Kent's public-private partnership resulting in $110 million of downtown redevelopment landed in the international spotlight for the first time.
The city was awarded the Silver Excellence in Economic Development Award for its redevelopment projects in 2012. It came from the International Economic Development Council in the public-private partnerships category for communities with populations of 25,000 to 200,000.
The award was accepted by Mayor Jerry Fiala and Economic Development Director Dan Smith Tuesday in Philadelphia. The city was up against communities across the country and some in Canada.
Smith called the distinction -- which comes as the city earned two awards from America in Bloom last month -- validating.
Planning for many of the projects downtown began as early as 2005, while visions for redevelopment existed well before then.
"We're excited to see the project go from planning stages to viable businesses open for local customers," Smith said. "But it's really all about setting the stage for the business climate in the city of Kent for the next decade or two."
Interest in running a business in Kent has never been higher, Smith said.
IEDC chair Paul Krutko said the award marks Kent as "one of the leading organizations in the industry for innovation, creativity and successful strategies."
"(Kent) uses creative solutions and inventive ideas and offers other regions a wonderful example to learn and benefit from," Krutko said.
Players in Kent's public-private partnership includes the city, Kent State University, the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority, Fairmount Properties, The Pizzuti Companies and Phoenix Properties in addition to collaborations with other private developers such as Ron Burbick who purchased and renovated the newly dubbed Acorn Corner at the corner of DePeyseter and Main streets formerly known as the old Kent hotel.
"I think everyone learned over the last five years that economic progress isn't inevitable and it's a testament to the leadership of city council and the persistence of the staff and all our partners to find a way to succeed during one of the worst economic periods in our lifetime," said City Manager Dave Ruller.
The redevelopment projects spanning three city blocks downtown have erected more than 250,000 square feet of new, mixed-use space.
The new KSU Hotel and Conference Center, an Esplanade extension connecting campus to downtown, PARTA's Kent Central Gateway multimodal transit center, Acorn Alley I and II and the highly visible downtown buildings featuring corporate headquarters for Davey Tree Resource Center, AMETEK and most recently Smithers-Oasis Company are some of the most recent sub-projects completed.
A new municipal courthouse and high-end apartment housing featuring a Bricco restaurant on the first floor are projects nearing completion.
All those projects have resulted in at least 50 overall new businesses, 969 construction jobs and between 700-800 new permanent jobs in downtown as a result of new restaurants and storefronts.
"The job numbers are unprecedented in a community of our size, and the new income taxes have helped the city recover from the recession and from the state funding cuts of nearly $1 million a year that began in 2012," Ruller said. "The redevelopment investment strategy was built on the premise of leveraging our assets, namely Kent State University and a vibrant downtown, to be an economic engine and put Kent back to work. The strategy is paying off as our city income taxes have climbed and have almost restored the losses in state funding."
And, Fiala added, "we're not done yet."
"We continue to look for opportunities to strengthen our local economy in order to sustain this success for years to come," Ruller said. "We've certainly seen Kent's reputation take major strides forward and we're working hard to translate that into new business investment and more jobs."
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