For Akron-based arts developer Tony Troppe, fostering a connection to the arts is the basis of collaboration and building community.
That concept sits at the core of his projects, including the new art center he is planning for the former Temple Israel at 133 Merriman Road in Akron. The temple moved operations to its current home in Bath Township in 2014. Troppe recently acquired the 46,000-square-foot building for $500,000. Built in 1911, restorations are planned for the sanctuary, roof and other areas of the building. Troppe is aiming for a projected opening of early 2023, he told the Akron Jewish News.
“The location is everything,” he said. “It is perfectly poised to serve not only downtown but the Highland Square and West Hill neighborhoods. It is also in proximity to the work LeBron James is doing too. There is demand here but no space to accommodate (the arts). We wanted to create something that could accommodate more people, as well as create a collaborative, creative center. The education component of it enlivens me – a place where mentors and students of all ages have the opportunity to perform and co-create with pros.”
Referencing the sanctuary’s octagonal basilica design, Troppe said the space lends itself well to art and music space.
“The sound quality is so advanced,” he said. “You have great places for rehearsal and great spaces for the creative process – the work you do to get to the performance. It has been a joy discovering this facility and reusing it for a new audience and generation of artists and art lovers.”
The center will be called HÜG, which stands for the Highland Universal Gatheringspot, and with the umlaut over the “U,” a nod to the smiles Troppe hopes will be on patrons’ faces. Design work will be led by Karen Starr, organizer of the annual PorchRokr Festival in Highland Square. According to Troppe, Starr will develop a fresh interior design for the art center while also honoring its history and architecture.
“I’ve made quite a name for myself out of celebrating history,” Troppe said. “I love old buildings that can be re-purposed. They all can be – you just have to figure out its highest and best use. And the clue for this project was its address, 133 Merriman. That name is participatory itself. Gathering together in unity, in merriment. To create a gathering spot to honor our commonalities in joy, beauty and art. It helps us find those common bonds.”
The temple’s configuration lends well to performance, practice and meeting space, Troppe said. One room seats about 125 people and can be used for either practicing or performing. Next to it is the former sanctuary, which can seat about 275 people. The basement banquet hall can seat 250
more people with a commercial kitchen. Other spaces will lend to offices, classrooms and social areas. Troppe added they’re just waiting for Akron City Council to sign off on the building usage, which could happen in the next few weeks.
“We’re finalizing our historic designations,” he said. “We’re not changing the use, but the users. We have an opportunity here to have a much wider reach in the community.”
Over the front door of the temple reads, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which Troppe said resonated with him and the project goal.
“The whole spirit of this place is built around gathering together and facilitating unity,” he said. “It’s about sharing light while also honoring the location, history and legacy of the building itself.”