Downtown Akron Adds to Area's Quality of Life
With its strategic location and pro-business atmosphere, Greater Akron has long been known as a hub for industry and technology. But as more people are discovering, downtown Akron and its surrounding neighborhoods also are among the region’s most desirable places to live, work and play.
Ken Stapleton, senior economic development adviser and executive director of the University Park Alliance, says the urban revival is all about creating the right lifestyle to attract the “creative class,” a term coined by economist and social scientist Richard Florida to describe clusters of people in arts, media, science, technology, education and other knowledge-based professions.
“The main goal – whether you’re talking to employers or economic development professionals – is attracting the creative talent that is essential to the region’s success,” Stapleton says. “These people are looking for a ‘green’ lifestyle – active, walkable city living, with great diversity and amazing arts and cultural amenities.
A 50-block area surrounding The University of Akron, the dynamic University Park neighborhood plays host to a variety of business and residential developments, including Spicer Village, a 25-unit townhome community featuring plenty of amenities and ample green space.
“Spicer Village is a great example of green living with rooftop gardens, Energy Star appliances and bamboo flooring," Stapleton says. "But what makes University Park unique is the access to the university campus and vibrant urban core. We’re just improving on Akron’s already-strong amenities.”
Bringing Them Back Downtown
Joel Testa, chief operating officer of locally based builder and developer Testa Cos., points to Akron’s many location advantages and a downtown that offers a rich collection of galleries, restaurants, nightlife and other attractions. “The only thing missing was the residential option,” he says.
Testa is working to remedy that situation, marketing the company's Northside Lofts as “The Cure for Suburbia.” Located in the trendy arts and entertainment district of downtown Akron, Northside Lofts offers a decidedly upscale urban lifestyle complete with sophisticated amenities normally associated with world-class hotels. From dedicated concierge services to a private limousine, Northside residents enjoy ready access to all that the city has to offer.
A healthy mix of shops and restaurants also are emerging, including The VegiTerranean – a hot new vegan restaurant opened by Akron native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Chrissie Hynde.
“We run into people who grew up here and moved away, and they can’t believe the transformation,” Testa says. “They’re blown away.”
But along with attracting new investment, Stapleton insists that successful revitalization efforts are about facilitating a genuine sense of community through local partnerships and neighborhood events. For example, University Park hosted the inaugural “Light-UP” Lantern Festival in October. Presented by the University Park Business Association in cooperation with Leandra Drumm Designs, the free, family-friendly event presented a colorful display of lantern lights as well as plenty of music, dance, performance art and great food.
“This is the kind of event that makes University Park so special,” Stapleton says. “Here’s an active, self-organized business group bringing the neighborhood together for an evening of fun. Engaging the community and celebrating the global culture that already exists, that’s a big part of what’s driving our success.”