CUYAHOGA FALLS — A developer is planning to spend $10.3 million to transform a downtown office building into a mixed-use site with 38 apartment units and 7,000 square feet of retail space.

In conjunction with the project, the administration is asking council to give Nieuw World Capital Management LLC a 15-year tax abatement on the added value created by the improvements to the building. Council will vote on the tax break deal at its meeting on April 27.

The California-based development firm is owned by Marc Makebakken, a former Falls resident who is poised to purchase the Falls Towne Centre building from Falls Towne Centre, LTD for $4 million. The plan is to close on the transaction on May 19.

The 55,428-square-foot Falls Towne Centre building is located at 2020 Front St., across from the clock tower on Front Street at Broad Boulevard. The office building was built in 1989.

Makebakken said if other steps occur in his expected time frame, conversion of the building to residential/retail space should begin in January or February 2021.

Makebakken said he and company officials "really love what the city’s done" to revitalize downtown, including reopening Front Street to vehicular traffic.

"We really want to be a part of that," said Makebakken during council’s April 20 committee meeting.

"We believe that this is a fantastic project that’s going to greatly add to the landscape of the downtown," added Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio.

She said this project will allow more people to live downtown and hopefully patronize the businesses along Front Street.

Nieuw World Capital Management LLC is planning to spend nearly $5.9 million on new construction, $264,110 on improvements, $150,000 on equipment and $30,000 on furniture and fixtures. The project will generate two permanent full-time jobs for Nieuw World Capital Management LLC and more than 50 temporary construction jobs, according to Colavecchio, who added that about 15 to 30 jobs would likely be brought in to the expected retail space.

The 38 residential apartment units are envisioned for the second and the third floors of the building and the 7,000 square feet of retail space is eyed for the first floor, said Makebakken. The apartments will be a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, as well as some loft spaces and live-work areas. He added he would like to see an "upper scale restaurant" in a portion of the retail space.

Colavecchio said the city is planning to provide 50 dedicated parking spaces in the red parking deck for the people living in the apartment units. The red deck has a bridge that connects directly to the Falls Towne Centre.

To convert the office building into an apartment building, the interior of the structure must be completely rebuilt, according to Colavecchio. There will also be an exterior upgrade whereby the courtyard behind the building will be enclosed and some balconies will be put up on the front of the structure. She noted that the building today has a 20 to 25 percent occupancy and that Nieuw World is planning to "work with" the tenants that are in the building now.

Colavecchio said the city and Nieuw World are defining this project as "new construction," a classification that allows the Ohio Development Services Agency to approve a 15-year tax exemption time frame. The tax break deal is "front-loaded and staggered" and averages out to a 50% abatement during the 15-year period, said Colavecchio. A draft agreement shows a 100% abatement in each of the first three years, and that abatement level is slated to decline in subsequent years until it’s at 20% in each of the final three years.

Colavecchio emphasized there is not an abatement on the existing property taxes that are currently collected on the building.

City officials’ thoughts on the project

City officials said they were looking forward to the redevelopment of the building.

"It’s going to be a great shot in the arm for downtown," said Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters.

Council member Meika Marie Penta (D-3) added she was "excited for the project."

"We’re thrilled that you’re making this development happen downtown," stated Council member Mary Nichols-Rhodes (D-4).

Makebakken noted he’s kept an eye on the Falls Towne Centre for a long time.

"I’ve always loved the building," said Makebakken. By redeveloping the site, he noted he is hoping to "create a legacy piece that we can hold on to for a long time."

Issues surrounding parking and traffic were raised by Council member Drew Reilly (Ward 1), who noted that there is a limited amount of parking available downtown and said he wanted to make sure that reserving 50 parking spaces in the red deck did not deter other people from coming downtown to dine and shop.

Planning Director Fred Guerra said the red deck was originally built specifically for the Falls Towne Centre building and estimated the red deck typically has about 30 to 40 percent of its parking spaces occupied. The nearby blue deck is usually about 20 to 30 percent full.

Reilly said there are already concerns about traffic congestion at Front Street and Broad Boulevard, and noted he felt the city should soon re-examine traffic flow issues after the Towne Centre project is finished.

"It’s already been identified as a problem and if we’re adding more units downtown and more people are going to be living downtown, that’s going to be an increase in the traffic issue," said Reilly. "I want to make sure we’re being forward-thinking and going to resolve that issue that we know is going to pop up."

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