Release Date: September 24,2020

Downtown Akron Partnership Plans to Evolve with Reception of a Major Grant from Knight Foundation

September 24, 2020, Akron, Ohio — On Tuesday, September 23, 2020, Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) was awarded a $1.35 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of an $8 million block of grants dedicated to public space improvements in Akron. DAP plans to use the funds to continue to enhance public spaces in downtown Akron.

President and CEO of DAP Suzie Graham said, “This grant will help drive the next evolution of DAP, allowing us to move into an enhanced public space management role. Some of that evolution is going to come in the form of more self-sustainable, revenue-building programming, and developing stronger connections between storefronts and public spaces so that visitors come for one reason, but stay for a second or even a third reason.”

A portion of the grant will support DAP’s work with Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV), who were responsible for the redevelopment of Bryant Park in New York, in addition to parks and public spaces around the world. BRV has devised transferrable strategies for public spaces that are self-sustaining and revenue-generating.

Since 2017, DAP has used funds from previous Knight Foundation grants to make strategic investments in public spaces across downtown Akron to drive private investment, develop a more walkable neighborhood, improve perceptions of safety, attract talent, maintain a high quality of life and build a sense of place.

“We’ve gotten more skilled at adding value and vibrancy to our neighborhood by activating public spaces with art, programming and clean and welcoming services, so the future enhancements we enact will be bolder, smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive to all downtown visitors,” Graham said.

DAP’s investments have included the creation of the Northside Green, a space that did not exist just two years ago. With the guidance of Northside stakeholders, the space that would otherwise languish as an unused portion of the parking lot has become an oasis, with a colorful mural, seasonal plantings, innovative public seating and a portable busking system for impromptu concerts. DAP also engaged Historic Arts District stakeholders at North High Street to create spaceLift, which added beautiful public seating with a parklet, improved walkability and pedestrian-level lighting, a place-making mural with Art Bomb Brigade and Never Turn Back, an installation with Spanish art collective Boa Mistura.

Owner of Akron Coffee Roasters, Albert Macso was enthusiastic about the results brought by the North High St. parklet, just outside his doorstep, “Even though it's on a busy one-way street it feels comfortable and private. We are super lucky to have it during the pandemic so we can provide outdoor seating to our customers."

Other downtown investments included “The Link,” “Lock Next,” significant support for the creation of the Northside Marketplace, enhancements to Cascade Plaza, hundreds of free, space-activating programs from fitness classes to roller skating parties, concerts and parties, and a large Boa Mistura installation Roots of Rubber at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School.

Amanda Morgan, Instructional Leader of NIHF STEM School said, “The art installation on the plaza is a wonderful example of collaboration between DAP, the city of Akron, Boa Mistura, and Akron Public Schools.  Members of each of these groups came together to create a work of art in a space that has been enjoyed and used by all to learn, work, and play.”

DAP also administers the downtown Clean and Safe ambassador program with a team of ambassadors focused on keeping the 42-block Special Improvement District clean with trash pickup, graffiti removal, power washing and beautification through flower bed and container plantings, as well as safety escorts, assistance to stranded motorists, directions and working with street-level businesses to address security and safety concerns. In 2019, DAP increased its beautification, programming and public space capacity by creating Urban Corps, which provides year-long volunteer opportunities to community members who want to give back to Akron.

“Knight Foundation’s flexibility with and trust in DAP has helped us to make valuable connections in downtown Akron. We’re starting to see real systemic growth and connection among downtown stakeholders, residents and visitors,” said Graham.