Kent officials give insight on downtown rehab

By Bob Gaetjens | Gateway News Editor Published:

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 city's downtown area.

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

"Without everyone at the table, this thing doesn't happen," he said.

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, saying '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, mainly the between Main Street and S.R. 59, and rebuilt whole city blocks with a mix of city funds, help from Kent State University, The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority, the state and federal governments, private developers and businesses.

Significant features of the new downtown area include the new PARTA multi-modal transportation cente, Ametek and 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 1,200 or 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 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."

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

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

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  • But still no supermarket in Kent. No big-box stores. Perhaps the taxes aren't high enough to attract them?