Mayor Walters Takes Downtown Transformation Project to City Council, Full Council Vote Scheduled for March 27

Mar 22, 2017

On Monday, March 21, 2017, Mayor Walters and City Administrators took the final piece of legislation to Cuyahoga Falls City Council to begin the process of revitalizing downtown. With Council approval, road construction could begin as soon as next month. Council will vote on the full project at their meeting that is scheduled for Monday, March 27, 2017, at 6:30 p.m.

“We want to capitalize on the market share that exists because we are in the middle of a transportation hub, but that market share is currently unattainable due to a lack of investment, visibility, traffic, and on-street parking,” stated Mayor Walters. “I have reiterated countless times that we have an important question to ask ourselves, and that is whether or not we want a successful downtown? If we think that a thriving downtown which will benefit all of our neighborhoods and all of our residents is important, then opening the street to traffic is what we must do.”

“The time has come to open the current Front Street pedestrian mall. The area is full of potential, and the current use of that prime real estate simply does not meet market demand,” said Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce Board President Kathy Romito. “We have all the ingredients to make it an amazing public space, one that can equally cater to retail, service and professional offices as well as providing for a safe and inviting public use and leisure area for residents and visitors.”

“When we started this project, we knew that we wanted a fully open process to help garner support from residents, businesses, and property owners. We have done our due diligence through countless studies and public input meetings, and have researched successful revitalization efforts of downtown areas that were once struggling for survival so that we could create an experience and sense of place in our downtown that all residents can be proud of,” explained Planning Director Fred Guerra. “We know that significant investments need to be made to improve our downtown, but by keeping the pedestrian mall open, there is no chance that it will become a successful retail center.”

On December 11, 2016, the City advertised for bids for the design-build portion of the Downtown Transformation Project. Bids were due on March 1, 2017. This was a two-tiered bid process, which included a technical proposal and price proposal. A technical review committee reviewed and ranked the technical proposals on March 3, 2017. The sealed bids were publicly opened on March 7, 2017. The technical proposal was worth 35 points, the price proposal was worth 60 points, and the project schedule was awarded 5 points. Five companies submitted proposals for the project, and the submission by H.R. Gray was found to have the best overall combined technical and price proposal with a construction cost of $9,898,199.

Historically, 200 pedestrian malls were built throughout the country, and only about 11 percent of them have survived. Those that have survived are not located in cities that produce inclement winter weather events. By reopening the pedestrian mall, the city will be able to capitalize on a historic district through federal and state tax credits, improved walk and rideability of the area, the revitalization of retail and housing market potential, and the creation of jobs.

Studies were conducted early in the process that included valuable information on how to achieve a more multi-modal, pedestrian-friendly area. In conjunction, a housing and retail market study was completed to identify retail market capability for downtown. The study found that residents are leaving Cuyahoga Falls to shop elsewhere but would like to shop closer to home. The retail analysis revealed that the area could support roughly 215,350 square feet of retail space. Further, by doing nothing, Cuyahoga Falls is losing an estimated $60.4 million in sales revenues to surrounding municipalities. Additionally, an engineering study was commissioned to evaluate the existing fountains, clock tower, and structural integrity of the parking decks. Further, various community meetings were conducted and continue to garner public input regarding the future redevelopment of downtown. City leaders have worked diligently to make well-calculated and well-researched investments.

The project will be funded by General Obligation Debt, and there will be no increase in taxes. The funds for repayment will be available through maturing debt. The largest Returns on Investment will be realized through increases in sales activity, property values, and job creation.

The planning phase of the proposed hotel also remains underway as property owners work to finalize operator and financing agreements. More information will be forthcoming as the project evolves. Similarly, efforts to redevelop the Falls Theater are currently underway. Developers of both the Falls Theater and hotel have committed to redeveloping property on Front Street and have done so on the condition that the pedestrian mall is opened.  Additionally, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office stated that they would not recommend the area being placed on the National Register of Historic Places if the street is not opened.
Branding efforts have commenced as we begin to redefine our downtown. Residents and business owners are working with branding experts to describe what Cuyahoga Falls means to them and what they envision for the future of the riverfront. This information will be used to tell the story that will market and promote the new downtown. City leaders and industry experts will continue to do their due diligence as this project advances.