University-Area Renewal Project in Akron Gets Funding Boost from Knight Foundation

Akron, Ohio A $2.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is helping to launch a community development project to create a vibrant 40-block, mixed-use neighborhood surrounding The University of Akron. Knight Foundation is providing the grant over the next five years to finance the plan, to be administered by the University and its partners in the University Park Alliance.

“With our New Landscape for Learning initiative, we are reshaping our campus, which represents a sizable section of Akron’s central business district,” says Dr. Luis M. Proenza, president of The University of Akron. “With this grant, we also are forming partnerships that will help enhance our surrounding environment.”

The University Park Alliance was created to improve the residential areas adjacent to campus. In the alliance, the university joined with the City of Akron, Summa Health System and the University Park Neighborhood Association in a partnership to multiply benefits for each partner. The Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority is also participating.

“This donation will serve as seed money, as a catalyst that will spur activity and will draw attention to and additional investment in this ambitious and worthwhile undertaking,” Proenza says. “This effort is not about rebuilding structures. It is about re-energizing a community.”

Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of Knight Foundation, says the foundation staff and trustees found the University Park Revitalization Plan to be an outstanding example of a university developing strong and meaningful partnerships to improve its community.

“We are delighted to be participating in this innovative venture by the University of Akron in community redevelopment,” Carter says. “The day of higher education as an isolated island, divorced from community and from its needs and opportunities is over, and not a minute too soon. The University Park Revitalization Plan is a cooperative venture between town, gown and neighborhood that holds great promise for all three.”

Dr. W. Gerald Austen, chairman of Knight Foundation’s board of trustees, says the foundation’s contribution to the University Park Revitalization Plan demonstrates its regard for the prosperity of Akron and for the city’s future.

“Knight Foundation began in Akron 51 years ago, and its two founders – Jack and Jim Knight – grew up and worked in this community, and had enormous affection for Akron. Knight Foundation continues to support their vision for the well-being of Akron,” Austen says.

Nearly 150 residents and community leaders aided in developing the final University Park Plan, and, in 2000, Knight Foundation provided $200,000 in planning funds to the University to support the alliance, which is overseeing the project.

The alliance’s top priorities are to improve the neighborhoods within the University Park District and to continue building the institutional and community partnerships needed to undertake and complete the complex task of revitalization, says program coordinator Bill Courson.

“The plan includes a portfolio of community development issues within the district, including such things as conducting public safety seminars, organizing student clean-up activities and undertaking housing rehabilitations,” he explains.

The project also will address broader revitalization issues by attracting the commercial and residential projects necessary to truly transform the area in the long term, Courson says.

“For example, the university and its partners will collaborate with private developers to undertake significant projects. This collaboration includes creating a Special Improvement District, providing financial incentives for commercial development, and supporting the establishment of major anchoring grocery and retail centers in the area,” Courson says.

During the plan’s first five-year period, the university and its partners also will be conducting detailed urban design studies, real estate development analysis and market studies to lay the groundwork for the commercial and residential projects that will act as community anchors, Courson says.

“We anticipate having enough land to support construction of roughly 250,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial development and 700 to 1,000 new housing units,” he says. “This $2.5 million grant is the seed money from which we will begin the process.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.

The University of Akron is the public research university for northern Ohio. Founded in 1870, it is the only Ohio public university with a science/engineering program ranked among the nation’s top five by US News & World Report. Serving approximately 24,000 students, the University offers more than 350 associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and law degree programs and approximately 100 certificate programs at its main campus in Akron, its Wayne College branch campus in Orrville, and in sites throughout Medina and Summit counties. For more information, visit