Area regionalism session deals with city of Kent

by Bob Gaetjens | EditoR Published:

Kent -- Officials from about nine Summit and Portage county communities got a closer look at Kent's revitalization project, a 10-year, $106 million effort transforming the south side of that city's downtown area.

Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith said collaboration was the key to re-creating the city's downtown.

"Without question, this was a collaborative effort," he said. "Without everyone at the table, this thing doesn't happen."

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said the project began with study of other cities' efforts to create walkable downtown areas with a mix of private and public funding.

"We were very much on the other side of the table," he said. "It wasn't that long ago that we watched the First and Main project, thinking, 'How in the heck do you pull this together?"

First and Main is a 10-year-old walkable downtown area just west of Hudson's Main Street shopping area.

The Kent plan took an older area of Kent's downtown, largely between Main Street and Route 59, and rebuilt whole city blocks with a mix of city funds, with help from Kent State University, The Portage Area Regional Transit Authority, the state and federal governments, private developers and businesses.

Significant features of the new downtown area include a new multi-modal transportation center operated by PARTA, Ametek and the corporate headquarters of Davey Resource Group.

The new parking garage, which is part of the PARTA center, will feature more than 300 parking spaces, according to Smith, alleviating some of the pressure on the 1,200 or so spaces scattered around the new downtown area.

In total, the city of Kent invested about $12 million in the project, which included $3 million in property acquisition before the redevelopment project was really off the ground, said Smith.

"We spent $3 million on land acquisition before we signed a development agreement, and I'll tell you what -- that's jumping in with both feet," said Smith.

The faltering economy at the time construction began represented a risk, said Ruller.

"We were all kind of taking these risks," he said. "As depressing as the economy was, it did create a sense of urgency."

He said officials and partners in the project felt like they could either fight back against the economy or just let downtown Kent remain as it had been.

"The more people talked about it, the more people jumped on," he said. "What had to happen was a willingness or an emergency -- whatever you prefer -- to get people to put some money on the table."

One of the people who put some money on the table was developer Ron Burbick, who's now invested about $19 million in the revitalization, according to Smith.

The city and university also included residents and business owners in the planning process, hosting 33 meetings for the public.

The plan also received a $20 million federal Tiger Grant, which is helping to build the PARTA facility.

Also collaborating on the revitalization are Fairmount Properties LLC and Pizzuto Co.

Email: bgaetjens@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9440

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