Downtown Canton has been quiet.
For too long.
Most of the action downtown can be found in a handful of places:
The ongoing construction of Centennial Plaza and boy are they making progress on the massive structure that is starting to look like a small roller coaster;
The construction at the former McKinley Grand Hotel site, which will be part of Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village;
Street work along Cleveland Avenue NW;
And the nooks and crannies of Steve Coon’s properties.
No single person owns more square footage of space in downtown Canton than Coon.
He has converted the Historic Onesto and Bliss Tower into market-rate apartments. That venture has proven successful as both operate near capacity with a couple of vacancies. He owns buildings in which several of downtown Canton’s restaurants operate. That’s not to say Coon owns the restaurants, although he is a partner in some.
Coon employs well over 150 laborers within his organization. Coronavirus has slowed some development and it might have been easier for Coon to lay off his employees.
Instead he has kept them all working.
He has people sprucing up his parking garage and the entrance to his buildings. Some are cleaning out storage rooms. He had the McKinley Room in the Onesto painted with an image of his wife, Jenny and his daughter, Danielle Russo.
“I made work for our guys because I didn’t want to lay them off,” Coon said. “We have guys ... doing things you don’t typically pay skilled technicians to do. But you take care of your people because your people take care of you.
“You don’t give up on hope. I’m not a guy who puts a lot on hoping and dreaming but I’m confident things are going to turn around and we’re all going to be in a good place in July. There is going to be so much work and so much pent up demand ... but we’ve got to get people back open for business.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut down bars and restaurants, Coon knew it was going to be rough times for some of his restaurant tenants.
And not a single restaurant has missed a rent payment.
“When I say downtown is like a neighborhood, it is. We’re like family,” Coon said. “There are some people who paid rent and I know they struggled to do it. All of our tenants have been great. We have told people we will work with them, but it is the polar opposite of what you would think would happen. We have good people. They know we have bills, too. If they’re struggling at all, I will do what I can to help them. You have to be flexible at times like these.”
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop owners Pat and Cathy Wyatt have gotten creative. Every Friday morning at 8, they have a “pop-up” shop on the sidewalk outside their store. There’s a socially distant line of folks ready for the local cup of Joe when it opens.
The Wyatts really were the first believers in downtown Canton after Coon. In fact, not only did they sign a lease to open a business, they leased the first unit in the Onesto from Coon as well.
For his part, Coon isn’t worried about what downtown Canton will look like post-coronavirus world.
“I think people will appreciate downtown more because there is a desire to get out,” Coon said. “People are starting to figure out, ‘I miss Fronimo’s and I miss going to Bender’s and Basil and the Conestoga.’ Eating is important to everybody. When you eat in downtown Canton, you know the owners and you know the people sitting across from you at a table.
“You go out to eat in Belden Village and you don’t even know the general manager. That makes downtown unique. It really is a neighborhood.”
There is another large development project in the works for downtown Canton that we’ve heard Coon has a hand in as well. He wouldn’t say much because the project has been pushed back about six months because of the pandemic.
“I really believe in downtown Canton,” said Coon, who has invested north of $50 million in projects over the years here. “I really think it will be the same situation as before this happened. It will be hard to find skilled workers. ... This was all a great story until six weeks ago and I believe it’s going to be a greater story on the back end of this thing.”
Perhaps this is the downtown quiet before the rebirth storm.