Addition of Acorn Alley is just one change to come for downtown Kent

Take a stroll down Acorn Alley.

For freshmen arriving in Kent for the first time, almost every place in town presents a new experience. But this year, even upperclassmen have a new downtown to discover with the addition of the Phoenix Project’s Acorn Alley.

“I didn’t even realize they were building it,” said Bryan Baker, junior construction management major. “It’s pretty sweet.”

Shaun Fitzpatrick, freshman political science major, agreed.

“Everything seems pretty good. It seems like a pretty complete downtown area,” he said.

The “complete” downtown feel that comes with Acorn Alley can be accredited to Ron Burbick, president of RLB Phoenix Properties. Burbick said an alley in London helped inspire the storefronts.

Dan Smith, economic development director, said demand for the project was so high that phases two and three were completed in the same time span. Acorn Alley was initially supposed to be completed around December 2011, almost two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.

Burbick’s Acorn Alley features 12 businesses, which include new sushi restaurant The Dancing Beta, The Arctic Squirrel ice cream shop and The Pita Pit.

“I’m definitely going to hit up the sushi after late nights at the bar,” Baker said.

Collin Bruning, senior sports administration major, said he’s excited about the Pita Pit.

“We’ll be eating healthy when we come back from the bars,” Bruning said. “No more crushing Guy’s (Pizza).”

Heidi Shaffer, Ward 5 councilwoman, said these unique destinations are the key to creating a thriving downtown area. Despite recent loss of businesses and a “struggling” downtown, Shaffer said Burbick’s project sets an example for developers in the future.

“We need to attract people that we’ve failed to tap into,” Shaffer said. “The public consensus is that we need to bridge the gap between the university and downtown.”

Burbick and Shaffer agreed that one of the main goals behind the renovations is to keep students in the city – on the weekends and even after graduation – and increase visitation to the downtown area in general.

“Young people give Kent a kind of vibrancy already,” Shaffer said. “(These renovations) will give Kent even more of a cool factor.”

With the anticipation of more students going downtown, security has increased. Burbick said 14 cameras have been placed in Acorn Alley alone.

“Several other businesses are putting up cameras and eventually we’d like the whole

downtown to be covered with cameras,” Burbick said.

With security and overall construction, the alley came with a $6.5 million price tag. Burbick said the down economy did not affect the project too much because he paid for the construction out-of-pocket. He also said many of the businesses are locally owned, and the owners were not too concerned with economy.

“A college town seems to be insolated from the general economy more than most towns because you’ve always got the student population here,” Burbick said. “They might not spend much, but there is enough of them to spend something.”

Beth Straubhaar, assistant manager of Empire, said it’s a little too early to tell if the new renovations will bring in more pedestrian traffic, but she thinks it will.

“People have a reason to wander around Kent and enjoy it now – not just drive through.”

Burbick agreed.

“Quite honestly, I’ll be the first one to tell you there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Kent unless you wanted to drink, but we’re trying to create downtown as a destination,” he said.


“The skyline of Kent is going to change more in the next two years than it probably has over the last three or four decades, “said Dan Smith, economic development director.

Heidi Shaffer, Ward 5 Councilwoman said to make walking downtown more convenient to students, university and city officials are planning to extend the university esplanade, or walkway, from campus to Acorn Alley – almost like a “yellow brick road to downtown.”

In addition, Smith said negotiations for a redevelopment block are currently in progress. The block would extend from Water Street and Haymaker Parkway to Depeyster and Erie Streets.

“The whole idea of this is basically to further connect downtown Kent with Kent State University,” Smith said.

Beyond the redevelopment block, Smith said the city has been working with ODOT to make Haymaker Parkway more pedestrian and bike-friendly. When Haymaker was constructed in the mid- 1970s, it obstructed the connection between College and Erie Streets and the rest of downtown.

Other plans for the downtown area include:

•A hotel and conference center

•The relocation of county municipal courthouse

• Corporate offices relocating

• A mix of locally-owned and chain retail stores and restaurants

•A possible whitewater park

Smith emphasized that all these projects would bring a critical need for more parking downtown. He said Acorn Alley alone has created a need for 150 additional spaces. Officials are working with PARTA to build a multi-modal facility for bus transfers, bike docks and parking.

Smith said although all of the projects will take a few years to complete, it will be something that everyone from current freshmen to returning alumni can enjoy.

“This project does more than just bring some new jobs and shops,” Smith said. “We really want this to be a genuine college experience where residents and students can come together in a very positive manner to share in cultural opportunities.”

Contact features reporter Pamela Crimbchin at [email protected]

Contact features reporter Denise Wright at [email protected]