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Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
By Luis M. Proenza
Our vision for Akron and all of Northeast Ohio is of a place where the artificial boundaries that separate university and community blur and become irrelevant.
As a metropolitan-sited institution, The University of Akron aligns itself with the local and regional community to build economic, social and physical health. We seek the development of an innovation ecosystem that encompasses campuses, business districts and neighborhoods. In physical terms, our vision is of a vibrant, mixed-use environment that is pedestrian friendly and in which everything that happens is somehow about learning and health and wellness.
Economically, we are strong proponents of collective impact, and have established a broad-based and robust platform for regional economic development, which has come to be known as the “Akron Model.” As this exemplar attracts national attention for strides in economic revitalization, we are increasingly asked how and why we are achieving success.
We explain that a changing economy or changing technological underpinnings of any industry require the institutions, themselves, to change, and that the Akron Model provides a useful framework for such a transformation.
We demonstrate how, through innovative collaborations, initiatives and interactions, metropolitan-sited institutions can play a vital role in sustaining and growing their regions in this global, knowledge and conceptual economy. And we tell them that, beyond the many statistics and facts that detail our successes, the most important outcome of the Akron Model is the least quantifiable and most intangible. It is a kind of entrepreneurial optimism, a belief that our collective impact can achieve audacious goals and improbable outcomes.
The Akron Model enables us to believe that we can accomplish bold endeavors because we have accomplished bold endeavors, and we will continue to do so by using the Akron Model as our framework.
For example, our partnership with three regional health care centers and a nearby medical school, supported by additional public, private and philanthropic entities, launched the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron in 2008. The institute seeks to establish Akron as the world’s leading location for biomaterials and medicine, and health care innovation and commercialization. Because of the university’s strength in synthetic materials and polymer research, we chose to focus on innovations that would draw on our existing knowledge base.
Another key component of the Akron Model is the University Park Alliance (UPA), which was established more than a decade ago with major support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. This neighborhood revitalization initiative catalyzes community engagement and private investment in a 50-block area adjacent to campus.
UPA continues to attract additional partners, who have brought new capabilities and vitality to the organization. The latest member to join the UPA team is the global real estate firm, KUD International, a subsidiary of the Japanese construction company Kajima Corporation. KUD signed a master services agreement in 2011 to develop projects outlined in UPA’s master plan to revitalize four districts in downtown Akron.
In commenting on Akron’s new relationship with KUD, The Wall Street Journal noted that many real estate investors pass over the nation’s midsection, while Akron now looks to the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in construction and renovations, including new housing, offices and retail development.
Northeast Ohio can compete in today’s global marketplace, but to do so we must act regionally and collaboratively, we must welcome partners from across the globe as well as from across the street, and we must be bold in our vision, thinking and action.
Dr. Luis M. Proenza is president of The University of Akron, and a member of the executive committee for the Council on Competitiveness, and the Government-University-Industry-Research Roundtable of the National Academies.
Tags: Anchor Institutions, Austen BioInnovation Institute, Collaboration, Knight Foundation, Leadership, The University of Akron, University Park Alliance
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Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
The news site MSN Real Estate just cited Akron, Ohio, as one of the five “most promising” real estate markets in the nation, defined by those markets expected to suffer the smallest slides. The forecasting firm Local Market Monitor made the picks.
The MSN report notes that Akron’s average home price of $148,508 fell by 4% in the last year, and that the local market should hit bottom this year followed by a modest 2% gain in 2013. “Jobs — especially manufacturing jobs — are coming back to Akron,’’ the report said. “Like many Midwest cities, there was no housing boom here to speak of. Values are down just 13% from the peak, about a third of the hit the U.S. as a whole suffered.”
On its face, the fact that Akron’s real estate market is to drop less than most others across the country may seem nothing to feel good about. A city doesn’t grow with soft real estate market. But if you look beneath the surface, there is reason for those of us in Akron to see opportunity ahead. The ranking also is affirmation of our economic recovery as we separate ourselves from the pack of traditional manufacturing cities stuck in the doldrums.
As the Harvard urban economist Ed Glaeser points out in his book Triumph of the City, not every once prosperous city can be restored to economic strength. But some cities can be saved.
The issue for cities today is who can and who cannot produce goods locally and sell them globally.
In Akron, we are maintaining and building a job base in traditional industries while creating new-economy jobs through the development of a vibrant medical industry.
On the traditional side, we’ve added jobs as a result in the uptick in the auto industry, plus we have Goodyear, Bridgestone Americas and nearby Diebold all building new corporate facilities here with a combined capital investment of $360 million.
On the new economy side, the business and university leaders in Akron have come together around a plan, primarily funded by the Knight Foundation, to leverage the economic synergy of our four major anchor institutions — The University of Akron, Summa Health System, Akron General Health System and Akron Children’s Hospital — to build a competitive city with a diverse economy. Seeing this potential, KUD International is now the project manager and major financial backer of the redevelopment of University Park — the 50-block are surrounding The University of Akron and bordering Akron’s three major hospitals. That signals hundreds of millions in capital investment beginning in 2012 and continuing through this decade.
Rather than coincidence, Akron’s ranking among MSN Real Estate’s Top 5 cities is a result of years of planning and proactive leadership in this city, which then led to new investment in the local economy.
University Park Alliance is particularly focused on revitalizing real estate in a 50-block area around the university. It is an area of great opportunity. Call us at 330-777-2070 if you are interested in learning more.
Tags: Anchor Institutions, Collaboration, Knight Foundation, Placemaking, real estate, The University of Akron, University Park Alliance, Urban Neighborhoods
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Monday, June 6th, 2011
If you’ve read about University Park Alliance in the news, you know about our initiative to develop a 50-block area around The University of Akron. We have key parts of the plan in place, and importantly, we have the backing of anchor institutions in downtown Akron, plus investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
As we see it, there is no better timing in recent history to turn a vision like ours into reality. Increasingly, people are choosing to live in cities.
Last year, in an article titled “Back to the City”, Harvard Business Review identified a “major shift” away from suburban sprawl — not just because of changing tastes, but because of real problems related to suburbs. One study showed that measured against a number of daily activities, commuting had the worst effect of all on people’s moods.
Imagine what those moods will be like if gasoline goes to $5 a gallon.
In addition to young workers, aging Baby Boomers are part of the migration back to cities. The reasons are pretty clear. As kids move out and retirement approaches, there is a lot to like about smaller, low-maintenance homes, less yard work and less expensive lifestyle.
My prediction is that once the tide turns, growth will occur naturally and spontaneously as retailers follow consumers. Already, the trade publication National Real Estate Investor has suggested real estate investors expect changing strategies from retailers.
In Akron, we’re ready to go. Our plans are for just the kind of mixed-use, dense development that is drawing people back into cities around the country. See this article in the Akron Beacon Journal for an overview of our vision.
At best, an urban setting offers such interesting variety that it creates its own dynamic. On one hand, diverse people of all ages live in nice homes, in safe neighborhoods, and within walking distance to stores, schools, parks, restaurants and other amenities. On the other hand, urban neighborhoods offer the promise of a simpler way of life — where you might even sit on the front porch on a summer evening.
Contact us today if you’d like to learn more about commercial and residential real estate opportunities in University Park.
Tags: Akron Beacon Journal, Anchor Institutions, Baby Boomers, Knight Foundation, National Real Estate Investor Journal, Parks, Schools, Suburban Sprawl, The University of Akron, University Park, University Park Alliance, Vision, Walkability
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