Knight Foundation commits nearly $8 million to revitalize University Park in Akron

University Park Alliance receives funds to engage residents, rebuild downtown

Dec 18, 2012, 09:00 ET from University Park Alliance from ,John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

AKRON, Ohio, Dec. 18, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced a nearly $8 million commitment to help residents strengthen and reshape University Park in Akron.

The University Park Alliance will use the funds to revitalize a 50-block area at Akron's urban core. The bulk of the Knight funding, a $6 million grant, will go to engage neighborhood residents, local businesses and city institutions to ensure they are directly involved in the direction and evolution of the University Park revitalization. The rest, a $1.8 million low-interest loan, will support the redevelopment of University Square, a linchpin of the alliance's master plan that will provide housing and shopping for both students and residents.

"The work at hand will help build a vibrant, engaged community in Akron where people aspire to live, work, learn and play," Eric Anthony Johnson, the alliance's executive director, said. "The alliance is building on the tremendous groundwork of visionary local leaders such as Mayor Don Plusquellic and University of Akron President Luis Proenza.  The pieces are in place for the transformative work ahead."

The investment recognizes the alliance's success over the past two years in engaging the community in crafting the master plan for Downtown Akron, said Jennifer Thomas, Akron program director for Knight Foundation.

"This new support builds on the momentum of the last two years in creating partnerships and reengaging the community," Thomas said. "The alliance's efforts are galvanizing residents around a larger vision for the city, and engaging the next generation of neighborhood leaders who want to drive the city's future."

Knight's long-term commitment to the University Park Alliance - $18 million over the past six years - reflects the foundation's belief that transformative community change takes not just vision but the tenacity and time to see it through.

The alliance, meanwhile, in its redevelopment plans, connects each real estate project to a major Akron institution. The first real estate project, Market Square, broke ground in August and is in partnership with Akron Children's Hospital and Child Guidance Family Services. The mixed-use University Square project includes residential units plus retail near the University of Akron, and is expected to generate revenue for the alliance. Knight's loan will cover pre-development costs and cover credit guarantees.

Knight's grant funding will help strengthen programming like neighborhood block clubs, community gardens, organized business associations and other projects that have led to a new level of civic participation in the neighborhood.

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic praised the funding as critical ongoing support for the downtown area.

"This is very much appreciated," Mayor Plusquellic said.  "The city has already invested $10 million to support this central area of our city, and Knight Foundation's generous grants to the alliance will significantly boost our collaborative efforts to revitalize Akron's urban core."

Dr. Proenza and Bill Considine, a Knight Foundation trustee and president and CEO of Akron Children's Hospital, both extolled the collaboration that is benefiting the city.

"The University of Akron takes tremendous pride in the productivity of our collaborative ventures, and we are pleased that Knight Foundation continues to recognize the central role of University Park Alliance in the ongoing renewal and expansion of economic vitality in downtown Akron and the region," Proenza  said.

"Akron is a city that values and promotes collaboration," Considine said. "UPA is a wonderful example of the power of collaboration, and Knight Foundation's generous support provides affirmation to UPA's work and the partners' participation."

David James, Akron Public Schools superintendent and chairman of the alliance's board of trustees, said the funding will benefit Akron for generations.  

"This support secures a continuation of the long-term work of University Park Alliance while fueling execution of plans in the short term," James said.

About University Park Alliance
University Park Alliance pursues a community reinvestment strategy that capitalizes on the economic synergy of Akron's anchor institutions to develop University Park as a dense, walkable neighborhood with attractive, affordable housing and lots of options for shopping, entertainment and leisure activities. UPA partners include UA, the city of Akron, Summa Health System, Akron Children's Hospital, Akron General Medical Center, Akron Public Schools, the Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Greater Akron Chamber and the University Park residential and business community.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit

SOURCE University Park Alliance; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation