The city's South Front Street neighborhood has come a long way since the early 20th century when industry dominated this stretch along the Cuyahoga River. Today, what was once a brownfield of abandoned factories has been reborn as a mixed-use district alive with condominiums, apartments, shops and restaurants, as well as a public park with a picturesque view of the river.
Fred Guerra, the city's planning director, is passionate about the redevelopment that is taking place here.
"We decided back in 2004 to create this mixed use neighborhood based on principles of higher density; you can work and live in the same neighborhood, it's walkable and all those principles they call now smart growth or new urbanism, only this is not a greenfield, it's a brownfield." Several abandoned factories were purchased and razed either by the city or developer Testa Properties with the city's help, Guerra said, to make way for redevelopment.
The zoning of that area was changed by the city from light industrial to mixed-use
in 2005, Guerra said.
Guerra said the area appeals to millenials (people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s), but that generation was not the target group when the city set out to redefine the area. He said the area also appeals to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964.
"We were doing that, not with the millennials in mind, but for a great neighborhood," he said.
Guerra said the goal was a neighborhood where one can "live in a condominium, walk to a park, walk to the downtown and have easy access to a highway, in this case state Route 8 there are restaurants. You could have a neighborhood that's 24-7 and you don't have to drive everyplace and it just happens that is what millenials want."
Progress began when the city received a $2.5 million brownfield grant from the state in 2008. Money was used by the city to purchase properties and tear down buildings. One of the lots that was cleared was used to expand High Bridge Glens Park, a project that included replacing an observation deck across the river and building a multi-level boardwalk into the gorge.
As the appearance along the riverfront changed, so did the river itself with the EPA's removal of the city's two dams in 2013. As the river returns to its original state before the Industrial Age, experts believe the waterway within the city will become cleaner teeming with fish and wildlife and be an ideal spot for kayakers.
Guerra said plans for South Front Redevelopment preceded the announcement that the federal government authorized the removal of the dams. A former gas station property has also been purchased to build a trailhead, Guerra said, to enhance the edge of the river.
"The entire Front Street corridor is under an amazing transformation," said Mayor Don Walters. "Since taking office [in January 2014], there has been a lot of construction activity started and there are many more plans in the works. In addition to Portage Crossing, Front Street is ready to explode as the 'hot spot' for millennials to live, work, and play."
The first development to be built on South Front Street was the Watermark (see photo on page 11), a project spearheaded by developer Paul Testa and his son Joel Testa, leaders of Testa Properties and Testa Builders. The Watermark includes a section of senior apartments called the Village at Watermark. The development also has commercial businesses on the ground level.
"The idea was to introduce new, mixed-use, Main Street-type development to Cuyahoga Falls," said Joel Testa. "We wanted to create a building that had several uses that could all share the cost of development, maintenance, common space, etc. and therefore share the savings across all of them to be able to achieve lower price points for new commercial space, condos and apartments."
There are 40 senior apartments in the building, Testa said; however, they are all full and there is generally a waiting list. There are also 12 loft condos which are all sold.
Street-level businesses are comprised of The Office Bistro, Craft Beer Bar, Pandora Cupcakes and Staffinders.
Testa is pleased with the response the Watermark has received. "[It's] perfect," he said. "The building is 100 percent full."
Construction is now underway on Testa's second phase of development on South Front Street: Riverwalk. "Riverwalk is an extension of Watermark," Testa said. "We are developing another mixed-use development with retail, apartments and condos. It is anchored by the new Hibachi Japan with a boardwalk leading along the park and down to the river. We will have retail spaces that face the park and Front Street."
Testa said Riverwalk will also provide space for a farmers market on the edge of the High Bridge Glens Park. There are a total of five buildings in Riverwalk, he said. Three of the buildings will have loft apartments and condos above retail and there will be one freestanding restaurant (Hibachi) and one freestanding apartment / condo building. Two of those will be on the water as well.
"The architectural design is sort of a Frank Lloyd Wright meets modern California Asian. At least those are the cues we are pulling from," Testa said.
Hibachi Japan is located at 2251 Front St. and will relocate to the new Riverwalk location in August, Testa said. The current schedule is to start construction on the next mixed-use building in August with lofts ready to occupy in January. The third building will be ready to occupy in March, with the balance being ready the following November.
Also on South Front Street is The Foundry, a former factory built in 1928 that is being rehabilitated by Rick Krochka, president of TRIAD Communications and Next Level Interactive, a full-service marketing and advertising agency also known as TRIAD/Next Level (See photos on pages 11, 13).
Krochka is planning to consolidate the two locations of his marketing firm in Cuyahoga Falls and Akron into the building at 1701 S. Front St. that he has dubbed The Foundry. With the completion of a $1.3 million rehabilitation project at the former Falls Stamping and Welding, Krochka's employees will be able to work together in an open, modern commercial office space with an ample supply of natural light, a setting conducive to the creative work they do designing ads and websites.
Once TRIAD/Next Level is moved into its new home, employees will total 14 full-time and one part-time.
"Work is moving along quickly," he said.
In 2014, the project received a $241,261 Ohio Historic Preservation tax credit from the Ohio Development Services Agency. The Foundry is the first project in Cuyahoga Falls to take advantage of the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit program.
The project has also received a $65,000 Ohio Jobs Grant for restoration of the windows, and it has been accepted for Federal Tax Credits as well, he said, adding Federal Tax Credits are up to 20 percent of the eligible project costs, or approximately $192,000.
"Chris Skoda is the general contractor and he has done an amazing job so far," Krochka added. "The plan is for the building to be completed in late October."
View progress at www.FallsFoundry.com.