STOW — What is Stow’s downtown development plan and will it be realized?

Since the city’s 2006 comprehensive plan, officials have envisioned a walkable retail development at the City Center complex and the adjacent approximately 12 undeveloped acres. Late Thursday, lawmakers approved marketing a request for proposals aimed at attracting developers to submit their ideas for creating a downtown Stow. 

RFPs are the last step in a long process. “From those potential submittals, all parties involved will determine if a plan exists that is in the best interest of the city and the land use at Graham and Darrow Roads,” Mayor James M. Costello said.

In May, the city asked architectural, engineering and planning firm OHM (Orchard Hiltz and McCliment Inc.) to assemble a request for proposal for development of the City Center site, which is found in the northwest quadrant of the Graham and Darrow road intersection, and includes Stow’s City Hall, senior center, police/fire station and the service center. The document outlines requirements for the undertaking, such as the fact that none of the city structures may be moved or demolished in the redevelopment area.

According to Costello, city officials received “conceptual ideas” from the consultant Sept. 18. “They must be reviewed by the administration before submitting to council,” Costello reported in an email to the Stow Sentry. Council was required to approve the package before it is sent out to prospective vendors. 

In March, OHM representatives presented the results of a market study and initial conceptual plans which developers could consider when developing and submitting plans to the city. The findings of DiSalvo Development Advisors indicated a mixed-use development featuring restaurants, retail and multifamily rental housing was “the highest and best near-term redevelopment” opportunity for Stow City’s Center. Based on profiles of other similar-size downtowns and town centers, the DDA study projected that food and drink establishments, retail goods and personal services would predominate at the Stow site, with a smaller portion of retail occupied by office space. Peter DiSalvo, president of DiSalvo Development Advisors, reported a residential component is a big component of success in mixed-use developments in downtown areas. 

Since that time, Stow City Council has withdrawn a plan to create an entertainment district in an area that generally included the City Center property and land along the Darrow Road corridor from Bryn Mawr Drive to Graham Road. If the district had been approved, it would’ve started a process to allow the city acquire liquor licenses for businesses to use in the designated area. The creation of the district was seen by some city officials as part of an effort to create a destination downtown, but critics were concerned about bars dominating the proposed development.

In the past, the Stow-Munroe Falls Community Foundation, a 501(c)3, which is made up of respected community leaders, has been “excited to partner with the city” on exploring the potential development of the Stow city campus from a recreational gathering standpoint, Costello and John Pribonic, the Foundation’s president, say. In 2017, the Foundation conducted a community summit aimed at developing a collective vision of what such a place might include.

“The gathering place concept was certainly high on the list,” Costello and Pribonic say. Integral components of the Foundation plan were: A flexible event lawn, for events such as a movie night, art shows, pickup sports games and an area for food trucks; a splash pad; an expanded pavilion and event space, which would have seating; forested play trails, which would have playground equipment; native pollinator gardens; and a group fitness area. However, when an estimate from the consultant calculated the expense to complete the vision “in the several million dollar range,” Costello and Pribonic say, “It became apparent at that time that the city could not accomplish this feat, even with the assistance and fundraising by the Community Foundation.”

So, the pair say, the administration of former Mayor Sara Kline began exploring the idea of partnering with a private developer to create a downtown destination area that would include a recreational venue or a noncommercial community gathering place.

“The city and the Community Foundation do not have divergent plans,” say Costello and Pribonic. “The goal from all parties involved thus far was to create an opportunity for a partnership to benefit the residents of the city from a recreational and quality of life perspective. These goals were supported at the summit the Community Foundation conducted; the 2018 community survey commissioned by the city, as well as the current and previous comprehensive plans.” 

Will a new SKiP playground be a component of what’s developed? The original SKiP, a beloved wooden playground, was torn down because of deterioration that created safety risks at the site, according to city officials. City Council member Mike Rasor (At Large) introduced legislation which, if adopted, would create a committee to handle the day-to-day planning for a new SKiP playground near the Stow Safety Center off Darrow Road. It remains in committee, with some Council colleagues and members of the Foundation suggesting it would be more appropriate to have a citizen group leading the project. 

While the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce has not directly polled local businesses on this topic, its executive director, Doris Stewart says, “The Chamber leadership is interested in the future development of this area, as well as other areas in Stow and Munroe Falls that will promote and encourage sustainable growth and economic development in the local and regional area.

“Local businesses will definitely have their eye on any potential new business opportunities, or ideas that could potentially increase patronage of existing businesses, while creating a sense of community and enhancing the quality of life for everyone it could potentially affect,” Stewart concludes.

Reporter Ellin Walsh can be reached at 330-541-9419, or @EllinWalsh_RPC.