Kent State University
and its host community may be enjoying a closer relationship than at any time since Kent welcomed the founding of Kent State Normal School more than a century ago. The partnership between the two has played a major role in the transformation of Kent into a true college town, one that has become known nationwide as a model for progress through cooperation.
The dedication of the University Esplanade, the pedestrian walkway linking the campus to downtown Kent, was a fitting celebration of the partnership between the two as Kent State celebrated its first Homecoming since the completion of the walkway and many of the improvements in the downtown area.
Meeting Friday at the arch that has become a landmark in what some call 21st Century Kent, representatives of the campus and the community joined in a dedication ceremony that included the Partnership Tree, a pin oak planted on the Esplanade. The tree was donated by the Davey Tree Expert Co., which has been headquartered in Kent for more than a century, and -- like the university -- is an important partner in the downtown development effort.
The decision to name the Esplanade in honor of retiring President Lester Lefton, a surprise announcement at Friday's ceremony, is a fitting tribute to the Kent State leader, who was one of the driving forces for the project.
KSU has embraced its role in the community through its involvement in Kent's revitalization, making a major investment in the downtown area with the construction of the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center.
The construction of the Esplanade represents another major investment on behalf of the university, which spent more than $10 million to acquire numerous properties in the Erie-Willow Street area to enable construction of the walkway. In their place is a beautiful green space that is a new focal point for the community.
Forty years ago, the construction of Haymaker Parkway -- also known as the S.R. 59 bypass -- provided motorists with an easier way to travel through Kent, but also resulted in the separation of the campus from the community. The four-lane highway, with fencing on both sides, was a symbolic and literal dividing line between the two. The university's decision, perhaps coincidental in the aftermath of the events of May 4, 1970, to expand the campus eastward -- away from downtown Kent -- exacerbated that sense of separation.
Construction of the Esplanade has essentially reversed that separation, bringing instead a sense of unity between the campus and the downtown area. A pedestrian standing at the entrance to the Esplanade on South Lincoln Street near Rockwell Hall can enjoy an unimpeded view of downtown Kent, with easy access to the new developments there -- and a pedestrian standing at Erie and DePeyster streets can see all the way to Kent State for the first time in the university's history. And, for the first time since the S.R. 59 bypass was created, Erie Street is no longer a dead end street, but a direct route into the heart of downtown Kent.
The University Esplanade is another sign of what can happen when agendas are put aside in favor of cooperation and partnership for a better community. It is a beautiful addition to Kent, its dedication Friday a proud moment for both Kent State and Kent and a proud personal tribute to President Lefton.