Kent 2017: What to expect in the city’s growing downtown

Brightly colored candies fill displays at Sugar Rush, a new candy shop in downtown Kent, on Friday, Aug.25, 2017.

Rachel Duthie Cameron Gorman

You’re growing up so fast, Kent.

Not only has the city improved significantly since the Great Recession, but it has acquired a mass amount of wealth, too.

In the past five years, the university population has increased, leading to more jobs and a rapid demand for goods and services.The unemployment rate in the city of Kent is now half what it used to be, dropping “from 8.8 percent in 2010 to 4.3 percent last year,” said Tom Wilke, the economic development director of Kent.

But unlike other surrounding cities, Wilke said there has been a $125 million investment in order to redevelop downtown.

“It has helped make Kent a regional destination for dining and entertainment, and is bringing customers and their spending dollars from out of town,” he said.

This semester, Kent will see a slew of new restaurants, stores and renovated spaces in the downtown area.

Pacific East Restaurant

The now-empty building once occupied by Smokin’ Tattooz in downtown Kent is on track to become the new location of Pacific East, a Japanese and Malaysian restaurant.

“What I think is there’s no such type of restaurant like the Pacific East in Kent so far,” said Huaqing Wang, one of the owners of the new location.

Pacific East has locations in Cleveland Heights and Woodmere, as well as a spin-off restaurant under the same ownership, Pacific Grill in South Euclid, making Kent’s location the fourth opening.

Wang said the university was the main draw for selecting Kent as the location for the new restaurant. Though the owners were originally scouting University Plaza for their storefront, they are now moving into the store space on the corner of Main Street and Water Street. Wilke said that the building’s owner, Bill Arthur, recruited the tenants himself.

Pacific East will be the third Asian restaurant in Kent, which includes Newdle Bar and the soon-to-be opened Kenko, which will serve sushi and teriyaki.

The restaurant’s exact opening date is still undetermined, but Wang said there are hopes for a September debut.  

“They’re still working through the process; they’ve got a couple of challenging aspects to the design because it’s such an old building, and it’s never been a restaurant before,” Wilke said. “They’re looking to run some ductwork up the outside of the building, and part of the architectural review board is to look at anything that affects the appearances of buildings in downtown Kent.”

Kent City Hall

After selling its previous property for development in the downtown project, the city of Kent is looking to build a new City Hall.

“As soon as the police department moves out, we’ll have that area where that building is located because it’ll be taken down,” said Melanie Baker, the public service director in Kent. “That’s where the new administration building town hall will be located.”

Baker sent out requests to several architectural firms to complete the project for the city, including design work and construction. The process for narrowing down potential options and then choosing a firm is underway.

“We’ve done a preliminary space analysis, so if everybody were to move into this building, how much space would we need. … They haven’t really gotten down to exactly who all will be in that building specifically. They have some ideas,” Baker said. “So we are not to that point other than we know that we will have a council chambers — obviously the mayor and council will be located in this facility. … What other departments will end up coming down and sitting in this same complex is yet to be determined.”

Most administration for Kent, including the mayor and city council, the city manager and the health department, is located in separate buildings across the city. The effect on their productivity by combining them into one location, though, is the “million-dollar question,” Baker said.

She added that the “facility and function” side of things is also being taken into account. Baker estimated about a year of time to complete designs and plans, with construction projected for mid to late next year.

Baker said residents should expect it to open in 2020.

Treno Ristorante

Taking over the former Pufferbelly location, Treno Ristorante is set to be the city’s destination for high-end Italian cusine.

What he considers will be the “date-night location for students,” co-owner Ronald Burbick, who is responsible for creating other Kent businesses like Acorn Alley and Franklin Hotel Bar, said he’s wanted to open this restaurant in Kent for a while.

“There is no authentic Italian food in this area. There is americanized Italian, but nothing truly authentic,” he said. “Through my travels abroad, … I understand how this food is made.”

Menu items will range from $13 to $40 in price. It will include classics like meatball subs, pasta and homemade lasagna all made from scratch.

Treno, which is Italian for “train,”  will keep the rustic, brick-walled theme of a true Italian eatery, while also keeping the history of Kent’s train system.

“The walls will be covered in my personal collections of old Kent history,” Burbick said.

The opening was originally set for January, but due to unforeseen mechanical and plumbing problems, opening has been delayed until mid-September.

Kent Police Station

According to a couple of Kent police officers, a new station is long overdue. 

“Every time we looked at the options (of a new police building), it always came to building new,” said Support Services Captain Jayme Cole of the Kent Police. “It was just falling apart.”

Riddled with decaying mechanical systems, the over 90-year-old Kent police station is being replaced by a new, “modern” station on East College Avenue.

The estimated $18 million dollar project will be a slightly bigger version of the last station, with more public offices, a bigger jail and a better interior layout, Cole said.

“The last building was originally a fire station, so right off the bat it wasn’t designed for police,” Cole said. “Now it is designed to be for police, and will serve the public better.”

Sugar Rush

Sugar Rush, the newest establishment to open within the Kent Central Gateway, is every candy-lovers’ dream.

Elizabeth and Ben Woods, owners and Kent State graduates, were walking through the downtown area last year when they thought of opening a candy store.

“There was just a lot of energy here, a lot of people walking around and having fun,” Elizabeth said. “We thought, especially with all the college students, that this would be the best place.”

The walls are covered with shelves full of candy, ranging from chocolate bars to jawbreakers to every color of M&M’s one can imagine.

What’s unique is that not all the candy is from America. Much of it comes from different countries like China and Germany.

“It’s one of the things we really wanted to bring to Kent,” Ben said. “There are a lot of stores that sell candy, but there are not a lot that sell the mix that we have, from all different cultures around the world.”

Students have the option of buying pre-made or self-made candy boxes that they can ship to any on-campus location free of charge.

Aside from sweet snacks, Sugar Rush also sells a variety of speciality sodas from all different parts of the nation, including local vendors from Akron.

Rachel Duthie is the features editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Cameron Corman is a features reporter. Contact her at [email protected].