Downtown Phoenix project lifts off

Kristine Gill

Phase one of the construction project is finished; the next two parts to take place simultaneously

The workers of Hummel Construction work to gut a building across from the Kent Theater during phase 2 of the Phoenix Project. David Ranucci | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

View photos of Project Phoenix.

Downtown Kent saw the literal ash and debris that is expected to rise from last week after phase one of the Phoenix project took place. Phase one of the project wrapped up with the demolition of the building and house next to the Kent hotel.

This week saw the completion of phase one of the project, named after the mythical bird said to die and rise from its own ashes. Ron Burbick, the man behind the project, said phases two and three can take place simultaneously. Final costs for the last phases haven’t been calculated, but Burbick said they won’t be far off from the original prediction of $2.5 million. Overall cost was first predicted to reach $6.5 million.

The next steps

“Phases two and three are underway now,” Burbick said. “The house is down, Planned Parenthood is moved out and we’re starting to demo their side. We’re relocating the cleaners as construction goes along.”

Phase two includes renovating the building with Planned Parenthood and Flashers Cleaners and adding a second floor, Burbick said, adding that the new building will have a pita restaurant, the new cleaners shop, another women’s clothing store and two shops run by Kent State’s College of Business.

Phase three includes constructing a building next to the purple house that was demolished. The new building will house four-to- five shops on the ground floor and office space on the second. So far, the shops in that building include a barbershop and possibly a few restaurants and a boutique. The driveway between the cleaner’s and the purple house will be Acorn Alley.

Burbick hopes to see the project completed this fall. He used his own money to start the project after living in Kent for almost 40 years. He said he saw “too much planning, not enough action,” and decided to do something about it.

Upcoming construction for the next phases shouldn’t affect downtown traffic or neighboring buildings.

“It’s pretty much contained to the sites. There will be days when we’ll have to cut out a main water line in Main Street. Other than that, we’ll be confined to the property we own,” Burbick said, adding that the construction staging site sits in a large parking lot he owns behind the construction site.

Bob Niche, chief building official for the city, said phase two of the project is under review. The reviewers, who Niche said are basically architects, will check plumbing and electrical plans for the building and release the results shortly. Niche said the results can be expected any day now.

Doug Fuller, the architect on the project and owner of Fuller Design Group, said once the city approves the plans, construction can begin. Fuller’s team is working on drawings for contractors to build from. They have a few things to finish in the individual spaces in the building.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting little area of town by next fall for students,” he said.

Building a better downtown

Mary Gilbert, executive director for Main Street Kent, said Burbick’s work is inspiring other businesses and there’s a “renewed pride in downtown.”

“This is the person who really put his money where his mouth was. He’s a catalyst for other interest in downtown,” she said, adding that Kent Natural Foods downtown just installed a new storefront awning. Gilbert said she’s noticed other businesses repainting and taking better care of store windows.

City Manager Dave Ruller agreed. He said revitalizing downtown has been one of the city’s goals. He said the city has seen more reinvestment in downtown this year than in the past decade.

Ruller attributed much of the project’s success to Burbick’s involvement. He said the creation of the Main Street Kent program encouraged others to take an active role in the city’s revitalization.

The city isn’t just relying on Burbick’s work. Ruller said Kent has been busy with other projects of its own, such as the hotel conference project in conjunction with the university. Ruller said Burbick has played a significant role in spurring the city’s upward climb and encouraging others to follow.

“Ron is the first at the plate, and he’s hit a home run,” Ruller said.

Contact news correspondent Kristine Gill at [email protected].