May 10, 2017



Stow – You are likely to get several different answers if you ask Stow residents, “Where is downtown Stow?” In fact, some residents will say downtown Stow does not even exist.

That might soon change.

City council announced Tuesday an early-stage plan to find a private developer to develop the land near City Hall, in order to create a walkable entertainment district.

“People in Stow are proud of their community. They want to spend their entertainment dollars here,” City Council President Mike Rasor said. “It’s time to give ‘Downtown Stow’ our best shot.”

On Thursday, Rasor and the rest of City Council will introduce legislation to engage an engineering and architectural firm to guide Stow’s efforts. The firm, OHM Advisers, will study the City Center parcels, provide a market analysis, and then render drawings that Stow can pitch to private developers. Rasor said the goal is to entice private developers to create a Downtown Stow that includes unique, independent establishments—not chain stores. But he does not want to use taxpayer dollars to do it.

Stow Mayor Sara Kline and her administration have been involved with early deliberations, as well.

“The administration is excited to see what opportunities will present themselves as a result of this process,” Kline said.

Since 2006, the City’s comprehensive plan has envisioned a walkable retail development at the City Center complex, which includes City Hall, the safety building, the service building, a water tower and approximately 12 undeveloped acres that could be developed commercially.

Of potential importance to developers and retailers is the fact that 20,000 vehicles pass through the Graham/Darrow intersection every day, making it one of the 10 busiest intersections in Summit County. Another potential attraction is the fact that the city already owns the land that will be developed. This will help a developer avoid the substantial cost of assembling parcels.

In addition to satisfying residents’ desire for a “downtown” area, the city will have the opportunity to negotiate certain facets of the project with the developer, such as the architectural look, the type of tenants, parking, and the inclusion of city uses within the plans, such as an amphitheater or senior center.

“Maintaining the concept of a community gathering space at the heart of Stow is paramount to our mission as we seek to possibly partner with private developers to bring that vision to reality,” Mayor Kline said.

Added Planning Chairman John Pribonic: “It has always been my vision to bring families together to enjoy our great community.”

In recent years, Stow’s neighbors have successfully developed downtown areas. Hudson’s First and Main and the new downtown Kent are examples.

This success has led Rasor and Pribonic to separately study how Stow might best use its City Center property. Pribonic is a member of the Stow-Munroe Falls Community Foundation, which coordinated in March with OHM to present a rendering of a public park to take the place of SKiP playground at a large community gathering hosted by the Foundation. At that community meeting, the Foundation gathered input of what was important to residents for any future development–information that will be utilized to develop this market study and plan.

Meanwhile, Rasor has worked with Mayor Kline’s administration toward a plan of developing the city-owned property north of SKiP, with retail and restaurants. He has been interested in working with the private sector to enhance this asset and offer the public a truly unique place that does not burden the City with significant debt or costs.

The legislation before Council will combine both visions. It will initially place all of the City Center property in play for private commercial development. But the City’s intent is to reserve some land for non-commercial use. Pribonic said it is likely the Community Foundation will play a large role in developing or maintaining this noncommercial land.

“In order to create a great downtown, it is important to have both small retail and a community gathering space that families and residents of all ages can enjoy,” Pribonic said.

On March 1, Rasor asked his Facebook followers whether they would support a “Downtown Stow” development, and Rasor estimates the response was 90-10 in favor, with more than 400 comments and 300 likes. On Tuesday, Rasor posted a Facebook video announcing the Downtown Stow concept, filmed from East Fourth Street in downtown Cleveland, which is one of northeast Ohio’s most prominent walkable entertainment districts.

“In my seven years on City Council, no other issue has generated so much excitement,” Rasor said.

But Rasor cautioned that this will be a long process, and the development won’t go forward unless they find a suitable match in a developer.

“There are too many variables at this point to explain how Downtown Stow will eventually look,” Rasor said. “This stage is all about discovering what’s possible. But I’d be lying if I said I’m not excited.”

Ward 3 Councilman Brian Lowdermilk added: “I look forward to seeing more details. This moves the City in the right direction toward private investment and economic development that could turn this area into a true asset for all residents.”