Cuyahoga Falls City Council will vote on Monday, March 27, whether to contract with H.R. Gray of Akron to take on a transformation project that would open downtown Front Street to vehicular traffic for the first time in 40 years.
On March 20, Council's public and industrial improvements committee unanimously approved bringing out the ordinance for a vote at the next meeting.
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 two-way operation and reconfigure the state Route 8 Interchange, at a cost of $9.9 million.
"Two hundred and five years ago when our great city was founded, the Front Street corridor was the epicenter from which our city grew," Mayor Don Walters said to the 80-100 people at the committee meeting. "Way back in 1812, the downtown live-work-and-play concept was alive and well, and ironically in 2017 the fascination still exists."
Planning Director Fred Guerra said the city has looked at reopening downtown Front Street several times since the pedestrian mall opened in 1978. He showed plan drawings from 2007, 1998, 1997 and even 1987.
Consultant Bob Gibbs said this is a good time to act on this project because more stores and restaurants, including national chains, are abandoning indoor malls and locating in downtown areas where patrons can drive up, park close and walk in. Gibbs said a historic downtown, which he said Cuyahoga Falls has, offers character.
"Millennials don't like malls," he said referring to those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. "They want an experience. When they are shopping, they're not buying; they're experiencing."
The mayor said, "We have an important question to ask ourselves: Whether or not we want a successful downtown." The mayor said opening up Front Street would lead to a "thriving downtown" that would benefit all city neighborhoods and residents. "Opening the street to traffic is what we must do," he said.
Thirteen members of the audience spoke in favor of the project when the floor was opened to the public. Several members of Council also voiced their support, including President Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2), Mary Nichols-Rhodes (D-4) and Carol Klinger (R-at large).