Officials meet to discuss future of downtown Kent

Jenna Staul

A venerable who’s who of Kent and Portage County government came together earlier today to discuss closing the gap between Kent State and its namesake town.

President Lester Lefton and Kent urban planner Alan Mountjoy touted a new “town and gown” relationship between Kent State and Kent at the annual Bowman Breakfast. Mountjoy presented plans underway to reinvigorate the city’s downtown – plans that heavily rely on further intertwining the university and city in an effort to spur economic development.

“It’s imperative to have an environment that will keep grads here and will bring others that follow,” Mountjoy said.

Lefton said while many of the projects discussed have not been finalized, the city is closer than ever to realizing the plan thanks to improved relations between university administration and city officials.

“It’s a decade that’s been promised for decades, but I think it’s going to happen in the next couple of years,” Lefton said.

Mountjoy showed blue prints of various projects in the works downtown to the filled hall at the Kent American Legion in what he called “a crazy quilt of possibilities.” He said the city needs to overcome the physical division created between downtown and the university by the Haymaker Parkway.

Plans discussed during Mountjoy’s presentation include:

&bull Extending the university esplanade.

&bull Linking the Portage Hike and Bike Trail to the university.

&bull Turning Erie Street into a pedestrian-oriented connection between downtown and the university.

&bull Constructing a common parking resource for all of downtown that is not associated with any one project.

&bull Increasing transit through the multi-modal facility.

&bull Creating a green Kent State gateway between Lincoln Street and Haymaker Parkway.

&bull Placing university and city police and local courts in one facility.

Mountjoy said that creating an exciting downtown environment will keep an educated population in the community, which in turn, will translate into job creation.

“The creative class is really important to economic development,” Mountjoy said. “Think about creating a diverse and interesting place and the jobs will follow where that population chooses to live.”

Councilman at-large Rick Hawksley said he was encouraged by what he saw at the presentation. “It was good,” Hawksley said of the presentation. “We’ve been working on a lot of these plans for 20 years now.”

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].