Kent State University agreed to enter into a multi-million dollar lease for the DuBois Book Store property on South Lincoln Street Wednesday -- in part to keep the land away from other potential developers.
Under the tentative agreement, the university would lease the 3.75-acre property near the northwest edge of campus through the Portage County Port Authority, a county economic development agency, for 15 years. After the lease ends, KSU would have the option to buy the property for what KSU officials called "a nominal fee."
According to Gregg Floyd, KSU's vice president for finance and administration, the school would pay about $23,000 per month to lease the site that formerly housed the DuBois Book Store, which closed in July 2011 after 75 years in business. If the agreement goes forward, the university could end up paying $4.14 million for the property bordered by South Willow Street, East Summit Street and South Lincoln Street, over the life of the lease.
"We needed to move very quickly, Floyd said. "The current owner had development opportunities he was planning to pursue. This gave us the flexibility of getting there quickly. It also gives us the flexibility ... (to) sell it or retain it."
KSU President Lester Lefton said the school has no long-term plans for the site yet, but he felt controlling the property would prevent developers from going forward with projects that would clash with KSU's Esplanade walkway extension. The school has spent more than $8 million on real estate properties for the park-like walkway between campus and downtown in the past five years.
"Given (the property's) proximity to our campus and some of our key academic buildings, we don't want a Wal-Mart to spring up there," Lefton said. "It wouldn't be consistent with the aesthetic of the Esplanade or the campus."
The Esplanade will run from the end of Hilltop Drive on campus across South Lincoln Street and South Willow Street and over a section East Erie Street the city has vacated to Haymaker Parkway. The walkway will cross Haymaker Parkway to the site of $100 million in recent downtown redevelopment projects, including the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, set to open next summer.
Lefton said KSU plans to use the DuBois site as a staging ground for the construction of a new building for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, which will be located on the Esplanade walkway extension.
KSU is now hosting a worldwide contest to find an architecture firm to design the $40 million building.
Floyd said the new architecture building could sit on what is now South Willow Street. The city is currently undertaking a traffic study of the area at the university's request, which could result in the city vacating and closing the section of South Willow Street north of East College Avenue in the Esplanade area.
The university now owns every property on South Willow Street North of East College Avenue except for one house.
"If the traffic study suggests that (the street) should be closed, we would make the request to the city," Floyd said.
Like the end use of the DuBois property, Lefton said the future of the bookstore building is unclear at this point.
"While we would have the right to demolish the bookstore, we're not sure that we need to right away," Lefton said.
Although KSU has agreed to the arrangement, some details still have not been finalized. Dubois Book Store Inc. still owns the property, while KSU and the Portage County Port Authority continue to iron out a final agreement.
Floyd said all sides hope to quickly close the deal, which he said has led to three proposed contract drafts in the last 24 hours alone.
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