Four downtown sites to see renovations

Timothy Magaw

Ron Burbick recently purchased four buildings on East Main Street. He hopes to give the buildings a facelift and increase the amount of office and retail space available. Brian Marks | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

One man is looking to transform four weathered buildings on East Main Street into new retail and office spaces in an effort to give downtown Kent a much-needed face-lift.

Ron Burbick purchased at various times since October four buildings downtown , including the house next to the old Kent Hotel, the building that houses Planned Parenthood and Flasher’s Fabric Care and Laundry, the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Portage County building and the space that Einstein’s Attic used to occupy.

The plan’s name, the Phoenix Project, stems from the ancient Greek myth about a bird that rises from its ashes.

“This is hopefully a rising from the rubble of an old town and hopefully making it into a new town,” Burbick said.

Burbick said he couldn’t comment on which stores may be moving in downtown because of ongoing negotiations, but he said the new businesses could net 30-50 new jobs in the city.

The first phase of the project is scheduled to break ground June 1, and Burbick anticipates it will be completed by December. The phase is expected to cost up to $2.5 million, which includes the complete renovation of the chamber building and the old Einstein’s Attic space. A new facade will be placed on the buildings in addition to a new second storey.

The second storey will include offices for the Burbick Foundation, the Portage Foundation, Leadership Portage County and a community conference room.

Bill Hoover, executive director of the chamber, said their offices will temporarily relocate to the corner of West College Street and Franklin Avenue because of the construction.

“In spite of the inconvenience of having to move, we’re glad to be a part of it,” Hoover said.

Burbick said he and his contractor are still hammering out the details and costs for the subsequent phases. Phase two will likely involve adding a second story to the building that houses Planned Parenthood and Flashers Cleaners, but Burbick said that could change.

Burbick acquired the house adjacent to the old Kent Hotel Wednesday, but plans for that haven’t been decided. He paid $300,000 for the property.

One of the possibilities, he said, is demolishing the house to turn the alley into a pedestrian walkway with small artisan shops for jewelers or artists.

“It’d be a unique draw for any downtown area,” he said. “It provides a real opportunity for a new entrepreneur to get started with a smaller store.”

Burbick said no public money or partners are involved with the project. He paid $575,000 each for both the Planned Parenthood building and the property that housed Einstein’s. Burbick paid $240,000 for the building that houses the chamber and the cleaners.

“The easiest way to get something done is just to do it,” he said.

Burbick lived in or around Kent for 35 years working for Schneller Design and was always disgusted with the appearance of downtown, and he wants to change that.

“There’s all kinds of projects being talked about in town,” he said about the proposed development efforts. “There’s been a lot of plans being talked about for the last 35 years. I just hope this serves as a catalyst to get some going.”

Mary Gilbert, executive director of Main Street Kent, also hopes Burbick’s investment will jumpstart other development efforts. Burbick donated $50,000 to the Main Street Program, which Gilbert credits to making the program possible.

“We’ve talked about doing a lot of things, and we have a lot of good ideas,” she said. “We’ve dreamed a lot over the years, but Ron Burbick is actually doing something.”

Contact public affairs reporter Timothy Magaw at [email protected].