A look back at the top headlines in Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake in 2020

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
The construction of Cuyahoga Falls Fire Station No. 3 on Portage Trail was completed in 2020. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

CUYAHOGA FALLS, SILVER LAKE — 2020 will always be remembered.

For people who lived through this time in history, it's not likely anyone will ever look back and confuse 2020 with 2019 or 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic altered people's lives in countless ways. The battle for racial justice came to the forefront after the death of George Floyd Jr. in Minneapolis in May and there was a record voter turnout in the presidential election this past fall. Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake residents were impacted by all three of these national-level stories. 

Here's a look back at some of the biggest headlines in Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake in 2020:

1. Schools deal with COVID-19: On March 13, Summit County confirmed its first case of COVID-19. Not long after, Gov. Mike DeWine closed much of the state, including the schools. 

From mid-March through the end of the school year, students in both the Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge school districts took courses through a virtual platform.

High school spring sports seasons were canceled due to COVID. The leaders at both Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge high schools put together a virtual commencement ceremony for their graduating seniors. A parade for Cuyahoga Falls High School's 2020 graduates took place at Blossom Music Center.

When classes resumed for the 2020-21 school year, both districts offered online only courses, as well as either a hybrid or fully in-person learning models to their students. As the amount of COVID-19 cases rose in late fall, both districts went to an all-virtual format. Woodridge is currently scheduled to resume in-person classes on Jan. 4, while Cuyahoga Falls plans to go back to in-person sessions on Jan. 19.

In the Cuyahoga Falls City School District, competitions for winter sports have been paused until Jan. 4, but Woodridge Local School District officials decided to continue winter sports seasons for the time being.

Cuyahoga Falls city hall is currently closed to the general public due to COVID-19. Some employees in each municipality are still working in the building during normal business hours, while others are working from home. Residents can call to make appointments to meet with officials in the building.

Silver Lake village hall was closed to the public for a couple of weeks in December after Summit County was moved to Level 4 (or purple) on the state's COVID-19 map. Mayor Bernie Hovey said he re-opened the building to the public on Monday, Dec. 21, after the county was moved back to Level 3 (or red) on the COVID-19 map. Hovey said village hall will only be closed to the public if the county is in the Level 4 (purple) designation.

For a period of time, the pandemic forced Cuyahoga Falls officials to close the Natatorium, Downview Sports Center, Brookledge Golf Course and Quirk Cultural Center. All of those facilities were later re-opened with various safety protocols in place.

2. Tackling racism: George Floyd Jr. died May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis police. His death led to vigils and Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, with some of those types of events occurred locally.

In June, more than 400 people gathered at Stow City Hall and walked to Silver Lake Village Hall in a peaceful demonstration, which included a silent kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to remember Floyd.

Demonstrations also occurred in Hudson and Tallmadge.

About 130 people attended a vigil in June at The Church in Silver Lake in remembrance of Floyd. Another large crowd gathered for a vigil in the amphitheater in downtown Cuyahoga Falls, also in June.

3. New fire station opens: The new Fire Station 3 at 1601 Portage Trail opened in Cuyahoga Falls in late June.

The city broke ground on the new $4.5 million station in April 2019, with Lakeland Construction in Painesville handling the project. The new station is 14,250 square feet, nearly three times the size of the former Station 3, and has six bays.

There are many features in the new fire station, including separate sleeping areas for each firefighter/paramedic, a classroom capable of training the on-duty shift, and WiFi, according to Fire Chief Fred Jackson.

The old, 5,030-square-foot Station 3 that was located at the same site was demolished before work began on the new facility.

Jackson said the new station is expected to last for 50 years. 

4. Events canceled: The word "canceled" was spoken or written many times throughout 2020, as many events that involved a large gathering of people were canceled in both Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake.

The longest running local events that did not happen this year were the Silver Lake Garden Club Festival, the Memorial Day Parade in Cuyahoga Falls and the Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest. The parade was originally postponed to Labor Day, but then organizers decided to call it off entirely this past summer.

Other well-known events such as the Riverfront Cruise-In, Riverfront Irish Festival and Festa Italiana were also canceled.

Though nearly all of the traditional events were canceled, the city and the village found ways to host some alternative programs. Cuyahoga Falls hosted a drive-through Halloween event where treats were handed out at several locations around the city. During the holidays, Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters lit the Christmas tree in the city's downtown, but the rest of the events that typically occur in conjunction with the illumination of the tree were canceled. Meanwhile, Silver Lake Garden Club hosted a drive-through version of its annual tree lighting event.

5. Businesses navigate COVID-19 challenges: Many city businesses, particularly ones in the service industry, had to figure out how to survive after they were shut down for a period of time during the pandemic. When sites such as restaurants, bars and gymnasiums reopened, owners and managers were faced with the difficult task of making their facilities as safe as possible for employees and customers. More restaurants began offering carryout meals.

Various assistance programs were available to companies. Many city businesses in May received grants from Summit County's COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program. The city of Cuyahoga Falls in late July allocated nearly $400,000 of Community Development Block Grant money to provide grants to help businesses during the pandemic.

A 7,200 square foot addition and a 152-space parking lot are planned at the County of Summit DD Board's building on Second Street in Cuyahoga Falls.  The planning commission on Dec. 15 approved the major site plan for both of these components. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

6. Summit DD project expands: As part of its upcoming relocation from Tallmadge to Cuyahoga Falls, the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities (Summit DD) announced in September it is now planning a building expansion that will bring another 30 jobs to the city.

The expansion comes a year after city council approved a development agreement with Summit DD in conjunction with the county board's plan to move its headquarters from Howe Road in Tallmadge to its building in Cuyahoga Falls at 2355 Second St.

That relocation is expected to bring about 100 jobs to Cuyahoga Falls.

Summit DD announced this year they will construct a 7,200 square foot addition to its existing 15,800 square-foot building on Second Street, a move that will bring in 30 more jobs. Summit DD is planning to develop a 152-space parking lot on the site, too. 

The major site plan for the addition and the parking lot were approved by the Cuyahoga Falls Planning Commission Dec. 15. The legislation will be introduced at the city council meeting on Dec. 28. 

John Trunk, superintendent of Summit DD, said his organization is planning to start construction in spring of 2021 and hopes to have all 130 employees relocated from the Howe Road site in Tallmadge to the Cuyahoga Falls building by spring of 2022.

Overall, a total of $8.1 million in added payroll will come to Cuyahoga Falls when the project is finished. The city will receive about $163,000 in annual new income taxes from the additional jobs.

A project to reconstruct a portion of Howe Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls was completed in late September of this year. The project occurred the construction seasons of 2019 and 2020.  [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

7. Howe Avenue project completed: A $5.9 million reconstruction project occurred on Howe Avenue occurred during the past two construction seasons. Portions of eastbound Howe between Route 8 and Buchholzer Boulevard were closed for the work that was performed by Kenmore Construction. 

During the 2019 construction season, Kenmore installed asphalt on Howe between Route 8 and Main Street in the first phase and then did the same work on Howe between the Applebee's entrance and Buchholzer. Eastbound Howe reopened in October 2019 and stayed open until April of this year when it closed again so Kenmore could resume the project.

Businesses owners along Howe said that having the road open only in one direction proved challenging, but said they were pleased to see the project finished with upgraded infrastructure. The project also included drainage, curbs, sidewalks, lighting, new signage and sidewalks.

Erich Weiss, owner of the Chick fil-A on Howe Avenue, said he was "very happy" that the road had reopened to traffic in each direction. Cuyahoga Falls City Engineer Tony Demasi said a collaborative effort among municipal and business leaders, as well as stakeholders, helped the project unfold smoothly.

A company is planning to spend $10.3 million to transform the Falls Towne Centre into a mixed-use site with 38 apartment units and 7,000 square feet of retail space. Legacy 2020 first needs to purchase the building. The closing on the sale is scheduled for Feb. 1, 2021. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

8. Falls Towne Centre will be revamped: A company 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.

City Council in May approved a 15-year tax abatement to Legacy 2020 LLC in connection with the company’s plan to purchase the Falls Towne Centre building at 2020 Front St. and redevelop the 55,428-square-foot structure into a mixed-use facility.

Legacy 2020 is planning to purchase the building for $4 million and the closing date for the acquisition is slated for Feb. 1, according to Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio. The closing date was originally planned for 2020, but was moved back, which means the redevelopment of the property was also delayed from its original date.

9. Kyocera bringing more jobs to city: At the start of 2020, Kyocera SGS Precision Tools announced it was planning to make a $22.4 million investment that will move 84 employees, equipment and inventory from two buildings on Main Street in Munroe Falls to a pair of structures on Marc Drive in Cuyahoga Falls.

These 84 employees encompass nearly $5.7 million in annual payroll. In addition, about $11.3 million in machinery and equipment will be moved to the Marc Drive sites.

The company is planning to spend $2.97 million to remodel the inside and outside of the 220 and 238 Marc Drive buildings to match the design of another Kyocera SGS building at 150 Marc Drive. 

City Council in January approved a 10-year, 75-percent property tax break agreement for Kyocera in conjunction with the company's intended investment.

Colavecchio on Tuesday said that the relocation of the 84 jobs is expected to happen at some point in 2021.

10. Use of downtown pavilion changing: Early in 2020, the city of Cuyahoga Falls decided to go in a different direction regarding the use of its downtown pavilion. The building will now be used more for community events and events rather than private rentals, according to Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Sara Kline. The city initially announced it would no longer allow private rentals of the pavilion, but changed course to allow residents to rent it after officials received a lot of public feedback about the initial decision. Kline said the move was made to direct more private rental business to the Natatorium.

With the pandemic greatly restricting indoor events this year, it's safe to say that the impact of this change was not felt much in 2020, but certainly will be once indoor events can again occur on a regular basis.

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