Private investment in downtown Cuyahoga Falls continues during COVID-19 pandemic

Numbers are down, but Front Street 'continues to thrive,' official says

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
From left, Cuyahoga Falls Deputy Community Development Director Mary Spaugy and Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio are pictured on a sidewalk along Front Street. Colavecchio said businesses have created 22 new jobs and invested $1 million in project in the downtown so far this year.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect seemingly every aspect of people's lives, companies are continuing to invest in downtown, although citywide investment is lower than it was at this time a year ago.

Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said that despite the pandemic the downtown area "continues to thrive" with the creation of more jobs and investment value, but noted total investment by businesses throughout the city is "down $3.2 million year to date."

"We, like most cities across the nation, have experienced a slow-down due to COVID," said Colavecchio. "Fortunately, although projects have been delayed, they have not been canceled."

A look at job creation, business investment numbers

Colavecchio said her office has tracked business project value investment and job creation throughout the city since the start of 2019. A quarterly report is provided to city council.

At the end of June, 67 new jobs had been created and $2.35 million in project value investment had occurred throughout the city. At the end of June last year, the amount of investment stood at nearly $5.5 million.

Downtown Cuyahoga Falls has continued to have new businesses opening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two businesses that closed at the beginning of coronavirus-related restrictions have since reopened.

The city's downtown area boasts 22 of those 67 new jobs and $1 million of the $2.35 million in project value investment. At the same point in time in 2019, eight new jobs had been created and $249,000 in project value investment had occurred downtown.

"We're pleased with what we're seeing [in the downtown]," said Colavecchio at a council meeting in late July. "The downtown continues to be a very popular place for business. We have lately [had] a lot of new businesses pop up over there."

The construction of the new Portage Community Bank, which was completed in late January, encompasses the $1 million in investment that's happened downtown and brought in 10 of the 22 new downtown jobs, according to the report. Other new businesses that set up shop downtown this year that brought in either one or two new jobs were: Carriage Realty; Cultivate Counseling; Grace And Olive; Marketing Juice; Restorative Massage Wellness; Shop Local Akron; So Dewanna; The Pinter Team; Tranquility Reiki and Restorative; Viking SEO and Wake Up Your Life.

The development department monitors the amount of job creation commitments and the amount of project value investment that companies have committed to doing. At the end of June, downtown businesses had committed to creating 207 jobs and investing nearly $35.17 million, which includes the 22 new jobs and $1 million investment that has already happened. At the same point in time in 2019, downtown businesses had committed to creating 210 jobs and investing almost $23.8 million.

Other new businesses expected to open downtown this year are: The Workz, Oct. 1 (30 new jobs, $1.6 million investment); The Gourmet Popper, Oct. 1 (two new jobs, investment value TBD); Tommy Bruno building, Oct. 1 (TBD on jobs, $400,000 investment); Magna Wine Boutique, Dec. 1 (10 new jobs, $40,000 investment); and Farmer's Rail, Dec. 1 (12 new jobs, $1.5 million investment).

The Workz is a family entertainment center and arcade eyed at the former site of the Falls Theater. Colavecchio said the Tommy Bruno building is being renovated in preparation for a new business, but added it is not known what type of business will be located on the site.

Craft Beer Bar and Pav's Creamery both closed at around the time when restrictions on operations of restaurants and bars were imposed due to COVID-19. Craft Beer Bar reopened in mid-July with the name Craft Social and Pav's Creamery reopened in early August under new ownership.

There are three projects that make up a large portion of the $35 million investment commitment: Testa Townhomes (0 jobs, $14 million investment), which is expected to be finished in 2022; Legacy 2020 (one job, $10.33 million), slated for completion in 2022; and Summit County DD ($6.3 million and 130 new jobs), eyed for completion at the end of 2021.

Joel Testa, president and chief operating officer of Testa Companies, said 49 townhomes are planned on South Front Street across from HiHo Brewing Co., and another 10 townhomes are envisioned on North Front Street behind Testa Companies' building. A start date for the project has not been established yet.

Colavecchio said her staff is focused on helping businesses make it through the pandemic.

"Our primary objective … was to assist our small business community in any way possible to keep their doors open," said Colavecchio.

The city has provided $5,000 COVID-19 relief grants to 42 small businesses so far and is now offering 20 more of those working capital assistance grants.

Applications will be accepted starting Sept. 7 at 8 a.m. through Sept 25 at 5 p.m.

Complete applications or questions can be emailed to Peggy Szalay (CDBG Entitlement Administrator) at szalaypl@cityofcf.com.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com or on Twitter at @keren_phil.