Cisneros praises ties between UA, Akron

Ex-HUD secretary says ‘brilliant concept’ will allow city and university to prosper while fighting decline

By Betty Lin-Fisher

Akron will be transformed because of the alliance of community, government and business partners collaborating under the University Park Alliance, said the former secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development at a luncheon on Wednesday.

Henry Cisneros, who served in the federal Cabinet from 1993 to 1997 and is credited with initiating the revitalization of public housing developments, was the keynote speaker at the eighth University Park Alliance meeting held at the University of Akron’s student union.

Cisneros congratulated the community for organizing the alliance, a nonprofit community development corporation whose mission is to transform the 50-block neighborhood surrounding the University of Akron. Members include local and regional governments, three Akron hospitals, UA, the Akron Public Schools, the Akron Beacon Journal and Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority.

‘’There are cities all over America with universities that are unconnected from their cities, that do great things nationally but have very little impact in the local community. You have not been that kind of a city and clearly, will not be going forward with this kind of collaboration. I think it’s a brilliant concept,’’ said Cisneros.

In 1981, Cisneros became the first Hispanic mayor of a major U.S. city, serving four terms as San Antonio mayor. He is executive chairman of CityView, which focuses on urban real estate, city housing and metropolitan infrastructure.

Cisneros credited the ‘’amazing aggregation of partners’’ and the ‘’obvious support evidenced by 600 people here today from across the community’’ with University Park Alliance’s success.

‘’I think you all recognize the tremendous magnet, the engine, the generator, that the collaboration between the university and the community can be. It’s more than just the university and it’s more than just the resources of the city. It’s the two plus two equals five dynamic that’s unleashed when people work together,’’ he said.

‘’This is a very worthy goal — to use the capacities of the university to sustain progress and to arrest decline while at the same time to use the capacities of the community to shore up the university in attaining its larger mission for the region and indeed in the case of the University of Akron, the nation.’’

Prior to Cisneros’ speech, University Park Alliance officials unveiled a ‘’master plan’’ for the neighborhood and surrounding downtown area. It was the result of about six months of intensive work by the alliance and EE&K, a Perkins Eastman Co. firm that has designed such urban revitalization projects as New York’s Battery Park and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

EE&K principal and lead planner for the Akron initiative Stanton Eckstut showed slides of the plan. It centers on three streets — Main, Market and Exchange — and four distinct business districts. They are the Crossroads District near Summa’s Akron City Hospital, the Main Street District, the South of Exchange District and the University Square District. The goal is development into vibrant, walkable spaces for businesses and homes.

‘’To make a great city, you have to build on what is already great. I can assure you as I travel around the country and see lots of cities, you have an extraordinary array of assets. The assets include all of the stakeholders, which has really shaped this vision,’’ said Eckstut. ‘’Everything we’ve done is to try to make this uniquely Akron and really grow out of your area and your history and shape something going forward that no one else can replicate. That’s the reason you will attract more and more talent and more people to live here,’’ he said.

University Park Alliance Executive Director Eric Anthony Johnson discussed ‘’a community being driven by place and led by significant anchors.’’

Johnson presented a video showing local landscapes — taken in recent weeks with a camera mounted on a low-flying helicopter and then superimposed with graphic renderings of proposed developments in the four districts. They were placed on existing photos of the current landscapes and buildings.

Also at the luncheon, Akron Public Schools’ Superintendent David James, who is vice chairman of the University Park board, presented Kieu Le, a North High School senior, with a $4,000 scholarship to UA. The scholarship is renewable for up to four years.

"Cisneros praises ties between UA, Akron," The Akron Beacon Journal, May 12, 2011