Renovations reshape university, city bond

Carolyn Pippin

Nutrition major Natalie Mazzella barely went downtown in 2009, her freshman year.

“Downtown had barely a fraction of the things it does now,” she said. “It was just a handful of old bars and restaurants.”

City Manager Dave Ruller and Kent State President Lester Lefton arrived in 2006.

“The city has had various plans dating back 30 years that included improvements to downtown Kent,” Ruller said in an email. Downtown revitalization was consistently a top priority for residents, he said.

Work on “Acorn Alley” started in 2008 when Burbick decided to buy four vacant buildings and create plans for a small shopping area, according to The Plain Dealer. Ruller and Lefton also worked together with university and city officials as well as private developers to create a $110 million downtown development.

“The success of that experience opened many doors for new town-gown partnerships and has elevated the town-gown partnership to a whole new level,” Ruller said. “When we saw the opportunity to partner with Kent State, PARTA and the private business, we knew the timing was right.”

By Spring 2013, downtown Kent included the Kent State Hotel and Conference Center, PARTA’s new Kent Central Gateway, Acorn Alley and Acorn Alley II and College Town Kent, a pedestrian-oriented shopping office and lifestyle center and the extension of the Kent State Esplanade.

“We wanted to create a downtown destination recognized as a place where students and residents, young and old and everything in between, could interact, share space, and enjoy the business, social, and cultural amenities available downtown,” Ruller said in an email.

T. David Garcia, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, said the renovation is a great recruiting source.

“Obviously what’s going on with the relationship with Kent State and the city of Kent and the downtown area being renovated certainly does play a role into when families are visiting here,” Garcia said.

Students can come here and have a great academic experience and experience outside of the classroom, and it is one of the pieces that is increasing our retention rate of students, Garcia said.

“This year, we enrolled a record freshmen class of 4,314 students,” he said.

The Esplanade strengthened the connection between the university and downtown because it “provides a physical link and safe pathway for students to visit, enjoy and patronize local business,” according to International Communications Specialist Foluke Omosun in a news release.

“Kent is a relatively small town with a major university in it, and I believe that the success of the city and university in their respective missions depends upon optimizing the strategic relationship between the town and the gown, creating the social, cultural and economic synergy that vibrant university cities have become known for,” Ruller said.

Senior fashion merchandising major Taylor Lisowski said in an email because there is so much to do downtown, she loves having her family and friends visit.

“It has been built up a lot,” Lisowski said. “There are new bars, restaurants, boutiques and a hotel. I go out to eat there a lot more. And the shopping is so much better.”

“We see today an unprecedented balance between business, residential, shopping, dining and cultural opportunities in downtown Kent,” Ruller said.

Contact Carolyn Pippin at [email protected].