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The Kent Area Chamber of Commerce is enjoying a breath of fresh air in its new home after spending years working in a tiny office with no glimpse at the outside world.
"I couldn't be more excited about windows," said Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent business advocacy organization, from her new third-floor office overlooking East Main Street in Acorn Corner, formerly known as the old Kent Hotel. "It's been great just to hear the traffic, look out the window and see people walking in and out of shops all day long."
The Kent chamber and Central Portage County Visitors & Convention Bureau, which Wemhoff directs as well, previously were located in a smaller office in Acorn Alley I.
Even with only two employees doing double duty for the two organizations, Wemhoff and the chamber's executive assistant, Katie Calvin, the space worked fine, Wemhoff said, but you won't find either of them complaining about the new location, which is about double the size of the old one.
"You don't know how good it can be until you get something better," she said. "We've got more room than we've ever had,which I think allows us to present a better look and feel of what a chamber of commerce office should be."
Soon signage will be added to the building indicating the presence of the chamber and Marathon Financial Services, which share the third floor.
Wemhoff said a formal welcome is planned in July, but plenty of people already have had a chance to check out the newly renovated spaces during the Acorn Corner grand opening celebration. The event also included tours of the former hotel's new anchor, Buffalo Wild Wings, and the building's fourth and fifth floor apartments.
The Kent chamber, now in its 103rd year, once had an office in the Hotel Franklin, which opened in the 1920s.
The organization has experienced record growth in recent years as Kent's redevelopment efforts greatly increased the amount of businesses in downtown Kent. In 2009, the chamber had 176 members. It now has 277 members, and Wemhoff is hopeful the number will increase as shops continue filling new storefronts.
"The revitalization and the renewal of downtown definitely has had an impact on the chamber membership," Wemhoff said. "I don't have a magic wand or some secret formula. It's a lot of pieces and parts, timing and working together. This is the epitome of collaboration versus competition."
Although Wemhoff didn't expect her office to be in Acorn Alley I forever, she said "never in a million years" did she think it would be in the old Kent Hotel.
"I've only been in Kent for 10 years and this building was never anything but empty since I've been here," she said. "I'd talk to people who would say they remember when it was the Town House and other things that had come and gone, but I knew it as nothing other than this big dilapidated building at the corner of Main and DePeyster. The idea now -- to be actually in it as a tenant of such an awesome building -- you can't even put the transformation into words."
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