City of Kent plans to redevelop former courthouse

Danielle Hess

The City of Kent is keeping an open mind when it comes to the redevelopment of the former Portage County Municipal Courthouse.

Tom Wilke, Kent’s economic development director, said no proposals for the South Water Street property have been submitted yet because they’re not due until March 20. However people who work in Downtown Kent have expressed a variety of ideas of what they’d like to see take the place of the old courthouse.

“I’ve heard a lot of people mention the idea of putting in a microbrewery,” Wilke said. “I do think there are some physical challenges in doing that because of the way the building is constructed.”

T.J. Ingersoll, Fresco Mexican Grill and Salsa Bar owner, said he had a few ideas for what he’d like to see across the street from his business.

“They could use it for a multipurpose type thing,” Ingersoll said. “It might be a little too big for a restaurant, but I think they could put a bunch of little things in there. I feel like we could use a lot more retail.”

Ingersoll said a convenience store would be another good space-filling idea.

“I feel like that’s one thing downtown is missing,” he said. “I know we have like Walgreens and CVS, but it’s kind of out of the way from downtown.”

Wilke said the space could be the new temporary or permanent home of Kent’s city council.

“Moving into the old courthouse permanently would cost a whole lot of money because there’s not a lot of space,” he said. “Another option is to not accept the offer and stay right where we are.”

The selected project developer will have leeway when it comes to repurposing the courthouse, but some aspects of the building have to remain the same.

Bridget Susel, community development manager, said the outside of the building, which is considered to be historically significant by the city, should maintain its current appearance.

“The old courthouse has not been designated as ‘historically significant’ through the federal national registry process,” Susel said. “Kent City Council has identified the old courthouse as being ‘locally’ historically significant and have informed the staff that any redevelopment of the old courthouse must maintain the exterior façade of the front of the building.”

Interviews of potential developers for the project will take place the week of March 30, and city council will authorize a finalized negotiation with the chosen developer in April or May of 2015.

Susel said a projected start date for construction on the project is difficult to determine because they don’t know how large the proposed redevelopment will actually be.

“Before any actual construction activities can occur, the selected project will need to go through building plan review, planning commission site plan review and the Architectural Review Board process before all of the details on the project’s construction can be finalized,” she said. “Moving a project through these various city review processes can take several months, and I would anticipate that beginning these review procedures could possibly begin sometime in the fall of 2015.”

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Contact Danielle Hess at [email protected].