KSU set to begin esplanade extension after purchase of one more property


Graphic by David Swartz.

Dawn Einsel

After purchasing more than 20 properties over the last three years with the intention of connecting the campus and city, one house standing in the path of Kent State’s proposed esplanade extension remains out of university ownership.

James Hauch and Timothy and Sandra Apel own the parcel of land at 324 E. Erie St., according to the Portage County Auditor’s office property data.

Hauch, who owns 18 properties in Kent, said he has been negotiating with the university on the purchase of the Erie Street residence and another property located at 128 S. Lincoln St. Hauch said he wrestled with the idea of selling the properties, both of which have a wait list of future tenants for next year.

“It’s hard to say no to a large institution,” he said. “It’s a different feeling when you have a public university saying ‘we really need this.’”

Hauch said he signed a tentative agreement with the university, but the property sale had not been finalized because the university is waiting to learn the status of its budgets for the coming year. He expects to learn more when the Board of Trustees meets Wednesday.

“I do think that the walkway and the plans for downtown are positive,” Hauch said. “Ultimately, I want to see what’s best for Kent and the university.”

Tom Clapper, director of risk management and real estate for Kent State, had no comment on the budget. He said the university does not discuss prospective purchases but confirmed that Hauch’s two properties were to be addressed at the meeting. Clapper said it is possible the agreement will be approved.

Hauch also worked with PARTA and sold a piece of land needed for the $26 million transit center. PARTA recently acquired the last piece of property needed to set a start date for construction.

The transportation company ended an eminent domain dispute with TD & CD Kent LLC over the Car Parts Warehouse building on South Depeyster in February, settling out of court for $775,000.

“The hardest part of much of these projects, not just the esplanade, is at the front end and acquiring property,” said Dave Ruller, Kent city manager. “The university has been able to negotiate deals. We’ve been able to negotiate deals on the downtown end, so the land issues are predominantly behind us.”

Ruller said the city has no local cash tied into the esplanade extension project. It did receive a $700,000 grant on behalf of the university to help finance its start-up. The money is specifically for the extension and is made up of federal funds awarded through the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study’s Transportation Enhancement Program.

The extension project is one piece of a multi-million dollar downtown development venture for the city that includes the multi-modal facility and a hotel and conference center. Parties that have invested include the university, the city, PARTA and private businesses.

Including the Kent State Board of Trustees’ most recent purchase approvals in December, the university has now acquired 23 properties in the area of South Lincoln Street, South Willow Street, East Erie Street and East College Avenue. Each brings the university closer to reaching a fall 2012 target completion date for the esplanade extension project.

The three newest purchases still await approval from the state. Once given, the university will have spent more than $3.55 million for the acquisition of property since 2007. Funds used to buy property come from the real estate acquisition account, a subset of an account used for maintenance and upkeep of university property.

“Many of the properties are not directly associated with the esplanade plan, but they are associated with our long-term goals for this area,” said Tom Euclide, associate vice president of facility planning and operations. “There’s been a lot more pieces that we never thought would be available because we didn’t think they would sell, and instead they are coming to us.”

Submit suggestions

E-mail your suggestions to Tom Euclide at [email protected].

See a map and descriptions of the $90 million downtown master plan.

Approximately $2.1 million was used for purchases directly associated with the esplanade extension, according to an e-mail from Denise Zelko, associate vice president of the university budget and financial analysis.

Euclide said university-owned property with driveways located off of East Erie Street will be leveled. Two other properties that sit back to back and align with the one-way street will also be demolished. One faces South Lincoln Street and the other South Willow Street.

East Erie Street will be open only to pedestrians, except for use by city and emergency vehicles, and possibly during special events such as festivals, Euclide said. Any buildings that fall into disrepair or are considered a detriment to the area will also be torn down.

No physical changes will be seen in the proposed area before the end of the semester. Construction is scheduled to begin as soon as the snow melts in the spring of 2012.

The overall look and purpose for the esplanade extension is still open to ideas — the University Architect’s office envisions an active area readily used by the student body — and Euclide invited students and residents to e-mail suggestions, be it benches, a gazebo or a fishpond.

The new walkway will retain its red brick and concrete look so as to clearly connect it to the campus portion. Euclide said an initial design is scheduled to be complete in two weeks.

With a budget separate from real estate negotiations, construction for the project is expected to cost $2 million. Expenses include demolition of houses within the path of the esplanade and exclude any building outside the walkway’s estimated 20 to 40-foot width.

Though earlier plans showed a visitor center straddling the walkway, Euclide said no structures would go up along the esplanade in the near future. Moving the admissions office from the Michael Schwartz Center to the area had been discussed, and Euclide said he did hope to add buildings at some point.

Clapper maintained there has been little to no resistance to the university’s growing presence in the Willow and Lincoln blocks that align with Erie Street.

“If you treat people fairly, they are going to be receptive to you,” Clapper said. “But if you are deceptive at all, it’s not going to work for you in the long run and the university is a long-run institution.”

According to the minutes of a March 2010 joint meeting of several boards and the city council, seven different studies that discussed the connection had been done since 1993.

As far as the near future is concerned, drivers and pedestrians can expect to see surveyors in the area checking elevations to make sure the design of the esplanade extension won’t negatively affect traffic, sidewalks or drainage systems.

“Change is always a bit unnerving,” Ruller said. “But at the end of the day, I think people are excited to see what’s happening.”

Contact Dawn Einsel at [email protected].