CUYAHOGA FALLS — A non-profit organization with a newly appointed executive director is initiating efforts to revitalize and sustain the historic downtown and the riverfront area.

Downtown Cuyahoga Falls (DTCF) Partnership is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization created in May 2018. Keith Saffles, president of the organization, said the partnership was formed under the model of Main Street America and is a member of Heritage Ohio. Kent, Wooster and Medina are also using the Main Street model.

City Planning Director Fred Guerra said the Main Street America model is "commonly used in historic downtowns and has a proven track record of success." The Main Street organization has a four-point transformation policy of economic vitality, design, promotion and organization, according to Guerra.

"The DTCF Partnership was started to provide for the revitalization of downtown Cuyahoga Falls," said Saffles. "We not only support the economic revitalization of downtown, but also the social, cultural, and historic redevelopment. We also want to incorporate our beautiful riverfront more into the downtown experience."

Guerra said the creation of DTC Partnership is part of the city’s downtown transformation strategy that also includes infrastructure improvements, historic preservation and business recruitment. He noted the city in 2017 hired Heritage Ohio — which administers the state’s Main Street program — to create such an organization for downtown. The city also created a strategic partnership team which included chamber of commerce members to "lay the foundation" for the organization, Guerra said.

Saffles said the city invited Heritage Ohio officials to give informational presentations to audiences of business owners, building owners, historical experts, anyone who is part of downtown and residents. People who attended the presentations were invited to submit an application to be part of the organization.

New leader hired for partnership

Saffles said the organization hired Abby Poeske on July 15 to serve as the partnership’s executive director.

"She is a wonderful addition to the partnership and will be a great asset for revitalizing downtown," said Saffles.

Poeske said her job will be "overseeing and coordinating the vision of the community for Downtown Cuyahoga Falls."

"The Main Street organization’s whole goal is to promote historic downtown districts by supporting economic development, supporting local businesses, trying to get more people downtown by marketing and advertising for downtown," said Poeske. "Preserving the historic look and feel of downtown and figuring out how to engage arts and culture and make it feel like its own unique place."

Poeske said she has previously worked in higher education and dealt with areas such as community engagement, connecting people to resources, connecting organizations to one another, and carrying out projects.

She noted she "lit up" when she saw the posting for the executive director’s position.

"I’ve always been interested in cities and urban spaces and how we can create spaces that build community in a positive way," said Poeske.

She added that when she moved to Cuyahoga Falls one year ago, she intentionally bought a house within walking distance of downtown because "I just felt like there was a lot of momentum here. I felt like there was a lot of excitement that was kind of building here."

Poeske said the partnership will work toward getting all the storefronts filled and added she believes the organization can serve as a "liaison to the city." 

If a business is looking to set up shop downtown and the owner is "not sure where to start, maybe we can direct them to the right people, whether that’s at the chamber or at the city," said Poeske.

She added that the partnership can also help notify businesses about funding opportunities to help pay for building improvements and sustainability efforts. Poeske said she wants to make sure businesses are away of the funding tools that are available at the local, state and federal level, and explain to company leaders how they can access the money.

Board of Trustees

The 12-member Board of Trustees is a mix of business owners, property owners, a historical expert, an attorney and residents, Saffles said. He added that a city representative and city council members whose wards are in the downtown also participate in the meetings. The mayor is also invited to attend the sessions, which usually occur on the second Tuesday of the month.

For the Board, Saffles said applications were initially accepted from anyone who was interested. 12 board members were originally selected with one-, two- or three-year terms. To join the board now, a new member must be nominated by one of the current members, according to Saffles. 

Funding for the organization

Saffles said the partnership’s budget is "tight," but noted that support from the city and donations from board members provided enough money to hire Poeske. One of Poeske’s jobs in her leadership role is to raise money.

Under the Main Street model, the partnership must receive one-third of its funding from government entities, one-third from membership or sponsors and one-third through fundaisers, Saffles said.

Volunteers sought for committees

Poeske explained she will oversee committees of volunteers and and board members that will be tasked with generating project ideas that she would then coordinate and implement.

"We hope to get the larger community involved in those committees," said Poeske.

Saffles said there are four committees: finance and organization, economic development, promotions, and design. Poeske said anyone interested in volunteering to be on one of the committees should visit the partnership’s website at www.downtowncf.com/

"What excites me is that I think all of the pieces are here," said Poeske. "Cuyahoga Falls has a beautiful historic downtown, it has the natural asset of the river right there, it has committed community members and good people and a city that’s really behind everything that’s happening downtown and it just all needs to be activated and aligned in a way that makes it even more vibrant than it is."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.