildings that they were in until the new buildings were built," Lichter says.
Lichter put together a deal to build a hotel just off I-76 near the old complex. Then he says, they started renovating the old buildings.
"We did Goodyear Hall and that’s still in progress. There’s 106 apartments up there which are rented. And then we opened a theater. Then you’ll see the retail and restaurants. The entire original dream is happening," he says.
"When we first looked at [Goodyear's] existing facilities, they had this wonderful theater and this amazing gym in this office building," Lichter says. "And most people didn’t even know they existed because they very rarely let anyone from the public in. This theater is as nice as anything in Broadway; I can’t just let it sit here. It’s a jewel."
He says they started researching to see if a 1,500-seat concert venue could be successful in Akron.
"We put a lot of work in to that and then we put a lot of work into finding right the partner and creating the best event facility in the entire region. It’s way better than anything in Cleveland."
Can a concert venue make an economic impact?
Lichter says the theater and another venue planned in the same building, which will hold 3,500 people, will attract millennials to the city.
"People live where there’s something to do and companies locate where there’s something to do. So I think the significance of it actually will help make Akron a more attractive place."
What's to come
Lichter says the next phase of the project is to continue renovating the Goodyear building across the street from the concert venue. He says currently, the only tenant is the I Can charter school.
"The entire school is one level below the street and they’re expanding and doubling in size and starting a high school next year, and we’re renovating that space now."
He says renovations also are underway to design the lobby and the infrastructure for offices and more residential units.
"We’re adding 80 more in that building and we’ll start filling the office building tenant by tenant," he says.
An east end comeback
Lichter says he hopes the East End project will spark a renaissance.
“They’ll be hundreds of thousands of people coming here every year. This is going to be the cool side of town because that theater is a unique asset. It’s actually going to be the coolest venue in this region. The east side is going to rock!"
Committed to Akron and Northeast Ohio
Lichter has also been involved in projects to revitalize the Hoover complex in North Canton, the Pro Football hall of Fame Village, the former Randall Park Mall and is behind building a new American Greetings headquarters in Westlake.
Still, he says, Akron is special.
"I love bringing things back to life; that’s my passion. And for good or bad, there’s been a number of big facilities that have closed in Akron that can be shaped into something new. It’s kind of become my second home. And now it goes beyond that; I’m really committed to helping make the city work."