Kent's unofficial Halloween celebration this weekend will be an opportunity for many visitors to experience the city's new, budding downtown.
Kent police, however, expect little novelty.
Throngs will flood downtown Saturday for Halloween festivities -- an annual celebration not sanctioned by the city or Kent State University that draws thousands to the city on the Saturday prior to Oct. 31 for traditionally alcohol-fueled hijinks.
Lt. Jim Prusha, Kent police public information officer, roughly estimates somewhere around 10,000 people file downtown each year throughout the night. Many arrive inebriated or jockey for position inside the city's bars on Franklin Avenue and Water Street while taking in the spectacle of thousands in costume.
"The vast majority of people who get in trouble with the police are intoxicated," Prusha said, noting there's always a spike in arrests for disorderly behavior. "It's our busiest day every year, and we expect that to continue."
Police presence will be at its usual zenith for the event. All of the city's approximately 40 officers will be on the streets. They'll be joined by police from KSU and Brimfield, Portage County sheriff's deputies, Metro SWAT and even state troopers who will be focusing on the roadways, Prusha said.
Because the Halloween romp is not an officially sanctioned event, like Kent Heritage Festival for example, no roads are deliberately blocked off. However, Prusha said police have quarantined downtown streets in the past when crowds get out of hand and pose safety risks.
"We strongly encourage people to stay on the sidewalks," Prusha said.
Teams of six to eight officers will be assigned regions of the city to patrol on foot from downtown to the nearby KSU campus. The variety of new buildings creates a new landscape officers will be searching for shenanigans and trespassers.
The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority's new $20 million Kent Central Gateway parking deck on DePeyster Street will have ramped up security of its own, said PARTA Director of Planning Bryan Smith.
The day will also be the deck's first time offering special event pricing.
From 8:30 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday, parking in the deck will cost a flat rate of $10. The normal maximum is $5 for those without passes.
"It's a special price because we do anticipate demand being quite high," Smith said. "Part of that money goes to pay for extra security at the deck."
Those with monthly passes at the deck will still have to pay the special event price, but the more expensive 24/7 passes geared toward residents will be honored as usual.
Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, said Kent's downtown businesses are planning on a busy night as well.
"From what I understand, they're gearing up for what they hope is a very busy business day because of the throngs of people that will be coming to downtown," she said. "More businesses are open downtown, and I think more are going to have extended hours because of the anticipation."
Wemhoff said she hopes some of Kent's many one-night visitors for Halloween notice the many newly opened stores and restaurants and come back during the holiday season.
"It's going to bring people to downtown Kent that might not normally come downtown," she said. "They're going to see what's here, all of the options for shopping and eating, and I would expect that would make them come back as the holidays get closer."
Staff writer Kyle McDonald contributed to this report.
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Advice from Kent police
- Pedestrians are encouraged to stick to sidewalks and not gather in the streets. Don't assume a motorist sees you in the road.
- If you plan to drink, do so responsibly. Make arrangements for rides. Police will be out in force looking for drunk drivers.
- Leave valuables at home or make sure they're secured. Large crowds are prime targets for thieves.
- Be aware of businesses discouraging masks inside their establishments. Many will post signs saying masks are prohibited.
- Fighting has been an issue in the past couple years. If you witness a confrontation or become part of one, walk away and call police immediately.