Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Highland Square -- What's Goin' On?

Joe at RubberBuzz notes that the Highland Square Neighborhood Association is sponsoring a town hall meeting with a New Urbanism guru. From the press release:

Hudson's presentation will deal with Highland Square's needs for creating design and development standards for creating a more livable urban environment and how residents can work together with the city and with developers to establish such guidelines.
Which is all well and good, but is it really who Square afficianados need to hear from right now? Don't they instead need an explaination of what happened to the Square's redevelopment? If you are new to the recent history of Highland Square, see the reset at the bottom of the post.

Rumors are flying around like swamp mosquitoes. The more pernicious rumor is that Acme guy and landlord-to-the-Square Steve Albrect is going back on his agreement to rebuild with a New Urbanist, pedestrian-friendly ethos. In particular, Albrect wants to go back to his original plan of parking in front. The reason for the delay, this reasoning goes, is that he wants to "wait out" Highland Square residents. This rumor is made virtual flesh in this forum on the HSNA website.

A more likely scenario is the one David Giffels pieces together in this column -- that Albrect and the city are arguing over money. I've heard something similar from staff at West Hill library. Remember that Albrect is losing significant money with two empty stores. He is also smart enough, I think, to know that burning all of the good will -- or at least lack of bad will -- by going back would be a PR disaster. During the negotiations over the design guidelines he kept saying that no one could guarantee him that a pedestrian-friendly commercial development could succeed. True enough, but I can guarantee that if he listens to people, he will not witness a HS-led boycott of Acme stores.

But now the natives are getting restless. Someone -- either from Albrect Group or the City -- should dole out a small clue as to what is happening.

Reset: Steve Albrect owns most of the property in the western part of Highland Square, including the Starkle Markle building [incorrect info edited from original]. As the consensus grew that it was time to redevelop the area, he was an obvious participant. Among the HS residents were a couple of New Urbanism acolytes who were keen to maintain the character of the neighborhood.

Albrect was reluctant to embrace the aesthetic. He wanted more traditional retail space with parking in front (read: strip mall). He also wanted to bring in high-end national retailers.

At the same time, Akron-Summit Library needed to expand West Hill -- to this day the only branch that has not been rebuilt. The idea of knocking down the Von apartment building was run up a flag pole and not saluted. The alternative is closing the end of Highland Avenue and building out to the west of the current site. This is the part of the plan that apparently is still subject to dickering, as it also includes transfers property from Albrect to the city.

Everyone involved was ultimately able to hammer out a set of Design Guidelines. Since then Starkle Markle has closed and Church on the Square moved out of the former Roadrunner/Kerry-Edwards space. And then, nothing. Which brings us to now.