New Outdoor Recreation Shelter to Provide Longevity in Park East

By Abigail Bashor

As the sounds of live music float through the air and warmer evenings extend the daylight just a bit longer, the Park East neighborhood in Akron began its third summer concert series.

In renewing the beloved tradition, Park East will held its first concert of the summer on July 6 and will continue on through the end of August on Saturdays from 6-8pm. The area has seen significant improvements made to its physical spaces over the past few years, thanks in part to its involvement with the Akron Civic Commons project. The collection of resident feedback and consistent cleanups throughout the park and along the canal has helped bring vibrancy to the concert series as it expands from year to year.

This season, a mix of new musical acts and favorites of the past will not be the only attraction in the area. Plans for a 2,400 square foot shelter are also underway in the hope of being completed by the first concert.

Tom Fuller, executive director of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, Inc.—a housing development and management organization in Akron—says the new outdoor shelter has been in the works for some time. Fuller originally had hoped the structure would be included in the 2014 renovations at Callis Tower, a senior housing complex situated at the heart of Park East, though it did not come to fruition at that time. Over the past year, however, plans and pricing for the structure have been negotiated. In order to create a more cost-effective approach, designs were altered from a construction made of entirely steel to one of wood-with-steel-roofing. Fuller says that although he hopes to see the shelter assembled by July, a tent will be used as has been done in past years should that goal not be reached in time.

For Fuller, initiating action on the shelter has been largely prompted by the concert series that began in 2017. Following a small number of performances in its inaugural year, the event grew to 12 concerts in 2018 complemented by budding enthusiasm. The music itself is a significant draw for attendees. From jazz to R&B, a diversity of sounds attracts those who were previously aware of the schedule as well as people in the neighborhood who are simply curious about what’s happening. Once there, visitors are able to enjoy both the music and the dancing that arises from the blocked off street just north of Callis Tower.

“The concerts we have there really gave me impetus to do something permanent to allow continuation of these concerts after the Civic Commons program ends and continue to provide that kind of shelter year-round, which isn’t possible with a tent,” Fuller says. “It’s an improvement that makes for more opportunity for socialization and communication among the tenants and neighbors.”

This socialization is critical for an area where economic and physical limitations confine the ability of some residents to experience this kind of entertainment. For many of the residents at Callis Tower, the concert series has broken down a number of those barriers. Fuller says the consistent comment he hears from those who live in Callis Tower or nearby is that the series has given them some of the best summers they’ve had in the neighborhood. “It has enriched their lives in ways that go beyond just having music,” Fuller says. “They’re out there participating and enjoying their lives in ways that evidently weren’t so easy to do [before].”

As far as building and sustaining participation during the concerts, Fuller says he hopes to see involvement increase from both those who are living in the neighborhood and people outside the neighborhood who might visit the area out of interest. “This is a mechanism of creating that social interaction that is the heart of the Civic Commons program: bringing people of diverse backgrounds together,” he explains. “When they interact and understand each other better, it creates a better neighborhood, a better city, [and] a better world. When people who normally don’t interact learn to trust each other and not be fearful of each other, it helps [them] recognize their common humanity.”

Upon the conclusion of the Civic Commons, Fuller remains optimistic that the concert series will find ways to continue. “We will work at continuing it in some fashion,” he says. “I think the residents will demand it, and we expect that we’re going to come up with a way of doing it. It’s surprisingly inexpensive to make a big impact through quality musical entertainment and people who are available within the community.”