When Secretary of Trans-
portation Ray LaHood visited Kent in July 2010 to celebrate plans for the Kent Central Gateway, the revitalization of the downtown area was in its relative infancy. LaHood saw the first phase of Acorn Alley and drove past the future site of the Gateway -- the PARTA transit center -- but none of the other elements of the city's revitalization were anywhere but on the drawing board.
What a difference two and a half years makes. And LaHood made sure to point that out Friday, when he returned to celebrate the completion of the PARTA facility, a $24 million project that was largely funded by federal stimulus dollars.
The transit center is one of the cornerstones of the "new" Kent. The parking deck will provide a vitally needed service for new development in the downtown area, including the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, which is located across the street and will open this summer, the commercial and office facilities that have already opened and the residential housing planned for the area.
The infusion of federal funds created construction jobs on the PARTA project; it also will create permanent jobs once the transit center opens. The Gateway project also encouraged private sector developers to invest in downtown Kent.
The federal stimulus program was the Obama administration's solution to the economic meltdown that greeted the new president as he took office in 2009. It was a controversial measure, one that drew criticism for a variety of reasons.
As far as Kent is concerned, however, we would echo Secretary LaHood's words Friday: "This project is proof that the stimulus worked." Without federal funding, the Gateway project would not exist. Without parking, the new KSU hotel would not exist. And, without those two major developments, it is debatable whether much of the private sector development would have materialized.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who was instrumental in shepherding the PARTA transit facility, noted the partnerships that have made the revitalization of Kent possible. In addition to the federal government, the city of Kent, Kent State and private developers all have been involved in fostering the redevelopment effort, which Ryan said has resulted in a national model for economic growth. "Build it, and they will come," he said, adding that the spirit of cooperation Kent has displayed has laid the groundwork for development that future generations will appreciate.
The celebration at the new PARTA facility was the culmination of years of planning and hard work -- the Gateway project first was identified in Kent's Bicentennial Plan, which was released in 2004, nearly a decade ago. It also was a celebration of the spirit of cooperation that has transformed Kent and continues to make it an exciting place to be.