Finding a parking space in downtown Kent got a little bit easier Tuesday with the opening of the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority's Kent Central Gateway parking deck at South DePeyster and Erie streets.
"It's great to finally be open," PARTA Director of Planning Bryan Smith said. "It was a long time coming and we're thrilled that people are finally able to use the deck."
By adding an additional 365 spots to downtown Kent and bringing the total number of spaces to 1,107, Kent officials, businesses and visitors expect the three levels of parking to alleviate parking woes that have come in hand with the addition of several shops and eateries to downtown Kent.
"(Parking) has been an issue, but the deck is open now and will give people one more reason to come to downtown," said Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce. "It really raises the bar for downtown Kent. If you're going to bring this level of business, retail and residential to a downtown, you've got to provide ample parking."
Parking rates have yet to be decided, and so PARTA is allowing the deck to be used at no cost until rates are finalized later this month, Smith said.
"Our goal is to have free parking for a limited time in May," he said. "Sometime in May, when we can get the equipment installed and up and running, we'll announce what the rates are, start selling monthly passes and hopefully have it all ready for summertime."
The parking deck of the Kent Central Gateway represents just one function of the multimodal transit center. When the $26 million project is fully completed by August, it will also function as a transfer point PARTA for bus routes and will contain 5,600 square feet of retail and restaurant space with access from Erie Street.
The retail components have yet to be named as well. Smith said PARTA is looking at having a leasing agent and, with scale backs in design during the project's timeline, wants to make sure whatever businesses open in the facility make sense for the space and Kent.
The facility -- and the $20 million in stimulus funds that helped to build it -- served as the anchor to more than $110 million in downtown redevelopment.
The Kent Central Gateway, which also butts against Haymaker Parkway, sits at the connecting point between KSU's Esplanade and downtown Kent. When each of the projects are complete, pedestrians on Erie Street will be able to see KSU's Rockwell Hall from downtown.
"When the dust settles and the orange cones are gone, it's going to be absolutely seamless and one more variable that helps make Kent a destination," Wemhoff said.
Smith said the building serves as a testament to what can be done when people come together.
"It's not like we built this on our own, or would qualify for that grant without being able to bring everybody else to the table," he said. "It's a great day for the idea behind working together to achieve more than you could alone."
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