A breakdown of the new downtown

Brittany Moseley

Construction planned to begin in 2010

Credit: DKS Editors

While students were enjoying their summer vacations, Kent officials worked to change the face of downtown.

With the success of Acorn Alley, Dan Smith, Kent’s economic development director, and city engineer Jim Bowling now have time to focus on the next stage of downtown development.

The development will include a hotel conference center, PARTA’s multi-modal facility, a new municipal courthouse and corporate offices. The project got a push Sept. 16 at Kent State’s Board of Trustees meeting when President Lester Lefton pledged to spend up to $3 million toward the hotel conference center, making the university a partner in it.

Smith said the city is currently in final negotiations with the developers, Columbus’ Pizzuti Cos. and Cleveland’s Fairmont Properties. Pizzuti’s chairman, Ronald Pizzuti, is a Kent State alumnus and was on the Board of Trustees. Fairmont Properties’ Randy Ruttenberg, who oversees new project initiatives for the company, worked on Hudson’s First and Main renovation. A final development agreement, which will finalize the layout of the project, is expected in November or December.

“There’s a general sense of excitement around here,” Smith said.

With the success of the Phoenix Project and the demolition of dilapidated houses and the abandoned Red Diner, Kent residents are seeing progress, he said.

He attributes some of that progress to the City Council and city manager’s efforts to acquire land for the development. The city has $2.8 million in land purchased, 90 percent of what’s needed for the development. The city hopes to acquire land from two other businesses, which he preferred not to name.

Although plans have been drawn, Bowling said nothing is set in stone. The general framework will stay the same, but how things are laid out could change. It all depends on the finances.

“The layout of the project, while it’s easy for us to draw a picture saying, ‘This is what it will look like,’ it’s much harder making sure that the details of whether or not it’s profitable for the developer or that it’s acceptable for the city or if it’s even financially fundable by the city,” Bowling said.

He said the development will cost approximately $150 million.

Another factor in the development isn’t being handled by the city, but by Kent State.

The university plans to extend its Esplanade to downtown. Tom Euclide, associate vice president of facilities planning and operations, said the university started talking about connecting campus with downtown in the early ’90s.

“The connection became more exciting as we built the Esplanade a few years ago, and we saw how many more people walked on campus as we developed that from end to end,” Euclide said. “We saw that as an opportunity to continue that esplanade straight downtown and create that connection that we always wanted.”

The Esplanade would stretch to Haymaker Parkway. Euclide said a pathway would be created from Lincoln Street, where the Esplanade ends, to Erie Street and downtown. Up to 10 homes would be eliminated to make room for the Esplanade.

Bowling said lengthening the Esplanade will have several benefits.

“Part of it’s practicality. If right now you wanted to walk from the university to downtown, you’d have to come up to Lincoln, all the way down Main Street and then down because there’s fences in the way or there’s buildings in the way,” Bowling said. “And it’s partly the experience and sight. If you can see where you want to walk, you’re more inclined to walk there then if you didn’t know where it was at.”

Construction is expected to start downtown next summer or fall, Smith said.

The university hasn’t set a date to start construction on the Esplanade. Euclide said tools need to be purchased, and a cost must be identified.

It may take a couple years to finish the development. However, when it’s completed, Kent residents will be able to experience a revitalized downtown that mixes old and new.

“It’s going to give Kent a new face. It’s going to give it a new look,” Bowling said. “It’s a good mix of the old and the history in the downtown and the university, but also a mix of the new with the hotel conference center, a new multi-modal facility. It will create a place that people want to go to.”

Contact public affairs reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected]