Cuyahoga Falls -- Addressing a record crowd Feb. 27 at the Sheraton Suites Conference Center, Mayor Don L. Robart touted a successful year that included a bicentennial, balanced budget and businesses developments.
While many cities across the country are struggling financially, some on the "brink of bankruptcy," Robart said, Cuyahoga Falls managed to realize a 4.5 percent increase in income taxes in 2012. "Much credit must go to Sue Truby and her lean but aggressive Development Department," Robart told the 175 people attending the mayor's annual State of the City address sponsored by the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce.
While the Development Department itself may be lean, development in the city is on the rise.
Robart, who is planning to give his State of the City address during the City Council meeting March 4, outlined a number of commercial projects in the city including:
• Acme Fresh Market No. 10's new expanded store on State Road that will provide 20 new jobs and mark a grand opening on May 1;
• The rebuilding and reopening of the Technicote factory on Marc Drive after a fire, retaining 40 jobs;
• The completion of a new building on Portage Trail, now the home of Pediatrics of Akron;
• The soon-to-open Bath Creek Estates;
• The relocation of Rubber City Harley-Davidson and it 43 employees from Akron;
• The relocation Silicone Solutions and its 14 employees from Twinsburg;
• And the opening of The Office Bistro in the Watermark building on South Front Street.
The Marketplace at Portage Crossing, the retail development taking the place of State Road Shopping Center, will be anchored to the north by a 10-screen Cinemark movie theater, Robart said, and to the south by a Giant Eagle grocer. Developer Stark Enterprises expects to break ground this spring, the mayor said.
Robart said since 1996, the Development Department has successfully established 28 tax incentive agreements leveraging more than $130 million in private investments and the creation or retention of 2,546 jobs.
"Two new agreements were approved for Acme and Technicote in 2012," he said. "During lean economic times, these tax incentive agreements are truly our salvation."
The mayor said the city has been able to increase revenue in a number of ways. The city's agreement with Silver Lake to provide dispatch services and emergency medical services and its agreement with Munroe Falls to provide dispatch services have generated move than $1 million during the past four years.
Eliminating the city's municipal court and establishing a mayor's court has yielded a net gain of almost $1.5 million, Robart said.
The fire department's ability to transport patients to the hospital generated more than $1.4 million last year and the police department's agreement to house Tallmadge's prisoners in the Falls city jail has brought in almost $43,000, he said.
Robart gave "major kudos" to City Engineer Tony Demasi for obtaining more than $2.4 million in funding through the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Public Works Commission.
Robart said the city also cut expenses to help balance the budget.
"To that end, largely through attrition, merging of departments, transferring departments to the county and retirement incentives, we have been able to dramatically reduce our full-time employees," he said. "This has yielded a $1.85 million annual savings to our general fund."
Commercial and financial successes notwithstanding, Robart said the year's obvious highlight was the celebration of the city's 200th anniversary.
Those bicentennial projects that will endure over time, he said, include the Bicentennial Arboretum at Kennedy Park, the Keyser Park Barn and the "Celebrating the City's History" permanent signs.
As plans are finalizing for the removal of the city's two dams this year, Robart said the project will restore the river to what it was 200 years ago, both in appearance and water quality. With the removal of the Sheraton Mill Dam and the LeFever Powerhouse Dam, the Cuyahoga River within city limits will be rated between a Class IV and Class V white water rafting area, Robart said. The nearest waterway of that caliber is in West Virginia, he added.
Robart also spoke at length on the successes of the various facilities that fall under the supervision of the Parks and Recreation Department's director, Bill Lohan.
"For decades, our Park and Recreation Programs has been one in which we can all point to with pride," he said. "And indeed, that tradition continues. And as Bill Lohan is fond of saying, 'Success is driven and our Parks and Recreation Department does not drive in reverse.'"
Robart closed his State of the City address with an eye on the future.
"As our great community now enters its third century, I could not be more excited for the prospects that lie ahead," he said. "The removal of our two dams, creating an excellent opportunity for recreational activities beyond anything our community has ever envisioned; the future development of South Front Street, with the Watermark as a template, and of course, the imminent construction of Portage Crossing with the myriad of retail that will ensue.
"And together we can do this and so much more. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, 'Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties, which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires … courage.'
"So as to accomplish the full greatness of what Cuyahoga Falls can be, we must all work together with an undying positive attitude, and the results we achieve will startle even our most ardent naysayers."
A transcript of Mayor Robart's State of the City address can be found on the city's website at www.cityofcf.com.
In the accompanying video, Mayor Robart opens by touting the financial strength of the city and by thanking members of the city's bicentennial committee for their work in staging a year-long celebration of the city's 200th birthday in 2012.