CUYAHOGA FALLS — After hearing public feedback and discussing the issue in-house, the mayor has decided residents will again be allowed to rent the downtown pavilion, but the parks and recreation leader said the overall use of the facility is shifting more toward community events and programs.
In early January, Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Sara Kline said the city would no longer offer the Front Street pavilion for private rentals. In a Jan. 3 email to City Council members and other officials, Kline said the facility would be used for city, school, community and nonprofit events and programs. She noted that private rentals were ended so that more rental business would be directed to the Natatorium and to avoid competition with private businesses offering similar venues.
City spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith added that senior administrators’ initial decision in late November to stop private rentals was made due to "the change in the trajectory of how Downtown Cuyahoga Falls is being utilized."
"Since the opening of Front Street [to vehicular traffic], the city has been intentional about increasing community events and programming that draw residents and visitors to experience our vibrant downtown," said Crawford-Smith.
Kline added the decision was made "thoughtfully and carefully and with a lot of analysis." The administration examined what the pavilion and other city facilities were being used for, and how it could most effectively respond to the community’s needs.
The story in the Jan. 26 edition of the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press generated a lot of negative feedback about the policy change from residents on the newspaper’s Facebook page.
This past week, Mayor Don Walters revised that plan for the pavilion, which opened in 2004.
"Based on public feedback and upon further review of the existing policy, it was decided that the pavilion will be made available to Cuyahoga Falls residents on the limited days that have not already been scheduled for public events," said Crawford-Smith on Tuesday. "Mayor Walters made the decision in an effort to best serve the needs of the residents."
Crawford-Smith said a private renter must present proof of residency in order to reserve the facility.
She noted that demand for pavilion use for community events and programs is "outpacing private rentals." Crawford-Smith said the pavilion is slated to host more than 157 days of programming, meetings and community events in 2020, and 23 more days are booked for private rentals.
Crawford-Smith added more dates are expected to be reserved through requests coming from schools, non-profit and community groups.
"We are well on pace to exceed last year’s utilization rate, regardless of private rentals," said Crawford-Smith.
Kline said having the schools, non-profits and community groups use the pavilion is a "real positive, especially in light of how that benefits the other private businesses downtown."
People visiting downtown for the events may also decide to visit other businesses on Front Street, Kline added.
In 2019, the pavilion was rented out on 174 days, with 81 being private rentals. Of that 81, 54 private rentals were done by city residents. In 2018, the facility was rented out 77 times and 50 were private rentals. The pavilion is located along Front Street, which was closed for several months in 2017 and in the first month of 2018. During that time, the pedestrian mall was torn out and a street accommodating vehicular traffic was constructed downtown.
" … When the road opened, it drove a lot of people [downtown] … that has given us the wherewithal to be able to change the use of the pavilion and the use of the space down there to be more community-driven," said Crawford-Smith.
City officials are focused on bringing more community events to the pavilion and the surrounding space.
Those events include the holiday tree lighting, dog parade, historic tours, progressive meal tours, All City Art Walk, Halloween festivities, Flicks on the Falls movie events, Mom Prom, Daddy Daughter Dance and Falls Downtown Fridays, a summer concert series.
"All of those things were not private rentals, but they sure allowed our community to come experience that space, utilize that public area, [and] be downtown," said Kline.
Crawford-Smith said the city is working with the Downtown Cuyahoga Falls Partnership to "activate the space" in the pavilion and the downtown plaza, and offer activities that draw new businesses and visitors to the establishments along Front Street.
City spokesperson clarifies usage of city facilities
One criticism of the city’s initial decision to stop private rentals of the pavilion came from former community development director Sue Truby, whose letter to the editor was published in the Jan. 26 edition of the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press.
In that letter, Truby wrote, "the three-floor pavilion -- complete with 38 restrooms, a kitchenette and fireplace, is now for city use only." In response, Crawford-Smith said the 38 restrooms on the lower level of the pavilion "have been and will continue to remain open for public use. Additionally, the pavilion is not for city use only."
Truby also wrote: "A resident can no longer utilize the ‘public’ meeting space located in the lower level of Fire Station 5, even though citizens were also promised the availability of this space when the fire station was constructed." In response, Crawford-Smith said, "Per [Fire] Chief [Fred] Jackson, the classroom in Station 5 has never been offered for private rentals. It is used for training our safety forces".
The resident rate to rent the pavilion on Sunday through Friday is $100 per hour. When it was being offered, the non-resident rate for Sunday through Friday was $125 per hour.
The resident rate on Saturday is $1,500 for the day and it was $2,000 for the day for non-residents.
For nonprofits, the rental rate is $15 an hour.
Other facilities available
Both Crawford-Smith and Kline said the Natatorium, Quirk Cultural Center, Lions Lodge, Galt Lodge, and shelters at the parks are also available for rental.
Crawford-Smith said the Natatorium offers amenities which are "equal to or an improvement over what can be offered at the pavilion."
Kline noted the Natatorium and Quirk have staff on hand during events, which is not the case at the pavilion. The Natatorium offers two caterer’s kitchens, while the pavilion does not have a working kitchen. Alcohol is allowed at events in the pavilion, Natatorium and Quirk, but not at the other aforementioned sites.
Kline said "extensive renovations" are happening at Lions Lodge; the facility will not be available in March and April while the work occurs. Wi-Fi and audiovisual equipment will be installed in the building, and the parking lot will be repaired.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.