The vision for the area bordering Market Avenue N on some First Friday of the future is hazy and dreamlike.
Details of the vision, like most dreams, still are fuzzy in the dusk-like light of the final stages of planning for the redevelopment of the Market Square green space area between Third and Fourth streets NW.
Dennis P. Saunier, president and chief executive officer of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, can see an “entertainment venue in a comfortable park-like setting”—a friendly area in which to enjoy a multitude of First Friday activities.
The Market Square area of his vision has “an iconic structure,” said Saunier, that would call to mind the massive development taking place at the Pro Football Hall of Fame—the expansive Hall of Fame Village—and it would “help identify Canton as the birthplace of the National Football League and the home of the Hall of Fame.” Possible plans for the green space area that have been outlined in recent months have proposed that this iconic structure could be a 175-foot steel structure, shaped as half a football in the manner of the top of the Hall of Fame itself. Light would shine through the towering structure, and water might cascade over it.
A timetable for transforming the Market Square area into an area that would serve—visually and practically—“as the focal point for entertainment and special events” in Canton, could coincide with the 2020 celebration of the birth of the National Football League, Saunier said. This suggested year of completion coincides with the 50th anniversary in 2020 of Canton’s Cultural Center for the Arts, and the Market Square plan complements additional downtown development put on the planning board by the nonprofit area arts council ArtsinStark.
“We’re developing a plan to renovate the Cultural Center and defining how the Cultural Center fits into the 60 acres around it—from Sixth to 12th streets between McKinley and Walnut avenues,” said Robb Hankins, president and chief executive officer of ArtsinStark, which is charged with the duties of managing the Cultural Center facility and helping to fund the arts organizations that use it. “Imagine, if you might, a series of green spaces that start at Market Square, that start up Market Avenue, then shift to Court Avenue, and continue up to the doors of the Cultural Center.”
Hankins calls it the “Green Artway,” and it will allow First Friday and other downtown arts and entertainment events to be put on larger and firmer ground in the future.
“When First Friday was started 10 years ago, we began building an arts district,” said Hankins, identifying the galleries and public art branching off from Cleveland Avenue NW. “Eventually, you are going to have a First Friday that connects the arts district and the Cultural Center. So, if you are visiting downtown or living downtown, instead of driving your car, you’re going to feel comfortable in parking it and strolling the Green Artway.”
“When First Friday was started 10 years ago, we began building an arts district. Eventually, you are going to have a First Friday that connects the arts district and the Cultural Center. So, if you are visiting downtown or living downtown, instead of driving your car, you’re going to feel comfortable in parking it and strolling the Green Artway.” —Robb Hankins
A third area of future development that could work in concert with both those projects is the development of a Fulton Road NW corridor between the Hall of Fame Village and the Market Square renovation, effectively linking downtown Canton, the Arts District and the burgeoning Hall of Fame area. The north Market proposals certainly seem to have the support of Hall of Fame officials.
“We will do our best to go out there and sell it with everything else that we’re doing,” Hall of Fame President David Baker reportedly told city officials, according to an article published earlier this year in The Canton Repository.
Baker also reportedly told city administrators that the Hall of Fame would be willing to help with marketing and programming for a redeveloped Market Square or Fulton Road corridor, indicating that the Hall may offer “some ways to make it pay,” the Repository story said, that involve sponsorship and street signs.
While such planning and ultimate construction of the Market Square area is proceeding—through design companies that also are working on the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village project—First Friday will continue full strength, said Hankins.
“First Friday is going on regardless of what happens at Market Square because First Friday has become a symbol for the revitalization of downtown Canton for the arts,” said Hankins, who noted that the focal point of First Friday tends to be in the arts district, with the intersection of Fourth Street and Cleveland Avenue NW as its epicenter. “Because we don’t have a lot of details about Market Square, we assume that when they’re done, we’ll have a lot of First Friday activities there. But, even if it never got done, we’d still have First Friday.”
Tricia Ostertag, vice president of marketing and special events for ArtsinStark, said that the arts organization has had input during the planning of Market Square redevelopment, which reportedly would include the construction of a permanent outdoor stage.
“We’ve always had a seat at the table and been able to share our thoughts and experience,” said Ostertag, noting that First Friday for the last decade has been the “shining star” among other festivals and live entertainment events that have found success in downtown Canton. “That success leads us to believe that Market Square could work, and it will be a big part of what we do because of the stage. But, I don’t know that it will change our focus, other than it will give us this great new live entertainment venue.
“Portable stages limit us as to the kind of acts we can attract. Having a full-time stage with sound and lighting would take us to a new level.”
Fostering live entertainment downtown has been the single goal among the First Friday strategies that has eluded large-scale success, said Hankins.
“Before there was First Friday, there was the building of the Arts District. First Friday became the system to demonstrate that Arts District. Today there are 30 galleries, artist studios and specialty shops that weren’t there 10 years ago,” said Hankins, adding that another goal, creating public art, has been equally successful in and around the Arts District, including the Hall of Fame-related series of outdoor art called “The Eleven.”
“Public art is on display 30 days a month and 365 days a year,” Hankins said.
“The one strategy that hasn’t been as successful is live music,” he continued. “On First Friday, there are a lot of people on stages, street performers, people performing in galleries. But, there isn’t live music 30 days a month and 365 days a year. To make this grandiose strategy succeed, every day in the Arts District has to feel like First Friday, not just one day a month.”
So, ArtsinStark is working to use First Friday to foster a “Music Block”—two blocks, really, from Second Street to Fourth Street off Cleveland Avenue NW—in which as many music venues as possible are developed in restaurants and galleries.
“The Music Block is going to become the system of demonstrating that downtown is all about live music,” said Hankins.
“Downtown is a place you can bring your family.” —Dennis Saunier
As development of downtown moves forward in its ability to grow opportunities for art and music and other entertainment, as well as strengthen the city’s ties to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the expanding Hall of Fame Village, First Friday will continue to help highlight progress being made in revitalizing downtown Canton, said Ostertag.
“I see the future of First Friday including more filled storefronts,” she said. “We’ve made great strides. But we have open storefronts available. While we have this great success, I’m hoping that as downtown grows and morphs—and we’ve seen that definitely happen over the last 10 years—what is seen on First Fridays will cause more developers to take a chance and do well.”
Saunier calls an evolving downtown Canton a work in progress—but important work because a strong region is built on a foundation of a vital urban area.
“From the Chamber of Commerce perspective, one of our strategic goals is downtown revitalization and development, and we have been at it for 17 years,” he said. “We do that by partnering with Downtown Canton Special Improvement District and Downtown Canton Land Bank. We also work closely with ArtsinStark. And we work very closely with the Hall of Fame to connect the Hall of Fame with downtown Canton, with the centerpiece of that being Market Square.”
First Friday events can only help—on a monthly basis—to get the word out, according to all who are assisting in the planning to improve it.
Downtown is safe. Downtown is fun.
Downtown, says Saunier, “is a place you can bring your family.”