A couple of really good things are happening in Akron in 2010, and one not-so-good thing as well. The good things are the completion of the new/old Howe House as part of the Ohio & Erie Canalway and the soon-to-be-booming Biomedical Corridor. The not so good thing is the sketchy future of the All-American Soap Box Derby.
I’m enthusiastic about the Canalway because we just had a behind-the-scenes tour of the newly renovated Howe House, which was moved from South Main Street to its current place on West Exchange Street, overlooking the Ohio & Erie Canal. This is the decrepit, old house that sat across from the Beacon Journal building since 1838. It was built by Richard Howe, who was the resident engineer from 1825 to 1832 in charge of building the Cascade Locks. Howe placed it several blocks away for a good reason. Besides carrying goods and produce from the interior of Ohio and the Midwest, the canal also was a magnet for gamblers, pick-pockets, prostitutes and thieves of all sorts. It carried a horrible stench because many along the route used it as their personal sewer.
Today, however, the old house sits next to the canal, and the view is incredible. The stench is gone, as are the undesirables. If I didn’t know better, I would think that the Howe House was a new building constructed in the old Federal style. Welty Building Co. and Braun & Steidl Architects did such a good job on the renovation that it is difficult to tell where the old brick and the new brick meet, where they have had to add-on or replace damaged parts of the house. Inside, however, it is readily evident that the house was designed almost two centuries ago because of the room size and arrangement. Both the exterior and the interior have substantial architectural elements and fabric that directly relate to the era of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Nearly all of the extant exterior features, including the stone lintels, door surrounds and window fenestration, illustrate high style elements of Federal architecture. Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition President Dan Rice envisions the Howe House as a regional landmark, which will serve as an information center for visitors to the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway. Please take the time to visit this year. It’s a must-see in 2010.
The second thing I’m really excited about for 2010 is the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, a partnership among Akron’s three hospitals, The University of Akron and the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. You may or may not be aware of the city of Akron’s attempt to develop a Biomedical Corridor, which would be developed along Vernon Odom Boulevard, roughly between Akron General and Akron City Hospital. The federal government just gave the institute a $1-million grant to purchase equipment to support orthopedic research. This comes on the heels of the $20 million that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave last year, and other monies granted totaling $70 million so far in the first year. The goal is to bring in $50 million per year in research grants and create 2,400 high paying jobs within a decade. I think they are well on their way.
Things are not looking so rosy for all of us Soap Box Derby fans for 2010. The derby has not had a national sponsor for a couple of years now and has been losing money since then. They had a credit line with FirstMerit Bank, owing more than a half a million dollars. Then, last month, FirstMerit called their loan, demanding all their money right now, which seemed to me to be a horrible public relations move. The derby has no money, but they do have some valuable property in Derby Downs and the surrounding land. In the meantime, Derby President Jim Huntsman has taken a leave of absence to concentrate on his health. And Jeff Iula, “Mr. Soap Box Derby,” who lives and breathes the derby, has been elected to a city council seat in Cuyahoga Falls and is unsure if he is returning. The one bright spot in the whole mess is that Corbin Bernstein is trying to raise money to produce a motion picture about the Soap Box Derby. This seems to me like pinning their dreams on a very long shot, in hoping that the actor can raise awareness about the derby and also bring it a national sponsor. I suggest that FirstMerit become the sponsor, because that may be the only way that they will ever get their loan repaid. If you have any suggestions or want to offer your support give the derby people a shout via e-mail at email@example.com.
And to all of you from all of us, have a very Happy New Year!