Our View: Watching the puzzle come together in Kent

Tree City fulfilling potential with downtown transformation

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Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala

put it aptly Friday as he joined other community leaders in what has become a familiar ritual in downtown Kent -- groundbreaking for another major development.

As they marked the beginning of construction of the Fairmount Properties' "Building C," the mayor described the project as "another piece of the puzzle" as the $110 million transformation of downtown Kent that began three years ago with Ron Burbick's Acorn Alley continues.

"The puzzle" has been long in coming -- decades, actually -- and it looks like a promising solution to the age-old question of the future of downtown Kent.

The newest piece of the puzzle is Fairmount's third element in the massive redevelopment of the block between South Water and South DePeyster streets. Its ground-floor anchor tenant will be Bricco, an upscale Italian-themed restaurant, but unlike the other developments in the downtown area, "Building C" will be primarily residential. Plans call for 32 apartment units on the upper four floors of the building.

Introduction of a residential component into what some are calling Kent's 21st Century downtown is an exciting break with the past. Unlike Ravenna, whose Riddle blocks have provided housing for downtown apartment dwellers for more than a century, downtown Kent has had relatively few residential sites in its downtown area. Having people living downtown will enrich it, we believe; a small cadre of urban dwellers will add a sense of neighborhood there. (The revitalized Kent Hotel, another Burbick project, also will have two floors of apartments.)

"Building C" will join Fairmount's twin buildings, fronting South Water, that house Ametek and the Davey Resource Group's corporate offices. The ground-floor tenants of those buildings, a diverse assortment of restaurants and shops, already are establishing themselves as popular downtown venues, traffic-builders that have attracted many visitors to the downtown area. The Acorn Alley development, with elements on Main Street and Erie Street, also has become a popular destination.

Two developments nearing completion -- Acorn Corner, the revitalized Kent Hotel complex, and the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, a 98-room facility set to open this summer -- also will be welcome additions. So, too, will the Kent Central Gateway, the PARTA transit facility, which will provide much needed parking for the revitalized downtown area.

The transformation of downtown Kent has brought together a variety of key players -- the city of Kent, whose landbanking efforts were vital to the success of this effort -- Kent State University, PARTA and private developers such as Fairmount and Ron Burbick. Together, working with a common agenda, they have created a new and exciting downtown Kent, a hub of commercial activity thriving like it once did a half-century ago.

While the groundbreaking ceremonies have become almost routine in Kent, the progress that they symbolize is remarkable. It is nothing short of amazing to see the changes that have been wrought in downtown Kent in just three short years.

Watching the pieces of the puzzle come together has been exciting -- at times, almost unbelievable to witness -- and gratifying for those who were convinced of Kent's potential to become a true campus town. It's happening, and it's a great feeling.

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