Fundraising begins for Dan Smith community park



Dan Smith, former Kent economic development director, is known by many throughout the Kent community as one of the driving forces behind the revitalization of downtown.

Smith lost his life in 2014 after a yearlong struggle with glioblastoma brain cancer, but those who knew him are determined to see his legacy live on.

In honor of Smith, members of the Kent community have come together to transform the vacant area between Bricco and Bar 145 on Erie Avenue into Dan Smith Community Park. Fundraising for the $250,000 project began a couple weeks ago.

Jim Bowling, city engineer, hopes the new park will continue to improve the downtown area that Smith helped make possible.

“Downtown Kent’s a great place now, but we feel that there’s an opportunity to be even better,” Bowling said. “Great public spaces make for great cities.”

Although there are already a few public spaces in the city, like Hometown Bank Plaza or Heritage Park, Bowling said the park will be especially great for young children and families.

The park will have a stage for live music performances because Smith loved music and was in a local band called Tequila Bob & the Flip Flops. The stage will also serve as a patio with extra seating.

A cornhole field and an oversized Connect Four game will also be featured in the park. Connect Four was one of Smith’s favorite games to play with his daughters.

“Dan really loved games,” Bowling said. “Dan was a fun-loving person.”

In addition to the stage and games, a playground train with a built-in slide will be on the side of the park closest to Bricco. It reflects not only Smith’s love of trains and model railroads, but also Kent’s history as a railroad town.


“Some of those features that we put in the park are also ones that reflect the city as well as Dan,” Bowling said.

The park is a joint effort by many people and organizations, including the city, Main Street Kent, College Town Kent and Hometown Bank.

“There’s a group of people helping to make this happen,” Bowling said. “In part we do it out of what we want to see the community develop as a great place, in part we do it for Dan, and in part we do it as just a regular part of our daily lives.”

Michelle Hartman, vice president with the Burbick Companies, is one of the volunteers helping turn the vision of the park into a reality.

“As soon as I found out that they were thinking about doing a park for Dan, I stepped right up and said I will absolutely volunteer to help with this effort,” Hartman said.

Hartman is leading the fundraising effort for the project through the Burbick Foundation. She said the fundraising started roughly two weeks ago.

“We’ve already raised nearly $60,000 towards that goal of $250,000, so we are really, really pleased with what we have raised so far in such a short period of time,” she said.

She said she and the other volunteers weren’t intimidated when that found out what it would cost.

“It may be a little bit of a surprise for the cost, but as far as thinking that we can’t reach the goal, it didn’t scare us because we knew whom we were doing it for,” she said.

In order to raise the funds, Hartman is reaching out to organizations, community foundations and local businesses Smith built relationships with. All donations are tax deductible and donors have the option to pay it over a three-year period.


“That allows them to donate a higher amount and spread it out over a period of time so it’s a little easier on their budget,” Hartman said. “In offering that three-year pledge, we may not get the $250,000 four months from now, we may get it over a period of three years, but we hope to have the amount pledged by summer.”

Hartman said it is common for projects like this to be completed as the money comes in, but isn’t sure at this point if that will be the case for this project. She and Bowling are hopeful the groundbreaking will begin this summer or early fall.

Mayor Jerry Fiala, a friend and former colleague of Smith’s, said the city has started holding presentations to discuss the park and people have already shown interest in making donations.

“I think it’s all going to work out,” Fiala said. “The city has put money into it.”

The city owns the property and constructed the sidewalk that runs through the center of what will soon be the park.

Fiala told Smith about the plans for the park before he passed away in July 2014.


“We wanted to make sure he knew about it and his family knew about it,” he said. “We went down to his house and we took what were early renderings of the park at that time and showed him.”

Fiala also brought Smith a railroad spike that will be the centerpiece of the park.

“I had a pail of dirt and I made Dan at his best to put the spike in the dirt, and I promised him it would be in this park,” he said. “And even though he couldn’t communicate a lot at that time, there was a smile on his face.”

Fiala said the park will not only commemorate Smith’s legacy, but also provide a place for people in the community to come together.

“It’s like that railroad spike in there. It’s joining everything together. We built a new downtown, and there’s something for everyone down there, whether you’re a resident in the city or a student in the city,” he said. “It’s a place that you can sit down and bring everything together for yourself.”