“On Aug. 1, the board of trustees approved the acquisition of the Crowne Plaza-Quaker Square complex, a nine-acre area in downtown Akron. The complex, which is adjacent to the southwest end of campus, cost the university $22.679 million. On Aug. 20 the purchase was approved by the Ohio Board of Regents and the university has targeted Nov.””
On Aug. 1, the board of trustees approved the acquisition of the Crowne Plaza-Quaker Square complex, a nine-acre area in downtown Akron. The complex, which is adjacent to the southwest end of campus, cost the university $22.679 million.
On Aug. 20 the purchase was approved by the Ohio Board of Regents and the university has targeted Nov. 13 as the date UA will take official ownership.
The major reason for the acquisition is the Crowne Plaza hotel, which will be used for residence housing beginning in the upcoming spring semester. The area also includes the various shops and eateries located within the complex, but UA officials have yet to decide what will become of those.
It’s a big acquisition for us, said Ted Curtis, vice president of capital planning and facility management. Nine acres of continuous ground adjacent to our campus. If we were given nine years, we couldn’t accumulate nine continuous acres of land in downtown Akron.
While UA was ecstatic with the acquisition, Mayor Don Plusquellic was not. Plusquellic said he was upset the university didn’t give the city enough time to react to the deal, especially with the hotel being one of only two in the downtown area. He also said the Crowne-Plaza hotel brings in $4.5 million per year in direct revenue.
We didn’t know about it, Plusquellic said of the purchase, I didn’t appreciate it.
Plusquellic also mentioned he was displeased UA would make a decision that adversely affected the city, especially considering some of the things he’s done for the university. He cited he agreed to give UA $10 million to build new houses – the largest housing project he’s ever done – near the university so students wouldn’t have to stay in the older houses.
We could have spent that $10 million on fixing up 30 different neighborhoods, Plusquellic said. But we decided it was important to support the university.
He also said the city donated 11 acres of concrete that was used for streets right away, and also gave the university $400,000 when they bought the former Urban League building.
I don’t think the university, or any other business for that matter, would appreciate coming in and taking $4.5 million out of their system, Plusquellic said. That’s what would happen if that hotel had just closed down before we had a chance to work with people to try and build a hotel in close proximity to the convention center.
So, it was a matter of saying that we will work with you but give us some time to get another hotel to replace that facility rather than springing it on us and closing it in six months.
After a month and a half of negotiations, the two sides agreed on a deal. The university will keep half of the hotel’s 230 rooms open for public use for two years. According to Ted Curtis, UA’s VP of capital planning and facility management, the public rooms will be on the first four floors and students will occupy the top floor with access granted only with a Zip Card.
Within the Quaker Square complex are numerous businesses that rent office space.
A transition team that includes nine representatives from the university, three Quaker Square representatives and one from the city of Akron is in place. John Case, UA’s VP of business & finance, leads the transition team from the university’s end and said they will make decisions in regards to how they can utilize the shops, diners and office space in the building at a later date.
Case said they will review the leases of the businesses and see if it benefits the university to retain the tenants.
The new residence housing will help offset the demolition of four residence halls on East Exchange and Brown streets, all of which are in the area the university will build an on-campus football stadium. The hotel will house about 208 students until 2009 when it will be used entirely for students.
It will enable us to transfer students who would otherwise be housed in, really, not the very best of our residence halls, president Luis Proenza said after UA announced the purchase. The residence halls that are being razed – Wallaby, Wallaroo, Joey, and Brown Street residence halls – house 469 students and will be in use for the fall semester.
The negotiations to buy Quaker Square only took six months, according to Curtis. He said the negotiations went quickly because we had an owner who wanted to sell and we wanted to buy.
It wasn’t the first time Curtis was involved with buying the facility. He was one of four businessmen who bought the property in 1973.
Curtis is responsible for the grain silos being used for housing. He was the architect and developer of the project that made national headlines in the early ’70’s.
I like to say we went from storing oats to storing folks.
An additional decision must be made regarding Quaker Square. The plaza is a tourist attraction that is a part of Akron history, dating back to 1885 when Quaker Oats first moved into the area. Curtis, who has a great deal of respect for the historical significance of Quaker Square wants to keep it that way, including the stores still present in the plaza.
There is a lot of memorabilia, a lot of history there, Curtis said. We will retain that history. The memorabilia will stay. It’s (been) close to my heart from day one. We will maintain that integrity.
However, the decision to preserve the historical aspect of the factory is something the board will decide at a later date.
We’re still in the midst of looking at how we will optimally use these other facilities, Proenza said.
There are many other candidate programs that can benefit from these facilities. The principle focus of this is, of course, the hotel.