Student apartments could one day replace Kent's administration buildings and city hall in what has become an area of prime real estate between Kent State University and the revitalized downtown.
Cleveland real estate developer NewBrook Partners has offered the city $1.4 million for the properties at 215 E. Summit St. and 325 S. DePeyster St. that collectively house several offices for city operations -- from Kent City Council chambers, law, finance and health departments to the offices of the mayor and city manager -- according to a July 28 letter of intent to purchase.
A deal is a long way from being finalized, though.
With an offer on the table and support from council, the city must now weigh the benefits of selling and the resulting impact to city services and functions.
The Cleveland firm, which specializes in development projects with small footprints, wants to clear the city-owned site for a multi-family housing project geared primarily toward student renters.
NewBrook partner Guy Totino said with the needs of KSU in mind and the property's location between downtown and the university, the area is ideal for student housing.
"We're very excited about what's happening in Kent and what has happened in terms of growth and development in that area and how the university has participated in that," Totino said. "And we like (the site) is a short walk from campus and a short walk to the commercial area."
With a deal far from complete, Totino said it's premature to outline any specifics about the project.
"But it will be respectful of the scale of the rest of the city and the look," he added. "It'll blend in, not stick out."
NewBrook has finished or is working on several projects in Ohio including The Langston apartments near Cleveland State University, Chestnut Place apartments in Oxford and, locally, they're designing what will be the new KSU Institutional Advancement building at the former Dubois Book Store site at Lincoln and Summit streets -- just up the road from the Kent site they're seeking now.
If the property were sold, City Hall, the administrative offices and their related functions contained in those buildings will need to be relocated, raising questions of how the sale money could cover construction of new offices or the purchase or leasing of other spaces, where those services could be relocated in existing city-owned properties and what would happen to the business incubator spaces at the Summit Street building.
Whatever decisions are reached will be the result of a "very public" process, City Manager Dave Ruller emphasized. Not selling is equally a potential option.
"There's a range of options we could look at," said Ruller. "But we have to go through all of that with council and the community. We're not that far along yet."
In one scenario, the sale money could be used to add a floor to the new Safety Administration Building currently being designed for a site on College Avenue at South DePeyster Street, north of the present city office complex.
"The police station is one of any multiple options where those could be," Ruller said. "Council and the administration will not rush this to meet a police building timeline, though."
The land sought by NewBrook was never officially marketed for sale, but the city is in the business of "creating opportunity," Ruller said.
Late last year, developers began courting the city over varying levels of interest in the same property, but NewBrook was the only firm to followup with a serious offer.
Service Director Gene Roberts said the DePeyster and Summit Street buildings were constructed in the mid 1950s and 1960s, respectively.
The DePeyster building was built in 1955 as Ferrara's Sparkle Market, which closed in 1989. The city acquired it along with the Summit Street building -- which also was owned by the Ferrara family and used for medical arts --around 1992 for about $1.25 million and retrofitted both in the years following to accommodate their uses now.
In addition to age, officials said both buildings have some underutilized space. The former medical building has upper-floor examination rooms currently unoccupied, for example. The lower level houses city offices while the upper level, accessible from Summit Street, is the incubator space for small businesses.
Faced with the "misfunction" of some of those spaces, Ruller said, and an opportunity to possibly address the aging facilities now, the city felt a financial obligation to consider the various possibilities.
"We know these buildings are 50 to 60 years old. We don't want to pass on a significant problem for the next generation to solve," Ruller said. "If we have the opportunity to solve it more cheaply now, we have to consider it. But I don't know the answer to that yet."
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