Phoenix Project rises from the ashes

Kristine Gill

Retired executive puts down $6.5 million toward renovation of downtown Kent buildings

VIEW photos from the Phoenix Building open house.

Come fall, London-esque brick facades and the soon-to-be popular Acorn Alley could be staple attractions in downtown Kent. The city has Ron Burbick to thank for the vision – and the cash.

Kent residents, business owners and community members gathered yesterday for the Phoenix building open house event. Burbick and guests saw the new building at 138 E. Main St., which will house Planned Parenthood, Burbick’s foundation, Main Street Kent and Kent chamber executive offices. The Phoenix Project is a $6.5 million renovation of four buildings in downtown Kent in an attempt to revitalize the area.

The Fig Leaf, a young women’s clothing shop, will open on Main Street in just two weeks. A quilt shop is already open. Burbick said there will be 13 to 14 retail shops when the project is finished.

Burbick, 63, was a longtime executive at Schneller, Inc. in Kent, a company that manufactures aircraft interiors. After retiring, he put $6.5 million of his own money toward renovating downtown.

Burbick’s wife, Joan, said her husband has always been a giver and wanted to give something back to the city.

“He has just always considered Kent to be his home,” she said, adding Burbick grew up in Newton Falls. “He thinks the world of the town and the people.”

Acorn Alley was named after the Burbicks’ old home in Twin Lakes. Joan said the property was covered in tall oaks, so they called the house “Acorn Lodge.”

“All night long you could hear the acorns dropping all over the roof,” she said.

When Burbick came across the old sign, he decided to use the name again.

Joan said having the open house after phase one of the project allows people to see what’s already done and what’s going to be done.

“It let’s them see the potential,” she said.

Burbick traveled often during his time at Schneller, and London storefronts inspired him in his design for downtown. He said some storefronts along Main Street will have 1890-inspired storefronts, and the ones down Acorn Alley will have a 1910 feel.

Mary Gilbert, executive director of Main Street Kent, said moving non-retail establishments to second-floor locations will bring more traffic to first-floor retail shops. She said when Burbick had three retail spaces left to sell, 14 businesses were vying for a spot.

“Even with the economy, people are clamoring to get down here,” she said.

Joan said her husband knows what he wants for the project.

“I’ve had to bug him about what he’s working on,” she said.

Gilbert agreed.

“It’s not just that he’s writing a check,” she said. “He’s involved in everyday decisions.”

Ward 3 councilman Wayne Wilson attended the event.

“The most exciting part is the man did it with his own money, and he didn’t ask (the city) to pay for it,” he said. “It’s the first real big project we’ve had happen in downtown Kent in a few years.”

Rita Thomas, co-owner of Homemaid Plus, a residential and commercial cleaning service in Kent, said her business recently got the contract to clean the Phoenix building and was there to support the project.

“I’m very excited about this,” she said. “We try to employ Kent residents, we raise our family here, (and) we’re involved in the community. Kent’s development is very important to us.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].