Downtown Kent's turn-
around over the past two or three years has brought an incredible transformation that not even the most optimistic soul could have fully predicted.
New shopping and dining venues, office complexes, parking and residential areas all are wonderful additions to the central city after decades of stagnation and decline.
But nothing is more incredible in terms of the changes we are witnessing than the revival of the old Kent Hotel building. What was perhaps the worst element of blight in the downtown area -- the five-story poster child for the decline of the downtown area -- has been revitalized into an attractive anchor for what some call "21st Century Kent."
"Revitalized" actually isn't the word for what has happened to the old hotel. It's been brought back from the dead.
Developer Ron Burbick, whose Acorn Alley jumpstarted the renewal of downtown Kent, deserves credit for taking an incredible gamble and making the major investment needed to acquire and rehabilitate a structure that was in deplorable condition after decades of neglect.
Burbick provided the wherewithal -- and the sense of vision -- needed to reclaim the 1920s era landmark and transform it into Acorn Corner, a multi-use facility whose ground floor tenant, Buffalo Wild Wings, will welcome its first customers on Monday -- just a year and a few months after its new owner acquired it.
Architect Doug Fuller, who has worked with Burbick on the Acorn Alley development, played a key role in saving a building that many said was beyond redemption and ought to be razed. (That includes this newspaper). Fuller believed otherwise, contending that there was an architectural gem beneath the accumulation of grime and debris. He proved the doubters wrong as the windowless ruin that was a tower of blight for too many years was transformed into an attractive cornerstone of the downtown renaissance.
The development effort that saved the old hotel would not have been possible without a public-private partnership element. The city of Kent acquired the downtown landmark after years of litigation and fruitless efforts to get its previous owners to clean up the site. The city, in turn, sold the building to Burbick, taking a monetary loss on the deal in exchange for the promise that the blighted property would be restored. On balance, whatever was "lost" monetarily has been more than covered by what the city has gained in terms of an important downtown anchor.
Buffalo Wild Wings is the first tenant of Acorn Corner. Soon to join it will be the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and Marathon Financial Services, whose offices will be located on the third floor. The upper two floors will be developed into high-end apartments -- giving the old hotel its first permanent occupants in more than 30 years (not counting the pigeons that roosted there after it was condemned for human habitation.)
The revival of the old hotel is the true "Kent miracle" in the phenomenal renewal of the downtown area. Had anyone said two or three years ago that a new restaurant would be opening there on April 1, an April Fools' Day reference would have been the logical rejoinder. But it's no joke. There's life again in the old Kent Hotel, and the building so many were ashamed of for more than a generation is now one of the new showplaces in the new Kent.