PARTA to buy Kent produce warehouse

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority, which last year sold the Fiala Transportation Center to Kent State University, has its eye on a new home less than a mile away from its old one.

Diane Williams, PARTA board president, announced Thursday that the transportation service has agreed to purchase Battaglia's Kent Produce warehouse on Summit Road near S.R. 261 in Franklin Township for $1.4 million.

"For an existing building, that's right in our ballpark," Williams said.

The $1.4 million price will be financed out of the $1.8 million PARTA received from the Fiala Center sale last spring. Since then, PARTA has been operating out of KSU's former bus garage while looking for a new operations center and garage.

"There will be not a dime of state money in this building," Williams said. "We will be one of the few transportation buildings without state dollars." Williams and board member R.P. Flynn initially voted against selling the Fiala Center because PARTA was to receive only about half of the money. Of the $3.1 million sale price, the Ohio Department of Transportation got $643,584 for the land occupied by the Fiala Center.

PARTA and Battaglia also are negotiating a lease for Battaglia to continue operating the greenhouses and about two-thirds of the warehouse space for three years. The 4,200 square-foot building located on 12.5 acres will provide ample space for PARTA's future plans, Williams said.

The sale of the building and land has three contingencies. First, the building is located in a residentially zoned area, and PARTA will need a variance from the Franklin Township Zoning Board of Appeals. Second, the use of the land as a bus garage must get a passing grade from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency because of wetlands on the site. The purchase must be approved by the Federal Transportation Authority, because the purchase money was originally a grant for construction of the Fiala Center. The funds are limited to uses for appropriate transportation purposes, Williams said. They cannot be used for operational expenses.

PARTA general manager Dennis Solensky said they hope to have all the parts in place by April 1.

"It should be just a couple of weeks after we get the contingencies done that we could purchase it," he said.

Some renovation will have to be done to add office space before PARTA shifts its operations from St. Clair Avenue in Kent. Williams said plans are to build an addition to house offices, a training room and a board conference room.

Williams said the building purchase would culminate PARTA's transition into a full fledged transportation authority.

"This is the final step in getting our house in order before we go back to the voters," she said. In the past 18 months PARTA has hired its own drivers and consolidated its operations in one location, hired a general manager and staff, expanded service to Aurora, and soon will add service in Streetsboro.

PARTA has service contracts with several agencies and communities, but has been unsuccessful in two tries at getting operating funds through an additional sales tax. The governments supporting PARTA would like to see the service and financial support spread more widely.

"We have promised the communities that currently contribute to PARTA's local share we will go back to the ballot as soon as it is feasible," Williams said.

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