Decades ago, the Kresge block bustled with activity in downtown Canton. People shopping for clothes, scarfing down coney dogs or stuffing their grocery bags with fresh fish and baked goods.
Years later, much of the space in the interconnected downtown Canton buildings grew decrepit and empty. With the help of a state grant, the city spent about $2 million to acquire and clear multiple properties about eight years ago, including cleanup and asbestos removal.
Grand development plans — new office, residential, retail and restaurant space among the possibilities — never materialized for the site.
That left the grassy lot on Market Avenue N that folks see currently. Where concerts and other events take place, and where downtown visitors, workers and residents sometimes sit at picnic tables to eat lunch, read or just rest.
The Kresge name has not gone away. That’s the unofficial name. But Councilman Thomas West, D-2, is leading an effort to christen the property with either another name or to make the Kresge designation official.
A committee is accepting suggestions to name the lot, which is bordered by Third and Fourth streets NW and Court Avenue.
At Monday’s meeting, council passed an informal resolution, introduced by West, establishing the Downtown Green Space Naming Committee to oversee the contest.
Three finalists will be chosen after the June 30 deadline, and the winner will be announced at the Fourth of July concert from 8 to 9:30 p.m. at the McKinley Monument.
The vote to pass the resolution was not unanimous. Opposing it were Councilman Frank Morris, D-9, and Councilwoman Mary Cirelli, D-at large.
Committee members will include West, Council President Allen Schulman, Mayor William J. Healy II, Council Majority Leader David Dougherty, D-6, and representatives of a neighborhood association, the Downtown Canton Special Improvement District and Leadership Stark County, West said in a news release.
The contest winner will receive a special recognition from council and the mayor “and will be forever known as the person who named the precious green space in downtown Canton,” the news release said.
West said he would “like to create a name that is indicative of its use and to eliminate the unpleasant memory of a blighted building that had to be torn down by government funds.”
KRESGE BLOCK HISTORY
The Kresge block, also known at one time as the Kresge-Arcade Building, used to be home to the open-air Arcade Market, featuring Beck’s Seafood and Martin’s Bakery. Shoppers could find pies, steaks, oranges, chicken, apples, cakes and fish, including perch, walleye and catfish.
The Arcade Market also featured hot dogs topped with a signature coney sauce made at Dick’s Sandwich Shop on site.
At its peak the overall property included several tenants. More than 20 vendors once did business at the market.
The S.S. Kresge Co. store used to anchor the site.
Both the Kresge store and the market thrived in the 1930s and 40s. By the 1980s, the Arcade was practically vacant. A costume shop and a drug store were among the businesses that occupied parts of the building near the end of its existence, which stretched into the late 1990s.
S.S. Kresge, a chain of dime and variety stores, later expanded to include Kmart stores.
About 12 years ago, the city began efforts to acquire the Kresge block buildings. An agreement on the sale price could not be reached on some of the buildings. The stalemated talks ended up in court.
The city subsequently used a $996,000 state grant to raze dilapidated buildings at the site and remove asbestos.
Following the demolition and cleanup, the city’s extensive efforts to market the property proved unsuccessful. The property has been green space and a parking lot since about 2006. Efforts to develop it have been halted.
NAMING CONTEST OPPOSED
West believes it may be time to name the lot something other than Kresge.
“It is time to … create a name that is memorable and that we can cherish for the rest of its use,” West wrote in the press release. “We need a name that we can be proud of and market to the world.”
However, Cirelli balked at the idea. “I don’t see any logic for this.” She suggested a public hearing on the matter.
“Kresge lot is almost the same as like the courthouse lot,” she said at Monday’s council meeting.
“I’ve received a lot of calls that people want the Kresge lot to be the Kresge lot because of the history of it,” Cirelli added.
“I see no need why we have to just take and destroy anything concerning our history of the city,” she said.
“Is it our right to just do as we please because maybe we think it was old and decrepit and what have you?” Cirelli said. “I don’t think so.”
When asked about the topic Friday, Morris also expressed a strong opinion.
Morris, 45, said he has warm memories of the Kresge store and the neighboring businesses. At age 9 or 10, he would take a bus from the Casper Road NE area to downtown. Then he would head to a diner to eat fries and chug Cokes.
“You’d walk around in the downtown area with your grandmother,” he reminisced.
Today, many people connect the site with such memories, referring to the green space as the Kresge lot, Morris said.
Noting the city faces a projected $4 million general fund budget deficit next year, he questioned why a portion of Monday’s meeting was spent debating the topic.
“I’m not trying to pass (judgment) on (West),” he said. “I know Thomas has some great ideas, but I thought (Cirelli) was right on point.”
TIME TO MOVE ON
West said the lot does not have a formal name. He said a constituent suggested the naming contest. The name would be honorary and not part of a city ordinance, said Law Director Joseph Martuccio.
West said the Kresge name can be submitted for consideration.
The “ATT building … on Cleveland Avenue is no longer the ATT building now,” he said. “It’s the VXI (Global) building. History has its place, but it’s time that Canton moves on and we also start naming things downtown.”