Temple ideas

New life is planned for the old Temple Israel in Akron

Akron Arts Developer and Supporter Tony Troppe thinks he’s found another way to help reinvigorate Akron and one of its historic buildings, this time with an arts center in Highland Square.

Troppe bought Temple Israel on Merriman Road in the neighborhood and said he planned to turn it into a small venue for music, dance and other art forms, as well as an arts education center and of community engagement. Summit County records show a Troppe company set up for the project, Temple Hall Revival Group, bought the property for $500,000 late last year.

“What we’re doing right now is getting official historic designation as a landmark,” Troppe said of the building.

The Akron Planning Commission voted in favor of the designation at its August 12 meeting and will recommend to the Akron City Council for approval in September, said Jason Segedy, director of planning and urban development for the city.

As for Troppe’s new love, it is “a 1911 neoclassical revival carried out in Lewis Miller’s ‘Akron Plan’.” … It is an octagonal basilica with a ceiling 35 feet high,” he said.

For those who don’t quite have Troppe’s level of interest in Akron’s architectural history, Miller was a 19th-century inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist, as well as being the developer of the plan of Akron. Miller developed the idea – a modern architectural concept that consists of a central assembly hall surrounded by smaller classrooms – for Sunday schools, and it was later adopted for other uses. Troppe said that includes Temple Israel, which was designed by Harpster & Bliss, a major Akron architectural firm in 1911, when the temple was built.

Troppe now has his own plans underway for the 46,000 square foot building.

“We are going to educate people in the arts,” he said.

This will include using the site as a venue for music and dance performances in its main auditorium, which seats about 250 people, Troppe said.

In addition to the performances, Troppe said he expects dance, music and visual arts leaders to use the main space and the smaller rooms around it as a teaching center. It has already sparked the interest of some to do so.

Bobby Selvaggio, a local saxophonist and director of the jazz studies program at Kent State University, said he saw the space and wanted to use it to help introduce more young people to jazz – and teach them also.

Selvaggio and Troppe already knew each other. Selvaggio said he was booking jazz acts for Troppe’s Blu Jazz+ club in downtown Akron, where he also performed.

“What I’m going to bring to the table are things like a creative arts collaboration center that will be a place where students, professionals, and the community can come together to work on art and perform art. art and doing it together,” Selvaggio said. .

“There could be a project with music and dance, where we bring students to see how the process goes, attend master classes and maybe even be part of the performance. … It will be unique in this whole region, in my opinion.”

Also interested is Brian Murphy, a professional ballet dancer and teacher who has worked in the past with the Ohio and Cleveland Ballet companies, and now dances professionally here and across the country.

“What I bring is dancing,” Murphy said. “Master classes, workshops and even shows.”

Murphy said he’s spoken with dancers and other performers keen to see development progress so they can participate.

“I’ve spoken to a few people already, and they’re very interested and eager,” Murphy said. “The artists are very willing to give their talent.”

The facility could also be made available to Akron public schools for arts education and programming, Troppe said. This is another idea that Murphy supports.

“It would bring in kids and let them work with professionals. That’s something that excites me,” Murphy said. “It creates a great synergy between professionals and young people.”

Troppe’s next step is to get council approval for historic landmark status. After that, he’ll likely need a zoning discrepancy to use it as a venue, Segedy said.

Segedy said he supports the project, likes what he’s seen in Troppe’s plans so far, and recommends council support historic designation, which would give the site tax benefits that Troppe could use to help. fund the improvements.

“We love the use he makes of it, and we love that it’s repurposed,” Segedy said.

The site will likely need zoning changes for Troppe to use it as a venue for live entertainment, but the site already has a long history of hosting attendees from its temple past, Segedy said.

As for improvements, Troppe said he would spend money to renovate the interior and create classrooms and other spaces. He did not determine what it will cost, but he said the building did not need major structural or mechanical work.

“She’s a beauty,” Troppe said. “The building is in excellent condition, including all mechanical, electrical and plumbing. … Basically, it’s a light renovation.”

As for when the project will be finished, Troppe isn’t sure, but said he hopes to move forward quickly.

“I hope in my lifetime,” he joked. “We have a bunch of parties planned for the end of the year.”