Akron closes funding gap for Summit Lake Vision Plan – Spectrum News 1

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AKRON, Ohio — The Summit Lake Vision Plan took a leap forward on Wednesday, reaching a major goal in the multi-faceted effort to return the neighborhood to its glory days as Akron’s premier waterfront recreation area.
At a media event, Mayor Dan Horrigan announced the city would make an additional $2 million contribution to the vision plan, adding to the $3 million the city had committed in the early days of the plan. The money, from the city’s portion of American Rescue Plan funds, closes a gap in the $10 million needed to implement the first two phases of the plan.
“The American Rescue Plan fund represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in both long-standing inequities, and pandemic hardships,” Horrigan said, adding that investment in public spaces is a priority for the city administration, City Council and other groups involved.
Summit Lake was cut off from the city by the Innerbelt Freeway in the 1970s, despite being home to the city’s largest lake, and has declined ever since.
Launched in 2016, the Summit Lake Vision Plan is led by the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, through its Reimaging the Civic Commons initiative, a grant-funded project to connect and revitalize three Akron neighborhoods — Summit Lake, the Ohio & Erie Canal Park and the Civic Gateway in downtown, all which share the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail.
At Summit Lake, the coalition has been working with Knight FoundationSummit Metro Parks, the city of Akron and other groups, as well as hand-in-hand with Summit Lake residents, to shape the vision plan to bring amenities residents want back to the area.
The vision plan includes a biking and walking trail around the lake, a pavilion, shaded seating, swings, a canoe and kayak share, a boat launch ramp and a concession stand.
What makes the vision plan unique is that it’s been driven by input from Summit Lake residents, with the coalition’s goal to learn what residents want there, rather than have city officials tell them what they need, said Dan Rice, the canalway coalition’s executive director.
“Unfortunately, there has been a legacy of things done to, and not with. And things promised and not delivered,” Rice said.
But this time the residents took a risk and trusted the coalition, the city and the groups that expressed interest in restoring Summit Lake, Rice said.
As a result, the groups working together have formed a kind of family, he said.
Summit Lake resident Sandy Saulsberry, who serves as vice president of the Summit Lake Neighborhood Association, said trust didn’t come easily for residents.
Saulsberry, who has lived in Summit Lake for more than 30 years, said she had heard from other developers in the past who had plans for the neighborhood but never spoke to the residents. So when she was approached by Rice and the coalition, she said she was a little angry.
“I didn’t trust him,” she said of Rice. “I Googled him. He came out squeaky clean.”
But unlike those before him, Rice hired surveyors to go door-to-door in the neighborhood to ensure the coalition and its partners truly heard from residents and learned what their vision was for the lake, Saulsberry said.
From there, meetings have been held and plans made with residents leading the way, she said.
Much has changed since the early days of the vision plan, she said. For one thing, Summit Metroparks installed a permanent Summit Lake Nature Center in the lake’s old pump house, after a pop-up version was wildly popular with local families.
Benches were installed and the shoreline cleaned up as well. The coalition has hosted lakeside events for families to get a feel for what’s possible there, organizers said.
Saulsberry said before the vision plan process, she never went to the lake to relax or to admire the park-like setting, but on one recent day she did and saw a large bird take flight overhead, and fly across the lake.
“And I thought, ‘Wow, if I had a camera and took that picture, and put it on Facebook, and asked somebody: Where do you think I was vacationing?’ They would never dream that was a scene from Summit Lake,” she said.
Horrigan also acknowledged the trust and faith Summit Lake residents invested in the vision-plan process.
“This project is all about delivering on that trust that you placed in the city, in the Akron Civic Commons team and giving Summit Lake, and the residents, the investment and attention it has long deserved,” he said.
Fundraising for the vision plan will be ongoing, as part of the goal is to raise an another $10 million for additional phases and for ongoing maintenance and operations, the city said.