University hopes extension will help create curb appeal

Kristyn Soltis

City connects to campus

Students walk on the University Esplanade yesterday afternoon. The Esplanade is under construction and will extend to Franklin Ave. Rachel Kilroy | Summer Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

For the past 12 months, Kent community stakeholders have been trying to come up with a blueprint to revitalize downtown Kent in hopes to add interest, vibrancy and activity.

A presentation of the redevelopment process was held Thursday evening to inform the community where the process is financially and what regulations must be met.

“Now we’re down to the dollars and cents,” said Kent City Engineer Jim Bowling.

Bowling said although partnerships with stakeholders such as Kent State, Ron Burbick, Portage Area Regional Transport Authority, Fairmount Properties and the Kent Regional Business Alliance aren’t in writing yet, details and agreements are underway. All partners are going through their budgets to check for financial viability.

Thursday’s presentation focused on two main aspects of the revitalization process: a multi-modal transit facility and the extension of the University Esplanade to Franklin Avenue.

“We saw great success with the esplanade on campus,” said Tom Euclide, director of architecture and engineering in the Office of the University Architect. “I always relate it to one of the kid’s games, Sim City. You draw a sidewalk on there and immediately there were kids or people walking on it. We did the same thing with the University Esplanade. As soon as we opened up a section, people started flowing down it.”

Euclide hopes for the same success with the esplanade extension, linking the university to downtown and drawing the community to campus.

The expansion of the esplanade will extend down Erie Street, possibly eliminating as many as 10 homes, where it will then meet Haymaker Parkway. The path will continue along S.R. 59 to Franklin Avenue.

“In this case, one of the most serious problems we’ve had for several decades is S.R. 59,” said Bowling.

S.R. 59 crosses between the university and downtown. When it was constructed, fences were built eliminating connections and creating barriers.

“I don’t think they did it intentionally,” said Bowling. “It turned out to be a byproduct of their process.”

The state owns S.R. 59 which means approval will be needed from the Ohio Department of Transportation for any changes.

“If we wanted to take down a section of fence, we have to get a permit,” said Bowling. “So you can imagine their reluctance potentially for us to say ‘I want to take down all of the fence and I want to have a drive access.’ That’s a hurdle at the detail planning level we’ve started to deal with.”

Bowling, along with other city representatives, is going to Columbus in six weeks to make a presentation to ODOT explaining the plan. He believes they will see the economic vitality for the university and the potential to pull students to Kent State which in turn could increase enrollment.

“All we’re asking to do is let us take down some fence,” said Bowling.

Meanwhile, PARTA is working on a plan for a multi-modal center to include a 10-bay transfer facility. The facility will have parking levels above retail businesses on Haymaker Parkway and South DePeyster Street.

Smith said PARTA’s plans for a new multi-modal facility does not mean it will eliminate its location on Summit Street, which contains the administrative offices and maintenance facility, but the new location will be better for handling the transfer of riders.

“Currently we do all of the transferring at the C Midway lot, which is not an ideal place,” said Bryan Smith, planning director for PARTA. “It works, but it’s not the best place that we could have.”

“We’re not trying to create something out of nothing, but really enhance an idea that is already working at a place that is less than ideal,” Smith said.

Contact principal reporter Kristyn Soltis at [email protected].