STOW — A mixed-use development featuring restaurants, retail and multifamily rental housing is “the highest and best near-term redevelopment” opportunity for Stow City’s Center, according to a market study shared Thursday evening. And the Stow mayor says she believes “the city should pursue this concept further.”

City Council Chambers were packed for the presentation by Tony Slanec, partner and director of planning and urban design at OHM Advisors. Slanec shared the findings of DiSalvo Development Advisors for city officials to consider as a guide in potentially creating a future downtown Stow with walkability as a central component. Spearheading exploration of this possibility have been Mayor Sara Kline, Stow Service Director Nick Wren, and Council Members John Pribonic and Mike Rasor (at large).

“While going door-to-door over the years, residents have asked me why Stow doesn't have a walkable downtown,” Rasor said. “The answer is poor planning many decades ago. The next question is, naturally, what can the city do about it today? We don't have the money to go out and buy land, but we do have undeveloped land in a prime location near City Hall. Last year, I reached out to people on Facebook, asking whether they would support a downtown Stow. Hundreds and hundreds of people not only said yes, but were very enthusiastic. That resident demand on Facebook was really the impetus for me pushing this forward.”

The potential redevelopment site would involve close to 60 acres of city-owned property in the northwest quadrant of the Graham/Darrow roads intersection; City Hall, the police and fire stations, service center, salt barn, water tower, fuel station, cell tower, a nature area and park with a playground are located there today.

“Based on profiles of other similar-size downtowns and town centers,” the DDA study said, “we estimate that the commercial profile at the site will generally be led by food and drink establishments, followed by retail goods and personal services. A smaller portion of the retail will be occupied by business services that need office space with retail market exposure.” 

Rick Fay, a landscape architect with OHM, noted Graham and Darrow are high-volume and high-visibility roads, which could prove inviting for commercial uses.

Peter DiSalvo, president of DiSalvo Development Advisors, reported a residential component is a big component of success in mixed-use developments in downtown areas. Slanec described the corner of Darrow and Graham as prime real estate in the city that could be transformed into Stow’s “signature.”

Pribonic said he believes Stow residents want their city to have its own identity, and he told those assembled he wants their input.

City Council President Matt Riehl promised residents they will have multiple opportunities to voice their thoughts, starting with the next council meeting on March 22.

“I don’t want anyone to feel like tonight is going to be a picture of a coffee shop that’s going to be there — that’s not at all where we’re at yet,” the mayor said, “but this is a really important step because ... what it will offer us is some analysis and some really good information about what will the free market support here, what is potentially possible to be developed here.”

The endgame of the process, Slanec said, is to solicit private sector interest and investment in this area as supported by the market study. 

Ultimately, what may happen will be between the city and developer, if one comes forward with an offer and idea that the city and community like, according to the mayor.

“With the information contained in the market study,” Kline says, “I believe it is feasible that Stow can create the kind of mixed use, community downtown/gathering space that will serve our city well into the future.” 

A next step would require legislation passed by City Council to seek requests for proposals from developers. Kline says the administration and City Council would work jointly to assess that possibility and craft legislation.

“I'm committed to testing the waters to see if we can find a developer who shares our vision,” Rasor says, “But I won't support doing something just to say we did something. It has meet my criteria of being walkable, with a unique park or greenspace element, with shops and restaurants that are in demand, and without the use of taxpayer dollars for development.”

Reporter Ellin Walsh can be reached at 330-541-9419,