Akron CED to dovetail with Merriman Valley plan
AKRON, Ohio — A proposal to create Akron’s fourth Community Entertainment District in the Merriman Valley met with strong support during an Akron City Council public hearing Monday.
If approved by council, the CED would cover more than 24 acres along Merriman and Riverview roads, including Liberty Commons. Liberty Commons is an area that at one time housed several popular restaurants and bars, but declined over the years.
Lal & Sons LLC, which bought Liberty Commons in 2021, applied to the city to create the CED.
Stretching from Liberty Commons and the Weathervane Playhouse Theater to the Parkwood Plaza on North Portage Path, the CED would include all existing establishments in between.
Among those who spoke to the City Council’s planning committee was David Glenny, who about 15 years ago opened the popular downtown Akron restaurant Bricco, which spun off several other locations.
“Obviously with a CED, I’m sure the council’s concern is what kind of tenants are they going to attract,” Glenny said. “I hope my reputation speaks for itself.”
Glenny, who sold Bricco about four years ago, said a new restaurant he has in mind for Liberty Commons would be a smaller, more high-end venue, open for dinner only.
Also speaking in support of the CED was Melanie Pepe, chief executive and artistic director of the Weathervane Playhouse in Liberty Commons. Weathervane is a community theater that opened in Akron in 1935.
“More restaurants sound like a great idea,” she said.
Aaron Trip, who serves on the board of the Merriman Valley Neighborhood Association, agreed with Pepe, saying establishing a CED would help drive business and create growth opportunities.
“We need many more restaurants, more businesses in our valley, definitely,” he said. “It’s what we’re all looking for.”
Akron has a waiting list for establishments seeking D-5 licenses, which allow alcohol sales until 2:30 a.m., the city said. A city can have only one D-5 liquor license for every 2,000 residents and Akron’s are all in use.
With a CED, one D-5j permit is allowed for every five acres, said Scott Simon, the attorney working with Lal & Sons. Based on the proposed CED’s size — a little more than 24 acres — a Merriman Valley CED would create four new liquor D-5j permits.
“So, it’s not a proliferation of permits,” Simon said.
The difference between D-5 and D-5j permits is location — D-5j permits are valid within a CED only, according to the state, but there is no limit to how many CEDs a city can have.
Unlike other the three entertainment districts currently operating in the city — Northside, the East End and downtown — the Merriman Valley CED would not have a provision allowing open containers outside an establishment, the city said.
Councilman Shammas Malik, whose Ward 8 houses the proposed CED, said the Lals have invested significantly in the Liberty Commons property and that plans for the CED were “narrowly drawn” to help prevent problems a few valley bars have had in the past.
“While those have not been significant issues in the last several years, certainly we don’t want to create a problem by trying to solve a different one,” Malik said.
The CED will be consistent with the Merriman Valley Master plan, Malik said.
The multi-faceted master plan is intended to guide residential and commercial development within a 1,097-acre area that lies in both Akron and Cuyahoga Falls and makes up the southern border of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“I think we have a real opportunity here,” Malik said. “I think it’s thoughtful and reasonable.”
According to a website dedicated to Liberty Commons’ revival, the Akron portion of Merriman Valley has about 6,000 residents and the lowest vacancy rate of all the city’s neighborhoods. The site points to the former lack of a plan as the cause of the lean occupancy.
Lal & Sons’ application indicates the CED plan includes retail, restaurants and an outdoor amphitheater with a park for concerts, exercise classes and yoga.
If the CED is approved, construction will be underway this summer, the website said.