Demolition set to clear land for development near Akron’s East End

Akron’s about to get some new green space near downtown that could be the site of more residential development.

Industrial Realty Group, the big Los Angeles development firm headed by Stuart Lichter — better known simply as IRG — plans to tear down a former Goodyear industrial complex on River Street.

The developer, which has already had success developing Goodyear’s former 400-acre campus and its 5 million square feet of space nearby along East Market Street, has decided to demolish the building. It needs to in order to protect the complex from further vandalism and decay, Lichter said.

“Originally, we had hopes of turning it into mini-storage and some apartments and stuff like that. But basically, we haven’t been able to keep the vandals out of the building,” Lichter said. “So, we just went for a grant to take the building down.”

At the end of April, IRG was awarded a $6.42 million grant from the Ohio Department of Development to defray the costs of tearing down the former industrial structures, which Goodyear developed in 1915. The company used the facilities for the mixing of rubber compounds and other industrial operations before shutting them down in 2016 and vacating the property in 2018.

There are nine buildings in the complex, which are in poor condition and have been deemed unsafe, state officials said in awarding the grant.

Most of them are small structures, though, said IRG vice president and senior portfolio manager Bob Ovesny, with one huge building accounting for nearly all the complex’s space.

“It’s six floors and 600,000 square feet, so it’s a big one,” Ovesny said.

The total cost of demolition is expected to be close to $10 million, he said. But it will free up several acres in the process, he noted, which IRG is eying for future development.

The ground initially will be green space attached to the adjacent East End development, Lichter said. Specific plans have not been made, but, eventually, IRG hopes to use it to expand the existing development.

“We’re talking now about another residential phase,” Lichter said. “We could potentially do townhouses. There’s a lot you could do, because the employment around there is pretty high. But our attention hasn’t focused to it yet.”

Lichter said he’s optimistic for the property’s long-term prospects because the existing East End development has done well with the 1.4 million square feet of space IRG has already redeveloped on the south side of East Market Street. That includes East End’s 66 high-end loft apartments it opened late last year, another 105 apartments at The Residences at East End, the Hilton Garden Inn, and 13,400 square feet of retail space occupied by places like Starbucks, Eight Three Brewery and the Marquis restaurant.

The apartments are nearly all full, Lichter said, and East End general manager Paul Harris said 98% of the Residences apartments are full and 70% of the lofts are already occupied after coming online in November.

“The apartments are doing great, the retail is doing great, and the hotel is doing unbelievable,” Lichter said. “With the offices — we’re making some progress, but it’s a tough office environment.”

The project initially signed big office tenants Babcock & Wilcox and accounting firm Ernst & Young, both of which moved into the development in 2019. But COVID has slowed office leasing, Lichter said. Nonetheless, East End has leased 252,000 square feet of office space to date, Harris reports.

IRG might convert some of the project’s existing office space to residential or retail, but that hasn’t been decided yet, he said.

As for demolishing the industrial complex, Ovesny said IRG is eager to get that done this year.

“As soon as possible. We’re motivated to get this done. We had some theft issues related to copper in the building. We’ve mitigated those to pretty much nothing, but the sooner it comes down, the better,” he said. “I think it starts in the next 60 days, max.”

Demolition will probably take a couple of months, he said. After that, the market and the continued success of the existing East End development will determine what gets built on the site, and when.

“Given the campus size, we have a lot of opportunities to do more there, and we certainly want to develop as much as we can,” Ovesny said. “We look forward to turning this into something great in the next couple of years.”

The site would be ideal for more residential development, say city officials and real estate experts.

“I was happy to hear that they’re thinking longer term about redevelopment. That building was a beast, and they’ve already done such a great job of renovating existing buildings there,” said Jason Segedy, Akron’s director of planning and urban development. “That one would have been difficult to reuse, though, so the demolition looks great from the city’s perspective.”

Segedy said he’d especially like to see townhouses go into the site.

“Townhomes would be great, because that’s a product that’s not really out there right now,” Segedy said. “I think that could be a really nice complement to what they’ve already done.”

Such a development would likely also help Akron’s adjacent Middlebury neighborhood, which the city has been working to support, Segedy said.

Jerry Fiume, managing director at SVN | Summit Commercial Real Estate Advisors in Fairlawn, said he also thinks the River Street location would be ideal for more residential development.

“That’s got residential development written all over it,” Fiume said. “That area is going through a transformation, and given that there’s residential neighborhoods to the west, I think that’s probably the best use for it.”

In the meantime, Ovesny said, IRG will be busy at the site finishing its most recent loft apartments and thinking about how to develop some green space to complement its existing development, even if it is just a temporary feature, as the firm hopes.

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