Aeros to add sit-down restaurant to Akron stadium; city to provide financing help

By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer

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An artist rendering of the dining room at Canal Park which will be a year-round eating venue at Canal Park.

Move over hot dogs. Step aside Cracker Jack.

Canal Park stadium will offer more than the traditional ballpark food starting next spring.

Akron Aeros owner Ken Babby provided details this week — and received financing help from the city — for a new, sit-down restaurant at the downtown baseball stadium. The “all-American” grill, which has not yet been named, will offer breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. It will be open year-round, not just during the team’s season.

“It will be a great, fun place to bring family and friends and conduct business in downtown Akron,” Babby said.

Babby shared his plans, including drawings of the restaurant that is slated to open in March, with Akron City Council on Monday. Council approved legislation that restructured the city’s financing for the construction of the stadium and provided additional financing for the restaurant project that Babby will repay.

“I’m excited about it,” Council President Garry Moneypenny said of the restaurant. “I think it’s going to bring more synergy to downtown Akron.”

The city spent about $28 million on the Double-A baseball stadium for the team that is the minor-league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians and still owes about $14 million. Council voted Monday to restructure the certificates of participation, which is a financing tool similar to a note or a bond that must be paid annually, to extend them an additional five years. The city also is hoping for a better interest rate.

Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson said the reason for this step is to save cash, reduce debt-service payments and respond to state Auditor Dave Yost’s requirement that the city eliminate negative fund balances. She said the city is expected to save about $3.8 million this year alone.

Council also approved issuing new certificates of participation to cover the expense of the new restaurant, which is expected to cost about $2.25 million. Babby, and not the city, will repay this debt, Miller-
Dawson said.

Babby, who took over as Aeros owner last fall, thanked council for its continued support of the team. Council approved a 25-year lease of the stadium last October, as well as $3.5 million in improvements to Canal Park that will be paid through the stadium’s lease payments. One of the improvements — a new, high-tech scoreboard — already has been installed.

The Aeros had a successful first season with Babby at the helm, with attendance up 12 percent from the previous year, which was the most of any minor league team.

“He’s coming through with all the promises he made us when he bought the team,” Moneypenny said. “He said there would be a scoreboard, and there it is. He said there would be a restaurant, and now he’s taking that step.”

Because of the team’s positive year, Babby said he will make $5 million in improvements to the stadium, rather than the original estimate of $3.5 million. He said he will announce additional improvements to the inside of the stadium during a groundbreaking for the restaurant in early November.

Babby said the restaurant will be built below where Menches Brothers and Wing Warehouse formerly were located along Main Street. It will feature “all-American fare,” including salads, burgers, sandwiches and a full breakfast menu. He said the restaurant will include several televisions and a projection wall.

“It will be the ultimate place to watch sporting events,” Babby said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.

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