Articles

Innovation District Gaining Speed In Downtown Canton, Ohio

An 11-person board of directors has been created to oversee the 12-block district in the city’s downtown area.

Kelly Byer, The Repository / October 26, 2017
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(TNS) -- CANTON -- The city is assembling a team to manage its recently created innovation district.

The 12-block district in downtown Canton extends from Cleveland Avenue NW to Piedmont Avenue NE — between Sixth Street NW and Fifth Street NE in the north and Second Street NW and Tuscarawas Street E in the south. It'll contain high-speed Internet and at least one technology incubator.

Canton City Council on Monday agreed to create an 11-person board of directors, which could be established within 30 days, Deputy Mayor Fonda Williams said.

"I'm really, really excited about it," he said. "We've been getting calls from various tech companies that are asking questions about the innovation district and how it will work and things of that nature."

Who'll be on the board?

The Canton mayor or his designee

A mayor-appointed Canton City Council member

A Stark County commissioner or designee

Representatives from Agile Networks or The Hall of Fame City Technology Incubator, the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, a Stark County foundation, local banking, and private equity

Up to three additional members chosen by the board

What will they do?

Oversee innovation district operations

Establish funding and make budget decisions

Market the district to businesses

Support technology companies

How's the district work?

A state law passed last year and sponsored by Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, set the parameters for innovation districts.

They must be in a downtown redevelopment district, which requires at least one historic building that is or will be rehabilitated, and include Internet capable of downloads at 100 gigabits per second. The city in May simultaneously created overlapping redevelopment and innovation districts, which can cover up to 10 acres.

"Canton's the first innovation district, and I think that's going to be a great attractor for economic development and innovation," said Kyle Quillen, co-founder and chief executive officer of Agile Networks.

Agile, a company that specializes in high-speed Internet connectivity, is located within the district at 213 Market Ave. N. The company established The Hall of Fame City Technology Incubator as a private entity.

Not yet operational, it's expected to provide office space and 100 gigabit connectivity through the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet).

"There'll be a larger, more comprehensive discussion surrounding our plans with an incubator at a later date," Quillen said.

Canton accepted Agile's proposal to have the incubator contract with OARnet and establish connectivity for all buildings in the district. The ultra-fast Internet currently is in use by some government and academic institutions in Stark County, according to www.oar.net.

What is OARnet?

OARnet consists of more than 2,200 miles of fiber-optic cable across most of Ohio.

Canton, Akron and Cleveland are nearby points of presence — locations with servers and routers — that could be used to establish the connection, an OARnet spokesman said. The network can provide speeds of either 100 gigabits or 10 gigabits per second.

One gigabit is equal to 1,000 megabits per second (mbps). The average Internet speed in Ohio is 25.6 mbps, according to Broadband Now, a national database of providers.

Speeds in the Canton area generally range from 10 mbps to 10 gigabits per second, said Quillen. Gigabit connections, though, are "not affordable" for the average consumer.

The innovation district will change that.

"Imagine being able to get better than Google fiber-type connectivity inside of downtown Canton at a price point that, really, has been unheard of, especially in the greater Stark County area," Quillen said.

Agile intends to build a system with multiple types of broadband technology for redundancy if one form of connection fails. Many details, such as the infrastructure and the potential for public access or Wi-Fi, are still being determined and will depend on input from the board.

"This should be a public-private sector relationship because it can't just be public and it can't just be private,"Quillen said. "We're anticipating that there's going to be participation in all facets and all avenues, and that may be one of the things that gets implemented."

Who will fund this?

Designating a redevelopment or innovation district allows municipalities to use tax increment financing (TIF) to redirect property taxes for economic development.

Owners would continue to pay their current property tax rate, but 70 percent of the property's increased value would be exempt from taxes. The service payments owners make in place of those can be used for more than the typical TIF, said Canton's deputy mayor.

"So we're able to use some of those funds to market and promote the district, incentivize companies to come here, grant small-interest loans to companies," Williams said.

Determining the funding, like the broadband, continues to be a work in progress. Williams said he expects startups and venture capital firms to take part in this "revolutionary experience."

Why do it?

The first week in October, city leaders showed two companies buildings that were available in downtown Canton.

"The meetings we've had with just a handful of tech companies was very, very encouraging," Williams said.

He said he hopes news spreads about the technology-friendly district and companies decide to relocate or open in downtown Canton.

Mayor Thomas Bernabei also expressed his excitement about the innovation district.

"I think this has tremendous potential for Canton's economic development," he said.

Quillen, who has worked in the broadband industry for more than a decade, agrees. Canton will provide Internet speeds unmatched in Ohio's private sector.

"When you bring that type of class of connectivity, it immediately has an impact on the attractability of a business moving into that facility or putting an anchor there," he said.

Such speeds could be of use to businesses, such as architectural engineering or photography companies, that transfer large files or use Internet-based computing, Quillen said.

Those involved in establishing the innovation district said plans are progressing, but the complex setup could take time. Quillen said it'll be worth it in the end.

"Creating that ecosystem will hopefully lead to us finding the next Uber or the next Google or the next high-growth technology company."

Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or kelly.byer@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @kbyerREP

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