Kent State University continued demolition and construction work Monday on its Esplanade walkway extension, a project that has led the school to purchase more than $9.7 million in real estate near the northwest edge of campus in the past four years.
Kent State's Board of Trustees agreed to purchase the house at 213 S. Willow St. last week from the Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority for $200,000. It was the 42nd property the university has purchased in the area for its Esplanade extension project, which will carry the university's walkway from its current endpoint at the intersection of South Lincoln Street and Hilltop Drive across Haymaker Parkway into downtown Kent.
With the purchase of the PMHA house, Kent State has spent $9,737,000 on properties located on East College Avenue, College Court, East Erie Street, South Lincoln Street, East Main Street and South Willow Street.
Kent State has paid an average of about $232,000 per property it has purchased in the area.
The most expensive property the university bought for the project, the Cutler Real Estate Office at 414 E. Main Street formerly owned by Chris and Deborah Smeiles, cost the university $610,000. The cheapest property, a vacant plot on East Erie Street formely owned by Pierre DuBois, cost Kent State $10,000.
Most of the homes Kent State has purchased have been slated for demolitions to make way for the Esplanade, while others have been purchased to prevent development near the path.
Kent State Spokeswoman Emily Vincent said nine houses on College Avenue, Lincoln and Willow street were targeted for expedited demolition after a suspicious fire occurred at a vacant home the school owned at 128 S. Lincoln St. in early November.
"A couple of the houses were taken down last week," Vincent said. "The remaining houses will be down by the end of the month."
The nearly $10 million in purchases does not include the money Kent State agreed to spend on leasing the DuBois Book Store site just south of the Esplanade project. Trustees agreed to a 15-year lease on the 3.75-acre site at the corner of South Lincoln Street and East Summit Street at a rate of about $23,000 per month to keep the site away from other potential developers.
If Kent State pays $23,000 per month to lease the site for 15 years, the total cost to the university would be more than $4 million. Kent State will then have the option to purchase the site for a nominal fee, possibly $1 according to Kent State officials.
Kent State President Lester Lefton said the university has no short-term plans for the DuBois Book Store site, except possibly for use as a staging ground for construction equipment when it builds a new architecture building on or around the Esplanade extension in the next few years. The school will have the right to demolish the book store, which operated on the site for 75 years before closing in June 2011, but Lefton said a decision has not yet been made to raze the structure.
He said school officials made the move to lease the property because they did not want to see a retail complex, self-storage facility or any type of development on the DuBois site that would not match the aesthetic of the Esplanade or the northwest corner of campus. He said while the university may not have a long-term plan for the property now, that could easily change in 15 or 20 years.
"It's likely that we'll have a very important use for that strategically placed piece of land," Lefton said.
Beyond the land purchases, Kent State is also paying for the bulk of the estimated $2.5 million in construction costs for the walkway. While the university is spearheading the effort to build the walkway, the city of Kent will oversee the construction due to conditions of $700,000 in grant funding it received from the Ohio Department of Transportation to go toward the project.
University officials expect the project to wrap up in late spring 2013, in time for the opening of the KSU Hotel and Conference Center in Kent. The Esplanade extension will end at the intersection of Haymaker Parkway and DePeyster Street -- the location of the hotel -- near more than $100 million in public and private redevelopment work in downtown Kent including retail, office space and a parking deck.
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