Acme Fresh Market and Albrecht Inc. officials have asked Cuyahoga Falls for equal economic development treatment for Acme’s store being rebuilt on State Road and the proposed Portage Crossing development at the former State Road Shopping Center.
City officials said in response that the two projects are not the same, and the maximum amount of incentives available has been given to Acme’s project.
Acme wants the city to borrow $4.8 million to buy its store and land for $3.8 million and invest $1 million in public improvements. In turn, Albrecht Inc., the real estate developer for Acme stores, would then buy back the property for $3.8 million and put the money in escrow to be used by the company for construction of the store and improvements.
In a letter to Falls Mayor Don Robart on Jan. 4 on behalf of Acme Fresh Market and real estate affiliate Albrecht Inc., Steve Albrecht, president of Acme Fresh Market, submitted a “parity analysis” and a chart of investments the city has made on behalf of the Portage Crossing project.
In the letter, Albrecht said workers at the State Road Acme along with 2,000 other company employees “are deeply grateful to you and the City of Cuyahoga Falls for the fairness and equity you have extended to this project. Their jobs, the well-being of their families in these difficult times, are greatly enhanced by your promise of fair and equal treatment of these two projects [keep the playing field level and not playing favorites], especially in this instance because they know the primary competitor will be provided significant cost advantages that will jeopardize their jobs.”
Acme’s principal Summit County competitor, Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, is slated to move from its Falls location on Graham Road to anchor the Portage Crossing project.
Albrecht said the $11 million the city is spending on Portage Crossing and the agreements made with developer Stark Enterprises — including $70,000 a year in an electric subsidy — result in the developer making zero investment. Albrecht is asking that his project also result in zero investment.
Robart said in a reply letter to Albrecht on Jan. 18 that the city was thankful for Acme’s investment in the State Road store.
“It has been exciting watching the project reinvent itself with your clever methods of building ‘over’ the existing building. We are anxious for the grand opening later this year,” he said.
However, the mayor said, the policies and programs of the city, including economic development loans and grants, are based on the entities’ ability to create new jobs.
Acme will be creating 14 new full-time jobs, while Portage Crossing is estimated to create 468. Robart compared the Acme project versus Portage Crossing by saying the city’s cost for each new Acme job was $90,954 and $17,430 for each new job for Portage Crossing, or $40,394 if the $11 million initial investment is added to the scenario — still below Acme’s number.
In an interview Thursday, Falls Development Director Sue Truby said she and the mayor met with Albrecht after the letter and explained their side.
“It’s tough to compare these projects. His is close to $9 million. Portage Crossing is close to $42 million,” she said.
Truby said Acme has received abatements up to 50 percent for a total of $962,231 over 10 years and a community development block grant for $347,130 for infrastructure.
Truby said she had trouble following the logic of Albrecht’s chart, starting with the idea of buying Acme’s land.
“Why would we buy their land? You can’t compare that. We had a 70 percent vacant dilapidated center [at the former State Road Shopping Center]. The city and the people of the town were saying, ‘What are you going to do about that?’ Otherwise, we would have never owned that land up there,” Truby said.
Truby said Albrecht and Acme have invested in many renovations of stores in other communities and not asked for similar incentives.
She took issue with Albrecht saying that Stark Enterprises has not invested any of its money in the Portage Crossing project. “He’s saying Stark Enterprises’ investment is zero. I happen to know what he’s investing, and it’s private so I won’t state it, but it’s in the millions.”
Truby said no two projects are ever alike.
“I would bet if you were to go back to Goodyear and Bridgestone projects [in Akron], are they identical? No.”
In an interview Thursday, Albrecht said he was disappointed in the mayor and city’s response to his letter.
“I feel we need more discussion on the subject,” he said.
In emails following Robart’s response, Albrecht said he felt the city’s position is “very unfair.” Albrecht said the mayor promised support proportional to investment and not to jobs. He also challenged that Portage Crossing would create 468 jobs.
Responding to Acme’s renovations and community incentives, Albrecht said: “That’s where you get into apples and apples and apples and oranges to grapefruit. We are comparing ourselves to what the city is doing less than half a mile away and feel that’s the comparison that should be used as a standard. It’s a proportionate standard,” he said.
Redeveloping the corner of State Road and Portage Trail has been in the works since the city purchased State Road Shopping Center for $10 million in 2008 and demolished it.
The $11 million the city spent for the land and demolition will be repaid through a Tax Increment Financing program.
Stark Enterprises, developer of several area retail centers, including The Strip in Jackson Township and Crocker Park in Westlake, has been under contract with the city to purchase and develop the land since 2010. Closing on the property has been delayed several times and now is scheduled for March, Truby said.
“All of the major players and elements regarding the retailers are very quickly coming to a close. We have details ... that need to be finalized,” she said. “We are very hopeful to break ground here in the next couple of months.”
Legislation for the purchase of Portage Crossing by Stark is on hold at the administration’s request until details are finalized. Truby acknowledged that the agreement includes the electric subsidy and an additional subsidy of $129,000 based on movie ticket tax, but said it is subject to change.
Original retailers that Stark Enterprises announced for the project have included Menard’s, Giant Eagle, Chef Michael Symon’s B Spot Restaurant, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt and Pet Supplies Plus.
Late last year, Menard’s pulled out because not enough land was available, and Cinemark is bringing a movie theater to the project, officials said. Truby said Cinemark is working on its final documents. City officials are also working with Menard’s to relocate to the current Giant Eagle on Graham Road.