Park dedicated to former Kent economic development director to be created


Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith talks about the balance of new construction while preserving historic buildings using the example of the construction on Water Street across from the Kent court house which was the former main post office.

Emily Mills

Construction of a small pocket park dedicated to Dan Smith, the former economic development director for the city of Kent, is expected to start later this year and be completed in 2015.

Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said Smith has been instrumental in the transformation of downtown Kent.

“Dan was inspirational about helping put the downtown package together,” he said. “He was a team player, but he was one of the key players on the team. He was the one that would go around negotiating with the people to build our downtown.”

Smith, a resident of Brimfield, has been the economic development director for the city of Kent since February 2008. Previously, he served as the executive director of the Kent Chamber of Commerce from 1999 to 2008 and the director of the Central Portage County Visitors Bureau from 2001 to 2008.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early 2013.

City Manage Dave Ruller said Smith’s diagnosis has been difficult.

“As a friend and co-worker of Dan, the last 12 months have been very hard, but I’m grateful for every extra minute that I’ve had a chance to spend with him,” he said.

Lori Wemhoff, current executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, said Smith has been a mentor to her since she took over the position in 2009.

“Dan is by far one of the most positive, selfless people I’ve ever met,” she said. “Dan was always willing to answer my questions and provide insight…His love and commitment for Kent is incomparable.”

The park will be located between Bricco’s and Bar145 on Erie Street. Ruller said the location of the park was selected because it was in the heart of the downtown Smith helped create.

“We want the park to be a reflection of what Dan is, and Dan’s love for music and love for the railroad and love for the community are all going to be earmarked in that park in some way,” Fiala said. “We just thought that would be the greatest place to respectfully remember Dan and what he’s done for the city of Kent.”

Music and the railroad, two of Smith’s passions, will be present in the park. Music from bands performing at Bar145 will be heard in the park, Fiala said. The park will also contain a railroad spike that Smith placed in a pail of dirt.

“The idea behind the spike is…when they built the railroad across the country, when the Union and Central Pacific Railroads came together, they put the gold spike,” Fiala said. “This simulates the finish of the downtown and putting it together.”

It will contain benches, landscaped areas, urban-style swings and possibly a small stage for bands to perform, Ruller said.

“Since Dan is such an optimistic, fun-loving, energetic and socially inclined person, a park filled with people laughing, relaxing and chatting seemed perfect,” Ruller said.

A name has not yet been chosen for the park, but Ruller said the city and Fairmount Properties, LLC, a Cleveland real estate company creating the park, hope to incorporate the name of Smith’s band, a Jimmy Buffet-style band called the Flip Flops, into the name. 

Fiala named June 13, 2014 as “Dan Smith Day” in Kent. Smith has also received the key to the city of Kent on Nov. 15, 2012 and the 2013 International Economic Development Council’s Silver Award for his work on the downtown project.

Ruller said the transformation of downtown would not have been possible without Smith, and the park is a way to honor and recognize the work he has done for the city.

“He’s a remarkable person, and it’s been a privilege to serve alongside him to make downtown Kent a place that people are excited to come visit and even prouder to call home,” he said. “Walk around downtown, and his success speaks for itself.”

Emily Mills is the principal reporter for Contact her at [email protected].