Portage County's new municipal courthouse, which is nearing completion on East Main Street near downtown Kent, is a key -- and somewhat overlooked -- element in the revitalization of the Tree City. With luck, it also may serve as the catalyst for future development in a stretch of Main Street that could use it.
The $10 million facility, which is set to open in March, will be the first municipal courthouse built for that purpose in Kent. The municipal court, which came into being in the mid-1960s, has been housed at City Hall, in rented quarters at University Plaza and, for the past 25 years, in the South Water Street building that formerly housed Kent's post office. Being built to serve as a courthouse will make a difference in terms of serviceability for the new facility.
The two-story structure will dominate the area where it is located. While every new building has its critics, the Kent courthouse has a sense of presence befitting a hall of justice; there is no mistaking its purpose, which is as it should be. We believe that it enhances its surroundings. It certainly is an improvement over the motel once located there.
As an element of Kent's ongoing revitalization, the courthouse might spur changes in the usage of surrounding properties in the block, many of which now house Kent State University fraternities. The residential structures in the area date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All could be prime candidates for renovation and adaptive reuse as law offices or other professional sites that could benefit from proximity to the new courthouse. If that occurs, those once imposing properties could see a rebirth.
When the courthouse moves to its new location, the present courthouse -- the New Deal era post office building -- will become the responsibility of the city of Kent, which will gain possession of the South Water Street site as a result of its role in brokering the transaction that enabled the new building to be constructed on East Main Street.
The former post office needs a great deal of interior work, but remains an architectural gem. It is a bonafide landmark, and it is to the credit of both the county and the city that it will not be razed once it is vacated. That might not have been the case a generation ago, when "old" buildings were not necessarily cherished. With proper restoration, the site could be marketable for office or commercial use; the existence of a parking area behind it, which the city also will be gaining, could a plus, too.
We're looking forward to the opening of the new courthouse and hoping that the old courthouse, too, will be able to play a role in downtown Kent's ongoing turnaround.