Seven takeaways from Cuyahoga Falls mayor's State of the City address

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Walters

CUYAHOGA FALLS — Though 2020 was particularly challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city's leader said he felt there were many notable accomplishments.

That was one of the primary messages of Mayor Don Walters' State of the City address, which was delivered through a virtual platform. The city's leader recorded his speech and it first aired during the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce's monthly lunch meeting on May 19.

Last year's speech was canceled due to the pandemic.

Here is a look at seven takeaways from Walters' first State of the City address in two years:

1. Many thank you's to go around: Walters praised residents, businesses, and city and community leaders for their "resiliency and dedication."  

"Saying that this past year was not easy is an understatement," Walters said. "We all had to dig in and make personal sacrifices for the health and well-being of each other, and I want to thank you for all that you continue to do to keep our community safe and well."

He also praised students, parents and school staff for how they've "adapted to the most unlikely of circumstances."

On a professional level, Walters thanked his cabinet and city council for their hard work and efforts in a difficult year. In the personal sphere, he offered kudos to his wife, Stephanie, for her support.

The pandemic shone a light on the work performed by health care workers, public health professionals, first responders, grocery store workers, and truck drivers.

To those members of the workforce, Walters stated, "thank you will never be enough for all that you continue to do."

The mayor also took a moment to recognize residents who lost their life to COVID-19 and sent his "sincerest condolences to their family members, friends, and neighbors."

He encouraged residents to continue doing their part in the fight against the coronavirus.

"I promise you that we will see the other side of this," Walters said.

2. COVID-19 fiscal assistance supported first responders: The city received two grants — one for $4.1 million and the other for $1.4 million — to help pay for wages and benefits for the work of first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those state and federal dollars, Walters said, "provided immense relief" to the city's finances, Walters said.

3. New facilities for police, fire departments: The police department opened an indoor tactical shooting range and training center on Wyoga Lake Road in fall of 2019. 

The training portion of the facility has classrooms and a simulator where officers can practice dealing with shoot/no-shoot scenarios. With both Falls officers and personnel from other area departments using the 9,440 square foot building, Walters said the site has been "incredibly successful" so far.

The fire department opened its new 3,000 square foot Fire Station 3 on Portage Trail in June 2020.

This building includes a classroom, an exercise room, an EMS room for patient treatment, a "state-of-the-art" incident alerting system, and modernized facilities designed to reduce firefighters' cancer risk, Walters said.

Fire Chief Fred Jackson will retire from his leadership post at the end of June and will be replaced by Assistant Chief Chris Martin. The mayor praised Jackson for his many years of service to the city.

4. Road upgrades a high priority: Walter said the city spent more than $3 million on street improvements in 2020, which was 28% more than in 2019. Forty-four streets covering more than 25 lane miles were paved last year. 

The amount that will be expended this year will grow again, with $3.5 million being spent on asphalt street paving and another $500,000 going toward concrete street repairs.

The mayor added the city's "aging infrastructure will also get a boost," with waterline replacement, stormwater and electric upgrades planned this year.

5. Parks department innovates during pandemic: When the coronavirus pandemic shut down its public facilities and programs for periods of time in 2020, the parks and recreation department had to take some innovative steps.

Some highlights, the mayor said, were Mobile Rec handing out Rec2Go Bags, the distribution of more than 500 "Back to School" bags, and a drive-thru trick-or-treat event that occurred at multiple sites in the city.

More than 30,000 bags of candy were handed out during the trick-or-treat event.

"For one day, during a pandemic, we were able to come together in the name of community and fun – even if from a distance," Walters said.

6. Downtown 'brought back to life': Walters said the increased commerce that has occurred on Front Street in the three years since it was reopened to vehicular traffic is "precisely what was predicted through the many market and feasibility studies."

Even with the economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, 18 new businesses set up shop on Front Street in 2020, representing an investment of more than $3 million and the creation of 76 jobs.

"I could not be prouder or more energized every time I am downtown and see the entire area activated with residents and visitors taking advantage of all that our local businesses have to offer," Walters said. "Downtown Cuyahoga Falls has been brought back to life and has blossomed into more than we ever could have imagined."

Two recent major investments are The Workz — a family entertainment center and restaurant — that opened at the site of the former Falls Theater, and Summit DD relocating its headquarter from Tallmadge to Cuyahoga Falls.

7. Walters: 'Honor of my life' to serve as leader: The mayor said the city is moving forward on many fronts and noted it is "the honor of my life" to serve as leader of Cuyahoga Falls.

"Our city is in a continued state of revitalization, redevelopment, and in the midst of an ever-growing housing market with increased property values," Walters said. "…Our state of the city has never been so forward-thinking, welcoming, and action-oriented. I have never been more proud to lead this city."

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