words and photos by Kristina Aiad-Toss
In 1978, the main drag in Cuyahoga Falls, Front Street, was closed to traffic to create a pedestrian mall. Exactly 40 years later on June 2nd, 2018, the street was reopened to traffic in hopes of revitalizing the downtown area.
As the city’s first event of the summer, the Grand Opening of Front Street began with a parade on the newly finished road at 10am, which ended at the River City Pop Culture Fest. The festival featured local music, food, small business vendors and entertainment.
Originally, the City originally decided to turn Front Street into a pedestrian zone to compete with the growing popularity of shopping malls in the seventies. However, the effort to bring people to the street never worked and the downtown slowly deteriorated as business growth dwindled. The only features that continued to survive were the well-known festivals that happen yearly.
Last year, the city decided to take a new approach to revitalize downtown. Mayor Don Walters spearheaded the initiative to reopen Front Street to traffic because low foot traffic in the neighborhood was negatively affecting businesses there.
“We knew we needed a road, because there aren’t enough pedestrians. The problem with the pedestrian mall is that no one sees the businesses. Retail demands visibility and accessibility,” said Waltors. “If we open a coffee shop now, everyone will see it while they’re driving by.”
The Downtown Transformation Project, which costed roughly $10 million, was passed unanimously by the Cuyahoga Falls City Council last March. According to Mayor Walters, the city’s low debt made this project affordable, especially because the investment in a vibrant downtown will pay itself back.
Construction began in April, the road opened up in February 2018 and other improvements were finished on June 2nd.
Throughout the process, the city gathered recommendations from the public, property owners, and merchants and contacted experts like traffic engineers and retail researchers to create the plan.
Aside from Front Street being open to traffic, other improvements include renovated fountains, water stations for dogs, bike racks and a bike repair station, and new park benches. Front Street also has a play area for children, which has a Splash Pad. In addition, parking decks were renovated and the downtown now has 650 free parking spots in 3 desks.
At the beginning, some residents and merchants were skeptical of the plan. However, Mayor Walters noted that residents and businesses have expressed positive feedback.
“It’s an amazing time. The downtown is very popular,” he said. “The businesses are now coming and getting spots filled and people are coming downtown more.”
Business owners on Front Street shared his sentiments.
Micah Watts, a bartender at Hi Ho Brewery said “I think the opening is revitalizing downtown and it’s attracting a lot more people to Cuyahoga Falls, including the ones who want to open restaurants and businesses.”
Amy Mothersbaugh, owner of Mothersbaugh Gallery has owned businesses on Front Street for over 40 years along with her family
“We know how to run a business that’s not dependent on foot traffic,” she said. “But now, I think the changes are so exciting. I never thought there would be so much life down here. This needs to be an artisan corridor and the City is well on their way to creating that.”
Following the Grand Opening Parade, the celebration commenced with food, music and shopping at the River City Pop Culture Festival. Performances included Brooke Bowen, Guy Randall, Dead End Job, Hogan’s Last Smash, The Camel Hunters, Cosplay Contest and Roxxymoron. Many local businesses selling merchandise and food trucks occupied Front Street during the event.
The city has many other events on Front Street this summer, including Falls Downtown Fridays which are similar to the Pop Culture Festival. In addition, the city hosts car shows every Monday and free “Flicks on the Falls” every Thursday. Others include the Oktoberfest, the Italian Festival, and the Irish Festival, which happen every year.
Mayor Walters has high hopes for downtown in the future.
“I want Cuyahoga Falls to be a hotspot. We have to retain the younger talent and offer fun elements,” he said. “Young and old, everyone likes fun and we have elements on Front Street for all ages to enjoy. And we have a safe, vibrant downtown where you can spend the whole afternoon.”
For more information about events, visit downtowncf.com.