Council solidifies commitment to redevelop downtown Kent

Darren D’Altorio

With the vote, council members agreed to sign the Declaration of Collective Intent and an Esplanade Memorandum of Understanding.

Various council members called this a moral agreement that will solidify the relationship among Kent State, Kent city government and other investors, stakeholders and partners in the downtown redevelopment project.

Ward 1 Councilman Garret Ferrara said this agreement sends the message this project isn’t talk anymore — there’s a solid commitment behind it.

In agreement, Ward 4 Councilman John Kuhar said, “there is too much dead property sitting downtown,” and having this moral commitment from all involved parties enables progress.

Kent State, PARTA, Kent City School District, Fairmont Properties and Pizzuti Development, LLC. are all expected to sign the Declaration.

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said he could see Kent State administrators Tom Euclide, associate vice president of facility planning and operation, and Greg Floyd, vice president of finance and administration, smiling in the back of the room as the Declaration was motioned to pass.

Euclide and Floyd attended as representatives of the university, expressing its desire to meet the downtown redevelopment literally half way. Kent State wants to extend its esplanade from its current stopping point on Lincoln Street to Erie Street, bridging the gap between the university and downtown.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said she is looking forward to the Erie Street fence coming down.

“I am really looking forward to that neighborhood being integrated with downtown and downtown being integrated with the university,” Shaffer said. “Something needs to happen there. It’s such a gash across our community, and to have that gash opened up and healed is so exciting.”

City Engineer Jim Bowling said Kent State will be responsible for extending the esplanade to state Route 59. The city will be responsible for redoing Erie Street to “make it a great pedestrian, bicycle, auto-friendly, complete street taking people all the way to Water Street and eventually downtown.”

Bowling said that both the city and the university will not have to rely solely on their budgeted money and can pursue federal money to complete the project.

Adam Branscomb, a project manager for Fairmont Properties, said his company has been working with college town development for more than 11 years and has never seen cooperation between a city and a university like with Kent and Kent State.

“All parties are extremely committed,” he said.

Ruller said he finally sees progress.

“It’s hard to feel a sense of progress with a project like this,” he said. “But meeting this milestone means something.”

Floyd said he has nothing but optimism about the future of the redevelopment project now that this hurdle is cleared.

“It’s great,” Floyd said. “It is a further reflection of the partnership between the university and the city.”

Contact public affairs reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].