A 22-year old Akron man will be spending some time behind bars for his role in two robberies in Highland Square in December of 2011.
Judge Tammy O'Brien sentenced Evin Collins to eight years in prison for the crimes late Thursday. He pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery with a firearm, and kidnapping charges on Jan 10.
Collins along with three other men kidnapped a woman at gunpoint as she was getting out of her car in her garage in Highland Square. The men took the woman to an ATM to withdraw money and stole her jewelry before letting her go.
They also robbed a woman and her two adult children at gunpoint in their home on Johnland Avenue.
Collins' accomplices entered their guilty pleas to their various charges January 7.
Politicians can be excused for using hyperbole during election years, but a news release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn't necessarily paint Akron's Highland Square in a very positive light.
HUD Regional Administrator Antonio Riley announced federal approval of what the Plusquellic administration made public months ago -- in February, to put a date on it -- namely construction of a grocery store for the Highland Square neighborhood. In this case, it's a $3.8 million loan guarantee to help make sure the Mustard Seed Market project gets built. The release also notes the project will be part of a "new retail district, including stores and a library."
That last line might come as a surprise to folks who've lived in the neighborhood to learn the retail stores and library located in Highland Square are new. In the case of the Highland Square library location, it's been a haven for book lovers since at least 1956, when it was known as the West Hill Library. Even more surprising must be HUD's definition of "new" since the renovated Highland Square library, in it's current configuration, has been open for business since 2007.
There's even nice pictures at left, complete with Mayor Plusquellic using a big pair of scissors to help cut the ribbon. One of the photos in the collection found on the Akron Summit County Public Library's website story of the renovated library opening even includes Summit County Executive Russ Pry and Council President Marco Sommerville in the photo.
Pretty good for "new."
Then there's the line about being a "food desert."
Riley says this part of the city is more like the Sahara when it comes to getting fresh food, something grocery stores do. While neighborhood activists have lobbied hard -- and City officials have made it a high priority -- to see that a grocery store in some fashion is part of the retail landscape, one can hardly use the "desert" description.
The Acme store is 1.94 miles -- a five minute drive
The West Point Market is is 1.79 miles.
Henry's Acme on South Hawkins is 3.67 miles.
Oh, and the Walgreen's in Highland Square -- which sells some grocery items -- clocks in at "just across the street" from the "new" Highland Square Library.
The online resource Dictionary.com defines desert, in part, as "...any area in which few forms of life can exist because of lack of water, permanent frost, or absence of soil." That "few forms of life" must come as a surprise to Mary Coyle's, the Highland Theater, Aladdin's, Angel Falls Coffee, and Chipotle to name a few. Let's not even mention the various bars and nightlife the Highland Square neighborhood is able to offer in the middle of their food desert.
Lest you take this as re-opening the discussion on whether federal, state or city money should be used to build a grocery store, or support establishment of any other business for that matter. That issue is purely up to the citizens of Highland Square and their elected representatives, and that field is already well-plowed. But seeing one of the more vibrant areas of Akron, one frequently held up as an example of our cultural heritage and sophistication, described as a "food desert" is just a tad over the top.
- - -
(U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - news release) U.S. Housing and Urban Development Midwest Regional Administrator Antonio R. Riley announced today that HUD is approving a $3.8 million loan guarantee to the City of Akron to finance development of the Highland Square Grocery Store Project. The grocery store, which will be leased by locally owned grocery store chain Mustard Seed Market, will be part of a new retail district including stores and a library.
"This part of Akron has been a food desert since 2002. A grocery store will provide fresh food at reasonable prices to benefit the health and quality of life for area residents while also creating approximately 57 jobs -- truly a win-win situation for Akron,” said Riley.
HUD’s loan guarantee has leveraged more than $3 million federal, city and private funds. Currently developed businesses in Highland Square are rented by the city and producing income to help finance the grocery store.
HUD’s Section 108 Loan Guarantee Assistance Program enables local governments to borrow money from private investors at reduced interest rates to promote economic development, stimulate job growth and improve public facilities. Such public investment is often needed to inspire private contributions, to provide seed money, or to simply boost confidence that many private firms and individuals need to invest in distressed areas. It allows them to transform a small portion of their CDBG funds into federally guaranteed loans large enough to pursue physical and economic revitalization projects that can renew entire neighborhoods.
Akron received authorization from City Council to apply for a HUD loan to put a grocery store in Highland Square.
City Development Manager Adele Roth explains to AkronNewsNow.com that this was a big first step in the process of getting the much-needed store in the neighborhood.
"This was hugely important," she said. "Getting authorization from Council to apply for this money really makes the deal happen."
The Section 108, $3.8 million loan will assist with the construction of the store itself, which will provide a Mustard Seed grocer to the eclectic Akron neighborhood.
Helen Tomic of the Department of Planning and Urban Development says the 20 year payment plan at a .74 interest rate is a deal that can't be beat.
"It's very difficult to get a loan these days, and even if we were successful in getting a loan, I do not think we would not get a loan with a .74 interest rate," she said.
"What HUD is offering is really an ideal situation for us."
Roth says its tough to get a loan for a business in today's economy to begin with and even more so for grocery stores in urban areas.
"There would be developers all over the country who would be clamoring to build something and only pay a .74 interest rate," she says.
Adele Roth and Helen Tomic by Akron NewsNow
Tomic says the loan process takes up anywhere from six to eighteen months and it was best to seek Council's approval to move forward early in the store's development.
With the loan, the city will get the green light to construct a two-story, 12,400 foot grocery store located at the northeast corner of the intersection of West Market Street and Portage Path.
The new grocery store will be a Mustard Seed Market owned by a couple residing in Highland Square. They currently own two other Mustard Seed Markets, a 31,000 square foot store in Montrose and another store in Solon, Ohio.
The approval came with some words of encouragement from those who voted to put the plan in place.
Ward 1 Councilman Jim Hurley III said that ever since he was elected to the position of Ward 1 Councilman five years ago that he would see to it that the store got put in the neighborhood once again.
"I'm grateful to the Mayor, the administration, and Adele Roth for moving this project forward," he says. "The residents of Highland Square have wanted a grocery store in their neighborhood since the Albrecht -owned store moved out in 2002, and now we're one step closer to moving the project closer to fruition."
Highland Square Residents by Akron NewsNow
For the residents of Highland Square, the approval from Akron City Council to apply for a HUD loan to put a grocery store in the neighborhood was welcome news.
Mark Smith says the move was a step in the right direction.
"It's great that the city is moving forward with getting a grocery store in Highland Square," he said.
Ronald Higgins explains how a new store would benefit the senior citizens and those who don't have cars to get their groceries.
"We really look forward to supporting the developers of this store and providing an outlet for those who need it the most."
Akron residents spoke their minds on how to curb crime and keep safe during the holiday season at the Highland Square branch library Tuesday night.
Highland Square resident Ken Dies says more cops need to patrol the area.
"I think we need a beat cop," he said.
"Someone who patrols the streets and keeps track of who's supposed to be here and who's not supposed to be here."
Summit County District 4 Councilman Frank Comunale held the meeting to give people the opportunity to offer their suggestions to local officials as well as Akron Police on how to prevent crime in their neighborhoods.
Linda, another Highland Square resident says that she loves the eclectic quality that the neighborhood brings and wants to see her fellow neighbors do their part, even if it seems small to them.
"I know that these are hard economic times, and it's very hard to maintain a safe area, but it takes the people to do it."
"Block watch groups, city officials, everyone and anyone who doesn't want to live on the edge," she explained.
Ken Dies doesn't seem to optimistic.
"You can have all the meetings in the world, but you need more cops on the street."
One of the notable speakers at the event was Akron Police Lieutenant Cynthia Christman, who said that just by being aware, living smart, and watching out for your neighbor were just a few of the small things one can do to prevent crime in their neighborhood.
She said that even though numbers are down in the APD, she says those that are concerned should call police, even if they feel they might not need to.
For holiday safety, Christman advises that if you shop at night take a friend along with you, park in a well lighted area, and also avoid having a purse or wallet easily accessible to a robber.
She says that these tips are helpful anytime, but are doubly important during the holidays as more crime happens during this season.
For Highland Square business owners like Jesse Strauther, he believes that young people especially need opportunities to succeed so they don't have to resort to crime.
"A lot of doors are shut to people and they need to be opened, because if you don't give people an opportunity to learn something new, then they will look for alternate ways to survive, and that's not always a good thing.
He says many young kids have thrown rocks at his business and others in Highland Square, and says they wouldn't be doing so if they had something constructive to do.
"I think it takes a community to try and get together to work through the issues and help people out," he says.
Comunale says he was pleased with the turnout and said that he plans on holding another community meeting in January.
Copyright © 2013 AkronNewsNow & Rubber City Radio Group |All Rights Reserved | 1795 West Market Street | Akron, OH 44313 | 330.869.9800