CUYAHOGA FALLS -- Residents will get a preview of proposed changes to come when City Council's public and industrial improvements committee meets on March 20 and discusses legislation to hire contractors for the Downtown Transformation design-build project.

If approved, the ordinance would authorize the city's director of public service to enter into a contract or contracts to reopen the downtown pedestrian mall to vehicular traffic, convert North Front Street, North Second Street and Oakwood Drive to a two-way operation and reconfigure the state Route 8 interchange.

The measure would also authorize the finance director to increase appropriations by $9.9 million with approximately $7.6 million coming from the Capital Projects Fund; $1.9 million from the Electric Fund; $289,000 from the Sewage and Disposal Fund; and $156,000 from the Water Fund.

Other improvements planned as part of the project, according to a bound overview of the project provided to members of Council and the media, include bike lanes and on-street parking on Second Street throughout downtown and north of Oakwood Drive, off-peak on-street parking on the north side of Portage Trail and removal of continuous right-turn movements from Broad Boulevard to Second Street and on Second Street to Oakwood Drive.

The Downtown Transformation project is using a design-build method, according to the overview, to minimize the disruption to local businesses and fulfill development agreements for the construction of a new hotel and renovation of the old Falls Theater. Using this method, the city provides a portion of the engineering drawings for the project and a design-build team completes the plans and construction in accordance with the city's vision and requirements.

Last summer, City Council approved a contract for the design and engineering of approximately 40 percent of the project with Osborn Engineering and their sub-consultant team of City Architecture and DLZ. The remaining 60 percent of the project was bid last December. Five companies submitted proposals on March 1.

An advisory group comprised of two Council members, the city's service director, engineer, development director, planning director and deputy development director reviewed and scored the technical proposals, looking at everything but bid costs. Then the sealed bid proposals were opened during a public meeting on March 7. Using a formula, final adjusted scores were calculated.

Based on the scoring process and the firm's combined score of 98.52, H.R. Gray of Akron was selected as the contractor for the Downtown Transformation project. City Council will likely vote whether to award them the contract on March 27.

Following the March 13 Council meeting when legislation was introduced, Mayor Don Walters said a lot of planning went into this project before the final approval could be voted on.

"We didn't just wake up this morning and say, 'Let's do it,'" Walters said.

In 2015, the city hired a team of urban planners, landscape architects, urban designers and traffic engineers. The planning team worked with the city and the community to evaluate options to improve how the downtown street grid could better serve city residents in terms of accessibility, usability and economic viability, according to the overview.

The city and planning team hosted two public meetings in September and November 2015 that provided information from consultants and sought written feedback from those in attendance. The two meetings drew approximately 300 people.

In January, Walters 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 the Downtown Transformation Project. Approximately 200 or more were on hand for the meeting.

During that 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."


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