COPYRIGHT 2007 Akron Beacon Journal

Byline: Betty Lin-Fisher

Apr. 19--The University Park Alliance is doing the right things to transform Akron into a city where people want to live, work and play, said the president and chief executive officer of CEOS for Cities, a national network of mayors, corporate CEOs, university presidents, foundation officials, and business and civic leaders. The goal for cities across the country that want to be successful in attracting and retaining people is to get institutions working together to share a plan for success. "It looks like you're getting there first and quicker in Akron than other cities and becoming a role model," Carol Coletta, the keynote speaker for the University Park Alliance's annual luncheon told a crowd of about 450 in the UA Student Union Ballroom.

"This partnership represents people pursuing a dream of what their city can be," Coletta said. The alliance is a collaboration of community leaders from the University of Akron, Summa Health System, the city of Akron and businesses trying to revitalize a 40-block area around the university. The alliance was created in 2001 with a $2.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Last fall, the foundation awarded the alliance its largest-ever grant of $10 million over the next five years to continue the work of revitalizing the 700-acre area in and around UA and downtown Akron. UA President Luis Proenza said the alliance would continue to create a vibrant mix in the city as it expects to leverage between $500 million to $1 billion in private and public investments in the next five years. Its goal is bringing 1,000 new jobs and 500 new housing units. "This will do nothing less than transform Akron," Proenza said. Summa President and CEO Thomas J. Strauss, another founding member of the alliance, said combined, the employees of Summa, UA and the 300 businesses in the alliance area have a payroll of half a billion dollars. Summa in the last five years has invested more than $100 million into projects on its Akron City Hospital campus. UA has spent $300 million on its campus, including a new residence hall, which Proenza said will have street-level shops, including a convenience store, Dairy Queen and bike shop. The city of Akron last month announced a $30 million project to restore the city's 1929 former post office on East Market Street for Summa employees and build a long-term acute care hospital to serve patients of both Akron General Medical Center and Summa.

And Ken Stapleton, senior economic development adviser and executive director of the alliance, hinted that there are many private and public projects in the works that are to come -- including tens of millions of dollars in private investment and perhaps one project in 2007 that could be an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars. "The buzz is there. The private investors are circling," he said.

Four major conditions called "city vitals" by Coletta are needed to be successful, she said. They are attracting and retaining talent; connecting citizens with the city, region and world; being distinctive; and fostering innovation. The alliance partnership has done well in identifying all of those and is well on its way, she said. Coletta said a study by her group showed 64 percent of young people ages 25-34 said they first choose the city they want to live in, then begin looking for a job. "It's important to marry livability with job attraction. You've got to make people want to live in your city," she said. "What you're modeling is exactly what you need to be doing throughout the community." Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio

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