While the north coast of Lake Erie doesn’t draw the same crowds as Florida or warm ocean beaches, local business leaders and officials say attracting people to town is an important part of their economies.

How important? At least three local towns -- Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson and Kent -- have focused on developing their downtown areas with businesses and events to draw more visitors and dollars.

Other area attractions, such as local parks, ski resorts and events such as the annual Twins Days Festival, draw thousands.

The impact of Twins Days alone is said to bring more than $5.4 million to the local economy, according to Kent State College Associate Professor of Economics Shawn Rohlin.

Rohlin surveyed 2018 Twins Days attendees and determined that 76 percent of non-local visitors said they spent an average of $150 at restaurants during their visit; an average of $429 at hotels; $106 on entertainment; $135 on other retail and $48 at grocery/drug stores.

Andrew M. Miller, executive director for Twins Days Inc., said the number of visitors for Twins Days is typically estimated at 30,000 to 35,000 for the two-day weekend. Miller added more than 2,250 sets of “multiples” registered for this year’s festival. The 2019 festival included multiples from 46 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 13 different countries.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is another regional draw, attracting more than 2 million visitors per year — about 400,000 of whom are from other states.

“National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well,” said Craig Kenkel, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Located along the banks of the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron, visitors often frequent businesses on the park’s borders. According to park officials, 12% of park visitors stay overnight either within the park or in a nearby area.

Visitors spent $36.8 million last year, according to park spokesperson Pamela Barnes. This spending supported 541 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $53.3 million.

Located within the park, Boston Mills/Brandywine Ski Resort and Polar Blast Tubing Park typically has about 1,000 to 3,000 visitors a day, according to Thomas Conti, public relations manager for the resort.

Summit Metro Parks is another draw, with 16 parks totaling 14,000 acres. 

Its most recent economic impact study, from 2013, estimated up to $3 million in local spending comes from tourists who primarily visit the county to visit the Metro Parks.

Downtown attractions: Cuyahoga Falls

Hoping to cash in by attracting visitors, several area communities are looking to bring people to their downtown areas.

For decades, one of the area’s best known suburban attractions took place on summer weekends on Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls.

The road for nearly three blocks just off the Cuyahoga River was closed to traffic for 40 years and reopened to vehicles in 2018 with the hope that vehicle traffic would bring more businesses, visitors and events to downtown.

For 30 of those 40 years, through 2014, Rockin’ on the River drew several thousand people to downtown on summer Friday nights to enjoy musical acts. Other long-standing draws include Octoberfest, Festa Italiana, and the Riverfront Irish Festival.

The city has replaced the Friday concerts with a series of other music, craft and other events. 

Figures were not available regarding the economic impact of the downtown events, but Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said a study by Gibbs Planning Group in 2016 estimated that re-opening Front Street would translate to $60.4 million in “additional local market sales in the areas of restaurants and storefronts” during a three to five-year period.

Abby Poeske, Executive Director for Downtown Cuyahoga Falls Partnership, said the city, chamber, and her organization “are striving to make our downtown a vibrant, connected, and inclusive year-round destination for both our own Cuyahoga Falls community and for visitors from out of town.”

Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters said the city hosted a “large” number of events to both “showcase our transformed downtown and to help drive traffic to our many restaurants and retail businesses.”

The events have combined with other ingredients such as recreational pursuits on the Cuyahoga River, “a revitalized” business community, and availability of free parking to make downtown into a “destination,” said Walters.

Brent VanFossen, owner of Metropolis Popcorn on Front Street and Portage Trail, said his business doubled during the recent Octoberfest.

“We did twice what we would do on a normal weekend,” said VanFossen. “It definitely helps us out.”

Renaissance in Kent

Those who haven’t visited the city of Kent in Portage County in recent years might be surprised at how much it has changed.

With more than $106 million in public and private investment, the downtown has become into “a pedestrian friendly, dynamic, economically viable city center,” according to Heritage Ohio, which named the effort “Best Public/Private Partnership” in 2014. Included is a new headquarters for the county regional transportation system, a hotel and convention center, new offices for Davey Tree and blocks of redeveloped commercial and retail areas featuring new shops and restaurants.

Heather Malarcik, executive director of Main Street Kent, said her organization puts on events and spearheads a variety of improvement efforts to draw visitors to the revitalized downtown. 

An art and wine festival in June attracts around 5,000, and The Wizardly World of Kent (formerly Kent Potter Fest) typically draws more than 10,000 people from multiple states and Canada to downtown Kent in July.

“That is when we offer hear of [the businesses] having their best day ever,” said Malarchik. “We hear people are coming from Canada, Texas, all over the country, people come to Kent for that event. It’s almost impossible for it not to be a good day for our businesses.”

There are also four music festivals: Blues Fest in July, ‘Round Town Music Festival in September, American Roots Music Festival in April and Beatle Fest in February.

“Those music festivals are very multi-generational,” stated Malarcik. “You’ll see college kids out and you’ll see grandparents out.”

Other efforts are made to keep downtown Kent looking sharp for all of these events. Main Street Kent organizes graffiti cleanup and community cleanup efforts, adopt a spot programs where flower beds around downtown are maintained and public art mural projects, said Malarcik.

Hudson’s busy downtown

More than 75 events year-round attract visitors to Hudson, but it’s not all about entertainment. A big part of the draw for out-of-towners is the First and Main development in the city’s historic downtown.

After opening in 2004, the development now bills itself as “Summit County’s Premier Shopping District.” The area encompasses several blocks downtown that house a blend of national chains, unique local shops and award winning restaurants and an open-air venue for events including concerts that draw people from around the area.

City spokesperson Jody Roberts said such events complement others held on the historic Village Green and are “key to having a vibrant, exciting community,” and she added the city is fortunate to have a lot of outside groups and people willing to stage events in town.

Roberts noted the Independence Day fireworks show is sponsored by the city in a partnership with the Hudson Community Foundation and American Fireworks. Other large events which are not city-sponsored are Art on the Green, the Memorial Day Parade, Ice Cream Social and Christkindlmarkt.

Roberts added that these types of events “often become the reason people first visit Hudson, [and] then they keep coming back.”

“It brings visitors to the community who shop and dine while they're here,” noted Roberts. “Special events are part of the quality of life that makes Hudson such a great city in which to live, work and play?.”

Liz Murphy, executive director of Destination Hudson/Hudson Visitor Center, said her organization strives to promote the city to outsiders.

Located on the first floor of the Town Hall building at 27 Main St., Destination Hudson shares the space with the Hudson Fire Museum and the Chamber of Commerce.

On a typical week, Murphy estimates that about 20 people stop in to the visitor center, but that figure jumps to the hundreds per week in the time frame between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“Often on a Saturday, you will get people driving around…[who] get in a car or on your motorcycle and drive around to visit little towns,” said Murphy “And they’ll stop in [the visitor center].”

And the city is going the extra mile to accommodate visitors and increased traffic with a parking app and plans for adaptive traffic signals and even street lights that brighten as pedestrians approach or exit their cars.

Contact the newspaper at 330-541-9433, or emarotta@recordpub.com.