Knight Foundation invests $8 million to expand and make Akron public spaces more equitable

AKRON, Ohio – Sept. 22, 2020 – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today four investments of nearly $8 million to expand Akron’s public spaces as part of a continued commitment to make the city a more vibrant and more equitable place to live, work and play. 

The four projects will revitalize and improve public spaces and public life in Akron’s downtown corridor and surrounding neighborhoods. Knight’s investments will help elevate these public spaces to premier destinations that boost the quality of life for Akronites, bring people from different backgrounds together, and deepen their shared connection to their community. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores that it has never been more important for everyone to have access to such spaces.

The projects are:

  • $4 million to reinvigorate Summit Lake Park. Residents have led planning for the transformation of the historic north shore to create a destination park for area residents and Towpath Trail users. Knight’s funding will bolster Summit Lake’s role as a key gathering spot by adding a trail around the lake, a pavilion, and better access to the lake for boating, kayaking and canoeing. These improvements will give residents a conveniently located public space south of Downtown Akron that will rank among the best in the region. 
  • $2 million to redesign and rebuild Lock 3 Park. Located in central downtown Akron and home to many of the region’s biggest festivals, Lock 3 has new plans to upgrade its performance space and design to become an everyday park welcoming residents and Akronites who work downtown. The improvements will focus on the central portion of the park, adding shade and seating, enhancing the area as a performance space and connecting to Main Street. The remodeled space will build on downtown’s strength as a great place to live that’s also a thriving job hub with opportunities to enjoy outdoor entertainment all year long. 
  • $1.35 million to support Downtown Akron Partnership. The DAP — a coalition of property owners, business leaders and public officials that oversees the downtown district — will use Knight’s funding to advance their mission of building a vibrant downtown. The group’s efforts include helping to keep downtown clean and safe, and providing special events for the community. Part of the grant will fund world-renowned firm Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, one of the country’s most prominent urban planning, programming and park redevelopment firms, to provide consulting support during the project’s first year. 
  • $637,500 to restore the historic John S. Knight House. This investment will transform the former home of John S. Knight, founder of Knight Foundation, into the new headquarters for the Summit County Land Bank. Located at 400 South Portage Path in West Akron, the site is one block from the Perkins Mansion and John Brown House. Though the agency serves the entire county, the work of the land bank aligns with Knight’s focus on revitalizing downtown and inner ring neighborhoods.

Since 2015, Knight has invested in great public spaces in Akron to make it an engaging place where people want to live and where people feel connected to their community and to each other. The investments have aimed to attract more residents to Akron’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods and turn Akron into a more resilient, inclusive city. 

“Access to quality public spaces is a competitive advantage to living and working in Akron,” said Kyle Kutuchief, program director for Knight’s Akron program. “The nearly $8 million in support from Knight for these seminal projects will elevate Akron’s ambition for great public spaces and ensure that more residents in Akron will be able to access these spaces and be proud of them.” 

The development of the Knight-supported new projects will continue to be guided by the input of residents because all Akronites deserve world-class public spaces that are within reach and provide safe places where they can connect and find community. In the case of Summit Lake and Lock 3, both projects will be regionally significant achievements.  

“Now more than ever, as we have seen with COVID-19, people continue to seek public places that build community,” Kutuchief said. “These investments expand Knight’s commitment to work with city and neighborhood leaders to make public spaces equitable and durable for Akronites now and in a post-pandemic world.”

The announcements came on the 70th anniversary of the founding of Knight Foundation in Akron by the late John S. “Jack” Knight, editor and publisher of Knight Newspapers, and his brother and business partner James L. “Jim” Knight. The Akron Beacon Journal, which Jack inherited from his father Charles Landon Knight, was the first Knight newspaper. 

For interviews, please contact Raul Garcia at [email protected] or (305) 908-2694.

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.


Photo (top) by Tim Fitzwater.