Updated: Sep 29
Posted Sep 22, 2020
The Knight Foundation is committing $8 million in grants to help revamp some of Akron’s public spaces.
The Knight Foundation grants will enhance two public spaces in Akron: Summit Lake and Lock 3. Half the money will go toward rebuilding Summit Lake’s north shore into a community-focused park and recreation area.
Kyle Kutuchief, director of the Knight Foundation's Akron Program, said this is the right time to be making a substantial investment like this.
As the pandemic has worn on, national trends have shown more people are using public spaces and parks.
"One of the advantages of being in Northeast Ohio is that we have amazing public spaces," Kutuchief said. "However, not everyone has equal access to a great park in close proximity to their home."
Summit Lake Park
The Knight Foundation plans to invest $4 million to create Summit Lake Park on 35 acres on the lake’s north shore. Currently, the plot is an abandoned piece of land. However, Kutuchief says it will become a destination park.
The hope is to start the $10 million project next year.
The city of Akron committed $3 million to the project, leaving $3 million left to fund. Kutuchief believes this money can be raised through public funding, other philanthropic support and a fundraising campaign targeting individuals in the next year.
A Residents-first Approach
The project aims to create a space for the residents of Summit Lake. Summit Lake is the largest body of water in the City of Akron, and Kutuchief said it has rarely been used.
"We see this park as returning the lake to the people that live in the neighborhood, giving them access to this amazing physical asset that's in close proximity to their house," he said.
Since 2016, the Knight Foundation has been working through a process called Reimagining the Civic Commons, through which it tests various elements of the park, such as trails, playgrounds, and picnic tables. The foundation has received very positive feedback from the community members, Kutuchief said.
"An important part of the process is that this is not a foundation or city leaders or fancy consultants coming into a neighborhood and telling people what they need," he said. "We have been very intentional over the past four years about engaging the residents, starting to build trust, and asking them about what they want to see in their park."
Kutuchief calls it a residents-first approach, which he has led to a better planning process and in the end, he hopes, a better park.
Unifying Two Shores
The park will be going into a very diverse neighborhood.
"Summit Lake neighborhood is a majority minority, primarily African American neighborhood, and the Kenmore neighborhood tends to be more blue-collar Caucasian," Kutuchief said.
Summit Lake has historically been two places, two shores. Kutuchief believes the new park will unify the neighborhoods and bring people together.
"It's investment in neighborhoods that don't always get it and certainly haven't gotten investment historically," he said.
Akron's Central Park
Redesigning Lock 3, which Kutuchief calls downtown Akron’s Central Park, to make it more accessible for everyday use will take $2 million of the investment. In its current form, he says, Lock 3 is mostly a special event venue.
“There’s very little shade. There’s very little comfortable seating. And there’s a fence currently on Main Street. It doesn’t exactly invite casual use,” he said.
Lock 3 will become both a special event venue and an everyday park, with expanded seating and shaded areas for people to congregate, Kutuchief said. The project also will upgrade Lock 3’s performance space.
The Knight Foundation is also investing more than $1.3 million to support Downtown Akron Partnership and more than $600,000 to remodel the historic John S. Knight house in West Akron, which will become the new headquarters of the Summit County Land Bank.
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