Cuyahoga Falls City Council approved an amended deal to sell the former State Road Shopping Center property to the developer of the Portage Crossing Development.
Appearing on the 1590 WAKR Ray Horner Morning Show, Falls Mayor Don Robart said the move is a big step in the reinvestment of the area.
"I think it's a big plus and I feel it will bring a lot of pride to our community," he said.
The new contract gives the project developer Stark Enterprises a 10-year $50,000 rebate a year on electric for the common areas of the shopping center, such as sidewalks and parking lots.
In addition, the deal offers the developer up to $129,000 annually in admissions tax generated from the planned Cinemark movie theater planned to go in Portage Crossing over a 10-year period.
The highly anticipated project has been in the works since 2008, when the city bought the State Road Shopping Center.
Mayor Robart said that if Council did not approve the contract during their meeting Monday night, Stark Enterprises would have walked away from the deal, which would have been a huge detriment to the city.
"We essentially had our backs against the wall, but by the same token we were committed to Stark as the best developer for our project."
Council voted 9-2 to approve the deal.
Councilwoman Carol Klinger was among those who voted the measure down, saying she is supportive of development, just not at the expense of the city's taxpayers.
Groundbreaking on Portage Crossing is expected to begin in the late summer or early fall of this year.
The river may not be frozen, but the air is frigid enough to make it feel like the perfect tim for the Frozen River Festival at Falls River Square in Cuyahoga Falls.
"I think a lot of times people want to get out just to see other people and this will be the place to see them, so we're really excited about it," said Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart. "It's been a hit every year and every year it grows and I think this is going to be our biggest ever."
The festival features competitive ice carvers and an ice skating show by skaters from Kent State University, among other things, including beer and wine.
Thirsty Dog actually brewed a beer for the city of Cuyahoga Falls and it's called a bicentennial old ale," said Cuyahoga Falls Deputy Development Director Jennifer Syx. "It's something that you'll never find anywhere else because it was brewed specifically for us."
Robart says the idea to have a mainly outdoor festival that was conceptualized a few years ago.
The festival runs Friday 6:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M., Saturday 2:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M. and Sunday 1:00 - 5:00.
Cuyahoga Falls Portage Crossing development project on State Road is growing beyond the city's original projections and as a result, City Council is being asked to make changes in the city's contract with Stark Enterprises to allow for a larger development plan.
Falls Mayor Don Robart tells AkronNewsNow.com, Portage Crossing started out as a $40 million project, but its growing much larger.
"We increased the size of the project significantly. It's really good news.The project now is almost to 400,000 square feet. It's now a $60 million dollar project," Robart said.
Robart says under a revised plan, Cuyahoga Falls would have to invest more in the project.
"Because of the larger project the City ends up putting more money into it, but you know we'll derive more revenue from it. We're going to create more jobs. More money will go the schools. It's all good," Robart said.
Menards and Giant Eagle were signed as major anchor tenants for the retail complex. Robart says they have attracted a number of smaller retailers to sign up to be part of Portage Crossing.
Robart says he's still surprised by the successful beginning to the project.
"The fact that we're coming in with a $60 million project in today's economy, which is arguably the worst since World War II, I mean it is a little bit surprising, but to be honest with you we have forged a good relationship with Stark Enterprises."
The mayor says also having two major anchor tenants gives other retailers faith in the future success of Portage Crossing.
Home improvement store Menards is joining the lineup at the future Portage Crossing retail development in Cuyahoga Falls.
"I would say it's kind of like a cross between a Home Depot and a Lowe's on steroids-- it's just bigger, they have more things and unique things," Mayor Don Robart said.
Robart says this store will lure shoppers to the soon-to-be-built retail complex on State Road.
"I think it's going to be a very popular destination for people not only in Cuyahoga Falls, but way beyond," he said.
Menards will occupy space close to where the former Montgomery Wards was located. Giant Eagle will occupy the the south side of the development.
As for places to snack or dine out; Panera Bread, Chipolte Mexican Grill and Chef Michael Symon's B Spot restaurant have also signed on as tenants to join Portage Crossing.
"We're expecting about six or eight more announces between now and when we break ground, which will probably be in June," he said. "The reason we're not positive how many is that, it depends on how much square feet they want."
Portage Crossing Signs First Tenants
A big boost for the new Portage Crossing development in Cuyahoga Falls. Mayor Don Robart says they've signed their first major new tenants to move into the land on State Road.
Robart tells AkronNewsNow "Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, they've committed to the site. Pet Supplies Plus is going in there. Chef Michael Symon's B-Spot Restaurant, which is maybe new to the area, but has been highly successful in the Cleveland area, they've committed to the site."
Robart says the new businesses will fill about 25 percent of the space at Portage Crossing and he's expecting more businesses to make a committment soon, including a large big box retailer, which he says he can't name at this time.
"We believe strongly that within the next few weeks we'll start adding on more. Some of the smaller retailers will fall in line as well. We've also talked to a lot of other people who are close to signing on with us," says Robart.
The Mayor says a project that started out with a value of $40 million has now risen to $60 million with over 400,000 square feet of developed space.
Robart notes this is happening at a time when there is not a lot of development going one elsewhere in the area.
'We think by the time we break ground, which we anticipate in June, hopefully we'll have everybody named by then. It's exciting for our city. It's exciting for the region, and certainly in the area of job creation and tax base expansion it's something we all root for," says the Mayor.
Cuyahoga Falls city officials are ready to move ahead with plans to remove two dams from the Cuyahoga River in the first half of this year. City Council currently is discussing legislation that would have the city sign a contract with an Akron company to remove the dams.
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart says removing the dams will allow the river to move more rapidly through his city, creating ideal conditions for white water rafting and other water sports.
Robart tells AkronNewsNow "We think the amount of people who will come into our city that are interested in white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking will increase. We envision a zip-line where you actually get into a harness, the gravity takes you down maybe a quarter mile or even more."
The Mayor says the city is looking to make the river a main attraction.
"It will provide a much more healthy river, a much more vibrant river, a river that will provide a tremendous amount of recreational opportunities for us. So we're really excited about it. We're exploring how we can benefit from that in terms of economic development," says Robart.
As for how long it will take to remove the dams Robart says "There are some technical aspects to it in terms of the power houses that reside next to the dams. But the actual removal of the dam itself isn't that big a deal. It could take literally only a couple of weeks."
Robart says a rejuvenated Cuyahoga River could draw businesses to the river banks that have never had a downtown presence, or have been missing from the city for years.
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart predicted a bright future in his State of the City address Wednesday.
Appearing on the WAKR Ray Horner Morning Show, Robart said the city focused on balancing the budget and bringing economic development to the area.
Despite dealing with a struggling economy, Robart said plans are on schedule for Portage Crossing.
"The future is indeed bright and there isn't any doubt in my mind that Portage Crossing is going to go up," said Robart. "That's more jobs, that's more income tax for not only us, but the schools as well."
Cuyahoga Falls is also taking advantage of new opportunities including the demolition of two dams on the Cuyahoga River. The final product will create Category 5 rapids for kayakers and white-water rafting.
The city has made a few changes throughout the years including cutting full-time staff from 519 people in 2006 to 397. Six unions have also agreed to pay freezes for the next two years.
Click here to view the full State of the City speech.
The long-awaited opinion by Cuyahoga Falls law director Paul Janis makes clear, Mayor Don Robart maintains, what he thought anyway: that the Parks Board, which is responsible for setting rates and membership categories at the Natatorium, isn't required to extend a spousal discount to same-sex couples but then isn't barred from it, either.
For that matter, opined Janis, neither is the City Council which has the ultimate authority to overrule the Parks Board if it seems fit.
But that doesn't quite fit with the objections raised at the start of the debate when Shane and Coty May wondered if their marriage was recognized in at least one jurisdiction (Washington, D.C.) where they were married, why it wouldn't be accepted for the purposes of registering to use a swimming pool in Ohio?
The Mays are no strangers to the Natatorium (photo at left); both originally joined as individual members and still maintain the individual memberships. They wondered, as most of us would, if the neighbors next door could save money through the spouse or family discount then why can't we?
When the issue was first raised, officials in Cuyahoga Falls ducked behind the legalese of the decision by voters to specify marriage in the Buckeye State was between a man and woman, period. They couldn't consider any accommodation because the law wouldn't allow it, they maintained. As if their hands were tied and the state prohibition against recognition of same-sex marriage trumped all policy.
Now, Mayor Robart maintains his real concern is fiscal, and protecting the Natatorium from abuse. As if there are waves of scammers massed at the border, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to rip off the people of Cuyahoga Falls by driving up or down Route 8 in the hopes of finding a cheaper place to swim. I admire Robart as a public servant who usually speaks plainly and gets right to the point, but on this issue I think he's missing the point.
The problem, as documented by the Akron Beacon Journal among others, is that recreation centers both public and private in neighboring communities offer such discounts. They bypass the sinkhole of moral judgment in defining what marriage means by simply offering family or household discounts based on numbers, not gender or faces. They do so without allowing membership rates to become hog-tied by the legalese of requiring a definition. A household becomes the number of people under one roof; a family becomes the number of people living in the household.
It's actually a simpler process than requiring potential customers to show proof of marriage, or a birth certificate to prove the kids are yours. Got a driver's license? Got a utility bill? Have some way to show everyone is under one roof? Good, sign here, welcome to our facility and don't forget to bring your own towel and water sandals.
Instead of "hundreds" of membership categories, as officials with Cuyahoga Falls have maintained they need to serve the community while keeping the barbarians at bay, wouldn't it actually save money and be more user-friendly to welcome new customers who don't need a lawyer to fill out a membership application?
On the face of it, this seems fairly simple. The government, which issues marriage licenses, is one thing. A membership in a facility where people use a swimming pool is another. One exists to keep records and extract payment; the other exists to serve customers who think aquatics will benefit their health. One is a fact of life you can't get away from because, after all, it's the government. The other is a matter of serving the public as a customer.
The question officials on the Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board, City Council and the Mayor's Office should be asking isn't whether the state law trumps serving the Natatorium's customers, or if this serves as a referendum on same-sex marriage, or if the Falls is financially immunized against scammers eagerly awaiting the opportunity to sack the Nat. The first question was answered by the Janis legal opinion; both sides say the second question isn't really the issue and the third question is simply answered by calling the people who run recreation centers both near and far to find out how they manage to run their facilities without falling prey to the "massive abuse" Mayor Robart claims might come to pass by updating their membership rate categories.
Just for the sake of full disclosure, I'm a member of the Macedonia Recreation Center in northern Summit County. My wife and I used to have a family membership, but she'd rather walk than swim so my membership now is strictly individual. Here's how Macedonia's membership policy "defines" family for the purposes of taking a dip in the pool, lift a barbell, play a game of ping-pong, attend a fitness class or take a stroll around the second-floor jogging track:
Macedonia Recreation Center Consists of 2 adults living in the same household or 1 adult and 1 legally dependent child between the ages of 3-18 living in the same household. Children 2 and under are free. Standard proof of residency and ID required for both adults. Age verification of child required from birth certificate or valid photo ID.
The Lake Anna YMCA, Firestone Park YMCA, Green YMCA, Riverfront YMCA and University Park YMCA are also fine facilities with the latest in exercise equipment and places to swim. They're all run by the Akron Area YMCA, a private non-profit organization. Their membership categories are fairly simple and to the point when it comes to the Family membership:
Akron Area YMCA Our Family membership category is: two adults and any dependent children up to 24 years living in the same household. (Evidence may be requested.)
The simple question is: if government-supported recreation centers in Macedonia, Medina and Twinsburg as well as YMCA recreation centers from one end of the county to the other can do it, why can't Cuyahoga Falls?
Put it another way: why shouldn't Cuyahoga Falls?
The City of Cuyahoga Falls is allowed to change its policy for family memberships at the Natatorium if it so wishes, but Mayor Don Robart warns not so fast.
It's about the possible financial implications, not moral judgement, as Robart explained the gay community is welcome and does use the Natatorium.
"This is about rate structure in my view," he said. "We're fiddling with something that we don't know what the true financial impact will be."
On Wednesday, Law Director Paul Janis issued his legal opinion per City Council's request for guidance on the matter. Janis says the city isn't required to extend the rate, but council isn't barred from overruling any decision by the Parks Board on the issue if it wants to provide the rate.
Robart worries this will open the door to others taking advantage of the system and recommends the city keep its policy where it's at for now.
"I think we're opening up a can of worms that could have massive financial implications that I have to consider," he said.
The Natatorium recently declined to offer a same-sex couple a spousal discount. Nat Member Shane May says the Nat told him his marriage was not recognized by Ohio law.
Robart says the city has always followed the state's description of a family: a man, a woman and child or children.
The Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board says they're not in position at the moment to change the rate structure for same-sex couples at the Natatorium.
"We will have to talk amongst ourselves tonight and possibly at the next meeting and have a sense of direction on where we want to go with this or have something drafted for City Council to review," says Board Chairman Tim Gorbach.
He says City Council is waiting on the Park Board to make it's decision, but it won't be made tonight. It is the first meeting the Board has had since Shane and Coty May were denied a family membership at the Natatorium.
The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 this evening.
Falls Law Director: You Can, If You Want To
Gay Married Couple Told "No" By Natatorium
Copyright © 2013 AkronNewsNow & Rubber City Radio Group |All Rights Reserved | 1795 West Market Street | Akron, OH 44313 | 330.869.9800