Cuyahoga Falls -- Mayor Don Walters hopes to see digging start soon on a $13 million city project to open up the Front Street Pedestrian Mall that has been closed off for 40 years and make it a two-way street.

Walters on Tuesday hosted a forum at the Natatorium to update the public on what his administration has learned in the past two years as it has studied and planned for -- with Council's approval -- the Downtown Transformation Project. Approximately 200 people were on hand for the meeting.

Walters said he works for the residents and he wants the downtown to be a "vibrant" place where people can go to shop, eat, enjoy entertainment and find employment. "Something you can be proud of," he said. Walters said his plan to transform downtown would increase property values and give the economy a boost.

"We have an average of 85,000 cars a day drive right through our downtown on Route 8," Walters said. " we need to give them a reason to get off the highway and spend some money."

Walters emphasized even though City Council approved 40 percent of the engineering, the opening-up of Front Street will not happen without its final approval. The mayor said he didn't want speak for Council " and I'd never want to pressure them."

Last year, the city gathered information from residents, downtown property owners, business owners, developers, potential investors, government officials, retailers, festival committees, and other communities. Walters said many of the things the public asked for are being included in the city's plan.

"We heard you and now we'd like to show you," he said. The downtown transformation would include on-street parking, trees, landscaping, benches, bicycle racks and repair stations and places where dogs can get a drink of water.

Walters said Cuyahoga Falls, like many cities across the country, believed closing off its downtown to vehicular traffic would bring back shoppers who abandoned the stores there for indoor malls and newer shopping plazas. That proved successful for only a handful of cities down south.

Walters said there is currently not enough foot traffic in downtown Cuyahoga Falls to support traditional retail stores. "And that's why they're not there," he said.

"Unfortunately, you've seen in the newspaper, Chapel Hill Mall is not doing well," Walters said. "People are buying a lot of things online now. They don't want to go to a big indoor shopping mall." The mayor said retail demands two things: visibility and accessibility. "A big indoor shopping mall offers neither. A pedestrian mall offers neither because you don't know what's there."

Walters said most people are not going to want to park their car in a parking deck in February and walk two blocks to a pedestrian mall on a weekly basis to see what's new. Front Street south of the Sheraton is "exploding with development," the mayor said, because "they have a road To the north, there is no road."

See the Feb. 5 edition of the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press for the complete story.

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