Downtown redevelopment pushes forward

Leighann McGivern

While students were away for the summer, major construction has taken place downtown as part of the city’s over $106 million redevelopment project, said Dan Smith, Kent city economic development director.

“I think the main priority was for the shops that were already open on Erie Street, like Tree City Coffee, Wild Goat Outfitters, Laziza and Funky Ladles — that was a priority for us to get that section of Erie Street open as well as Acorn Alley all the way through to Erie Street. We wanted to have that done to coincide with the fall semester.”

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The Downtown Kent Revitalization Project is a partnership between the City of Kent, Kent State, PARTA and three private development partners: Fairmount Properties, the Pizzuti Companies and Phoenix Properties.

The major elements of the project include 185,000 square feet of mixed-use space and two corporate tenants, Davey Tree Expert Company, a residential and commercial landscaping company, and AMETEK, Inc., a global manufacturer of electronic instruments and electromechanical devices; a Hotel and Conference Center; Acorn Alley I and II; a $26 million multi-modal transit center; an esplanade connection between the edge of the Kent State campus and the central business district and a new county municipal court.

Completion of the entire project is scheduled for Spring 2013.

“Phoenix Phase II, which is Acorn Alley II, has been completed,” Smith said. “The parking deck is starting to take shape.”

Smith said the transit center and parking deck is scheduled to open in March 2013.

In addition, Smith said the two buildings that house the corporate offices of Davey Tree and AMETEK have been completed. Both businesses, which are in the process of moving in, will bring about 700 employees to downtown Kent, and Smith is hopeful they will take advantage of the city for conferences and events.

“Normally those conferences would have gone through another region or state,” Smith said. “Now they’re coming to Kent. Both Davey Tree and AMETEK being national and international companies — we’ve got a lot to be proud of downtown.”

Jim McKinley, a spokesperson for AMETEK, Inc., said his company is excited to be a part of the changes taking place downtown.

“We think it’s a win-win for everybody,” McKinley said. “We think it’s a win for the community. We think it’s a great development. We also think it’s a great opportunity for our business to have headquarters there in Kent, Ohio.”

The old Kent Hotel, which will eventually house Buffalo Wild Wings, among other establishments, now has clean bricks, new mortar joints and is about to get new windows, Smith said. This phase of the project is scheduled for completion by the first week of December.

While progress has been made on the redevelopment project, construction has taken a toll on road closures and local businesses. The section of East Erie Street south of Acorn Alley II reopened last week, while the portion of South Depeyster Street from East Main Street to Haymaker Parkway will likely remain closed until the end of November, Smith said. Both road closures prevented customers from reaching certain areas of downtown by car this summer.

“Erie Street off of Water Street did open last week as well as the parking that’s internal to AMETEK and Davey Tree Resource Group,” Smith said. “During the business hours, it’s for office parking, but on evenings and weekends after 6 p.m., anyone can park in the lot.”

Several tenants of Acorn Alley II had to shut down their businesses at certain times during the summer to accommodate road construction. Evan Bailey, co-owner of Tree City Coffee and Pastry, closed his shop for two days, while Funky Ladles owner, Randy Durant, closed his for one day.

In a July 10 interview, Durant said it was costing him more to keep his business open than the profit he was making since construction began.

“Being closed will benefit my business at this point,” Durant said in the interview.

Bailey said he worked with the city to determine the best days for his shop to shut down.

“For example, if our drive-thru lane had to be closed for a couple hours, then we knew not to staff somebody at the window,” Bailey said. “There were definitely some challenges there, but all in all they worked with us, and communication was kind of the key to making it as smooth as possible.”

Bailey, a lifetime resident of Kent and assistant professor of public relations at Kent State, said, although construction did make it hard for people to get to his shop, his loyal customers still found ways to make it in.

“A lot of our customers are pretty devoted, and we definitely saw people walking here from a little further than they’d probably like,” Bailey said.

Though Smith said construction has been completed according to schedule so far, he does expect there will be small changes taking place even after Spring 2013.

“Landscaping, little projects could linger on,” he said. “I would say by next summer most of the construction will be complete.”

Both Smith and Bailey look forward to completion of the downtown renovations for the City of Kent.

“It’s a genuine opportunity for students to come down and interact downtown in a way that’s not just the bar scene,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of opportunities now for students, residents and visitors to interact in a very positive manner.”

“I really think Kent will start to become more of a destination,” Bailey said. “I’ve lived in Kent my whole life, and we’ve always wanted the downtown to become stronger and stronger. It definitely had the right atmosphere for it.”

Two more buildings will be breaking ground over the next year, one on the corner of Depeyster and Erie streets, which should break ground in October, and one on Haymaker and Depeyster streets that should break ground next spring. The former will house Bricco restaurant and luxury apartments.

“It’s a milestone in the city’s history,” Smith said. “We haven’t seen this type of investment in construction in decades. It’s an exciting time to be a resident of the city of Kent and a student or faculty and staff member at Kent State University.”

Contact Leighann McGivern at [email protected].