“Ken Stapleton gets excited when he talks about University Park Alliance. But there’s one aspect of it that really gets him going: Make a Difference Day. The executive director of UPA can hardly contain himself when he begins talking about community engagement.””
Ken Stapleton gets excited when he talks about University Park Alliance.
But there’s one aspect of it that really gets him going: Make a Difference Day.
The executive director of UPA can hardly contain himself when he begins talking about community engagement. For him, it’s the component of UPA that makes the others possible – and successful.
This is the third year that UPA will sponsor projects for Make a Difference Day. Stapleton and his staff currently have 60 projects planned for Oct. 27. Jay Groat, the senior pastor at First Congregational Church, is chairing the Make a Difference Day program this year.
Stapleton said they have focused on meaningful service, so that volunteers can get a true sense of involvement. They hope to do clean-up, murals, landscaping and park improvements throughout the day.
It’s all about getting people to have relationships with the community, Stapleton said. To have a long-term effect, we have to build community.
Community is about relationships.
Last year, some volunteers did develop relationships with the community. Two individuals who worked on a mural at Children’s Services Bureau decided to volunteer on a regular basis.
Another was involved with a clean-up project at a residence and decided to go back – on their own time – to finish helping out.
USA Weekend Magazine created Make a Difference Day, the national day of doing good. It is an annual event held on the fourth Saturday of October.
Over the past two years, UPA has coordinated projects with volunteers from Summa Health System and local churches, in addition to students. This year, Stapleton is hoping for 1,000 volunteers – or more.
He already expects a significant turnout of student-athletes as well as members of Greek Life, which has already pledged a number of volunteers.
UPA continues to
With a $2.5 million John S. and James L. Knight grant in 2001, University Park Alliance was established. It is a collaboration of community leaders; the university, city of Akron, Summa Health System, foundations and businesses. Last year, the Knight Foundation awarded UPA $10 million to be distributed over five years.
Under Stapleton’s direction, investment in University Park – both private and public – has reached $200 million.
In spite of this, Stapleton concedes there is some skepticism, which he sees as normal. But he is confident that success stories will overcome that.
With the support of strong community partners, Stapleton believes that UPA will continue adding to its success stories. One of those partners is Akron mayor Don Plusquellic.
The projects have required his strong support and he’s given it, Stapleton said. He’s been an excellent supporter.
One such project that involves Plusquellic is street lighting in University Park. Stapleton said that Akron will set a new standard for lighting. Better lighting and maintenance are important to making the community safer, he said, and they are working on making that a reality.
That’s only one aspect of their collaboration, however. Stapleton said that UPA has been discussing pedestrian crossings, traffic and biking issues with the city. He is also excited about the city’s project to renovate the old post office and mayor’s space on Market Street. Plusquellic shares that feeling.
We are fortunate to have developed strong partnerships in the area of urban planning, he said. This (UPA) collaboration affords us wonderful possibilities in one of the most vibrant and important neighborhoods of the city.
Spicer Village on schedule
Stapleton is not alone in his excitement about Spicer Village, a townhome development that will occupy a full city block bounded by Brown, Power, Kirn and Mews streets.
We are really excited about this project as we feel it will be a catalyst to the entire neighborhood revitalization, said Philip H. Maynard, the chairman and CEO of ASW Properties, the company responsible for Spicer Village.
Stapleton believes they will be breaking ground for Spicer Village sometime in October. The first phase of the project will consist of 25 units. When it is complete, Stapleton said there should be 100 or more units.
The townhomes, which will be priced at approximately $160,000 and up, will range in size from 1,100 to 3,000 square feet. They feature private street-level patios, two-car garages, room for an office and rooftop gardens.
Unlike a lot of the property in the university area, Stapleton stressed that Spicer Village is really geared to people who want to buy them and live there.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for students in University Park. Stapleton is quick to point out that they are just as much a part of the fabric of the community as the professionals they are hoping to draw to the upscale Spicer Village.
There is no plan to move students away from the neighborhood, he said. In fact, we think we’ll see more move here.
As campus improves and the area around it improves, they’ll want to be here.
University Park Alliance projects
Stapleton is excited about the success of the Art Fair that was held in Grace Park in August. Thousands turned out – including Plusquellic, he said, to see work by local artists and take part in a public participation piece by Mark Sopeland. One tent housed professors and students from the art school. Some students even sold their work.
He pointed out that Grace Park is a perfect example of the gems contained in University Park. The park is underutilized at present, but Stapleton hopes that will change.
Art is a recurring theme in University Park. UPA promotes a self-guided walking tour, the University Park Arts Adventure.
On one end of the tour is Summit ArtSpace, which exhibits work by local artists, the Akron Art Museum and the Ballet Center. The Ballet Center features a Tiffany stained glass window depicting Jesus’ resurrection.
Other features on the tour include Don Drumm Studios and Gallery, the Dale Chihuly sculpture, E.J. Thomas Hall, the kangaroo sculpture at the Exchange Street McDonald’s and the wall mosaic and waterfall in the Student Union.
Stapleton is also excited about the opportunities opening up for bicyclists in Akron. At present, a Towpath Trail extension from Cascade Locks into downtown is under construction.
University Park Alliance recently co-purchased a lot in University Park to be developed by Habitat for Humanity for a local family.
For Stapleton, there’s a lot to be excited about.
“” #1.1361778:1110565511.jpg:20070927_spicer.jpg:Spicer Village, between Brown and Kirn streets, is set to break ground next month.:COURTESY OF ASW PROPERTIES”