Plans for Kemp building unveiled in Kent

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Jack Crews, Kent's former economic development coordinator, is back trying to bring development to Kent's West River Neighborhood _ this time as a developer.

Crews, who lives in Kent, is the managing partner of West Shore Development, the company which has presented the city with an option to purchase the Kemp Building at 110 Gougler Ave. The purchase agreement will be discussed by city council at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The structure is located between R.W. Martin Enterprises and the vacant lot that once housed World Imports Auto Parts, which was located at the corner of Gougler Avenue and West Main Street. It is across the street from the former Bissler Furniture store, another long-vacant downtown landmark.

The development group, which consists of Crews and five other partners, has proposed purchasing the building, the alley between the structure and R.W. Martin Enterprises, and the land behind the building for $255,000 _ the same amount the Downtown Kent Corporation paid when it purchased the building in 1996 through a city-backed line of credit.

The group's proposal states the building would be converted to "a commercial use, with retail orientation, which could possibly include more than one tenant." It is proposing to pay $1,000 for an option to purchase the building.

An analysis of the proposal was released released Friday by City Manager Lew Steinbrecher, who recommended its acceptance with several conditions.

"It is quite possible that 110 Gougler could become the cornerstone of an overall revitalization of the West River Neighborhood and the many benefits it brings to the good people of Kent," Steinbrecher stated in a cover letter accompanying his analysis. He could not be reached for further comment.

The Kemp Building site is part of more than $1 million worth of property in the neighborhood owned by the DKC. If developed, it would be the first parcel purchased as part of the city's landbanking program to be developed.

Landbanking is a redevelopment tool that allows the DKC to buy land to eventually tie the parcels together and make them more attractive to a developer.

In addition to Crews, the five other equal partners in West Shore Development are:

The Ferchill Group, a real estate development group in Cleveland.

Lynn Egensperger, an engineer in Painesville

The Fuller Design Group, an architectural firm in Kent

George Smerigan, an urban planner in Mentor

The sixth share is held jointly by Christopher Wienand, a developer in Twin Lakes, James Burns of Akron, who has a background in business and government, and Keith Karlo of Kent, who has a background in finance and sales.

Crews served as economic development coordinator from 1992 until last year, when Kent City Council converted the position to a staff position in the community development department. He did not apply for the job, which was recently filled by Michael Weddle.

Crews declined comment Friday on the proposal.

Steinbrecher recommends acceptance of the proposal with several conditions, including:

A determination from the Ohio Ethics Commission that Crews' past work for the city and redevelopment of the West River Neighborhood does not represent a conflict of interest.

That the city build an adjoining parking lot rather than having West Shore build the facility and deduct it from the purchase price, and that current off street parking behind the building be maintained.

That the vacant lot next to the Kemp building be retained by the city, which would raze the green building attached to the Kemp building and use the area for public parking. The developers would be responsible for sealing any holes in the south wall of the Kemp building when the green structure is demolished.

That the agreement remove any references to the right to assign the property rather than commit to physical improvements, saying assigning the property would go against the intent of the landbanking agreement.

"If this project is successful, most people will remember that the city built a partnership with the private sector to help redevelop the core and heart of the community," Steinbrecher stated in his report. "The city has been offered an opportunity to improve the quality of life currently enjoyed here in Kent."

Another group which expressed interest in the building but later withdrew its proposal, had proposed buying an option to purchase for $5,000 but had proposed paying only $230,000 for the building, according to Steinbrecher.

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