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Community Entertainment District could be coming to Akron's Merriman Valley

Plan calls for new restaurants, retail and amphitheater
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Posted at 10:25 PM, Feb 07, 2023

AKRON, Ohio — The owners of six buildings on three acres in Akron are looking to bring some mojo back to the Merriman Valley.

Liberty Commons, which was built in the 70s, was a hot spot for a couple of decades with fancy shops and restaurants, but it has declined in popularity over the years.

The owners, Mandy and Sanjiv Lal, purchased the property about a year ago and have big plans to revive it. They believe the complex could look entirely different one year from now.

"It was all high-end shops, retail, dining and really a desired place to be," Mandy Lal said. "The vision is to bring it back to what it was and revive the valley. The valley used to be a great spot for families and businesses."

There are five restaurant/bars in Liberty Commons currently, but renovations are underway for a new upscale restaurant named Sterling. Mandy Lal hopes to bring in at least one more restaurant.

A salon/barber shop will also open in a former jewelry store. Another building, which is mostly vacant office space, could be transformed into apartments.

Design plans also call for at least four new retails shops— a coffee shop and possibly an amphitheater— which would compliment the nearby Weathervane Playhouse.

Phase one of the project is expected to start within a month with a facelift to the exterior of the buildings. Some of the bricks will be painted and some new windows and doors will be installed to give it a fresh look.

The owners, who operate under the company name of Lal & Sons, are trying to get the area designated as a Community Entertainment District (CED) which would make the process quicker to obtain liquor licenses for restaurants that want to move into Liberty Commons.

"This would actually basically create a workaround so there will be additional liquor licenses available for this specific area," said Councilman Shammas Malik. "We were very careful in drawing the footprint of this area so that it includes only a handful of spaces so that we're not likely to see someone just buy a vacant piece of property and put up a bar that might not be the world's greatest actor."

Malik expects city council to approve the CED designation at next Monday night's meeting.

Natalie SantaMaria, who lives in apartments near Liberty Commons, said she's in favor of having more places to eat and shop in the neighborhood.

"I think it's a good idea because you see empty spaces and empty spaces aren't good," SantaMaria said.

Mandy Lal estimated an overhaul of Liberty Commons could cost up to $6 million, but she believes the changes will pay off.

"I think this could really be an amazing place," she said.

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