The University Park Alliance must attract believers, those who are convinced that Akron has the potential, the tools and a credible plan for transforming 50 blocks at the city’s core. The task isn’t easy. On Wednesday, the alliance added in a significant way to its case, unveiling a pair of studies that bring a measure of concreteness to the opportunity and the promise.
The analyses of the research firms Tripp Umbach of Pittsburgh and Tetra Tech of Arlington, Va., point to an economic impact of $1.8 billion a year by 2030. That’s no small amount in view of the current output of $2.5 billion generated annually by the alliance anchors, the University of Akron, the three city hospitals and others. The studies cite a gain in the next five years of $250 billion, reflected, among other things, in additional revenue and new jobs.
Worth stressing is that the outcome shouldn’t be measured by the figure of $1.8 billion alone. If the city reached half that amount, it would be much better off. Exceed the sum, and the word “transformation” truly would apply.
What is there for a believer to grasp? Consider that for all the current economic troubles and the particular challenges for aging industrial cities, Akron has a growing economy (2.73 percent a year from 2000-2009). Nearly half of all households have an annual income exceeding $50,000. About 75,000 households can afford a $130,000 residence, the likely price point for University Park.
More, if the University of Akron community tends to pick up and leave the area in the evening, just 6 percent residing nearby, that translates into much potential. Take the share to 15 percent, and something impressive would begin to take hold. Then, add that the other anchors also tend to fall short on this measure. Finally, know that one-third of those working at comparable anchors in Pittsburgh live in the immediate vicinity.
So, the opportunity is real.
Reinforcing the studies is the progress already achieved by the alliance, in the form of the master plan released last year, defining four districts along three main roads, Market, Exchange and Main streets. The alliance has bought on board as a catalyst KUD International, the highly respected and successful global economic development firm. The effort has at its center the indispensable commitment to a shared vision and collaboration among the anchors, not to mention the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Eric Anthony Johnson, the executive director of the alliance, makes a telling point about the timing. He notes that in a difficult economy, when public budgets are strained, the alliance presents a vehicle for moving forward, a place where the strengths of the city converge, where talent can blossom, families and businesses can grow. It won’t happen in an instant, or even a decade. It requires belief, something that Johnson and his colleagues are taking pains to build carefully and concretely.