Kent City Council concentrates on redevelopment

Timothy Magaw

Credit: DKS Editors

Kent City Council has spent more than a third of its time so far this year discussing how to improve the economic situation of the city, according to a recent report.

The report, which was prepared by City Manager David Ruller, measures how much time council has spent on various areas in order to ensure council’s activity matches what the community wants.

“Whether it’s me working or council working, it’s to make sure we’re working on the areas that we believe are the most critical and are aligned with the goals of the community,” Ruller said. “This is in part a way to manage ourselves a little more efficiently with the long-term goal of being as productive as we can be.”

Economic development, he said, is definitely one of those areas. Council has spent nearly 35 percent or more than seven hours of its time in session discussing this matter during the first three months of the year.

“It didn’t matter if you’re a resident, a student, a business owner, faculty. It seemed to be that there was a strong community consensus to see economic revival,” Ruller said.

In a study released in January 2007, Kent residents highlighted the importance of the city’s economic development with improving downtown and providing services for emerging businesses as two areas on which they believe the city should focus.

The community also expressed its dissatisfaction with dining, entertainment and retail shopping options in the city.

Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said council’s emphasis on development matches results of community surveys. She said the city wants to create opportunities for people so that they don’t have to go out of town for basic necessities. It will also help boost tax revenue for the city, she added.

“(Redevelopment) was probably the highest-rated thing people were most concerned with,” Shaffer said. “I think the symbol of that was the closing of the Giant Eagle.”

Earlier this month, council unanimously voted to select Fairmount Properties as the firm to head the city’s redevelopment efforts. The Cleveland firm is credited with the $60 million First and Main redevelopment in Hudson. Kent’s redevelopment investment could range from $40-$50 million.

Councilman Wayne Wilson said economic development is the answer to a lot of issues the city wants to tackle because it will help make funds available.

“I think the community wants downtown revitalized, but I also think there are other things they want,” he said. “To be able to achieve those we have to have economic development. We have to generate funds to do a lot of those things.”

In the second quarter of this year, Ruller projects the city will continue its focus on reviving the city. He said all the cities in the region are working to do that, especially because of the recent economic crunch.

“Economic development will remain to loom large on our horizon,” Ruller said.

The second largest focus for the council has been dealing with organizational issues, which Ruller said is fairly normal considering there are four new members on council this year. He said some of these issues included how the city manager-council government works best, initial strategic planning and how to work efficiently.

Council also concentrated on environment and quality of life issues, according to the report, and spent almost four hours on the topic. Ruller said this relates to development because the city needs to work on revitalizing neighborhoods in addition to downtown. Because Kent has a high rate of property rentals, he said many upkeep and maintenance issues arise.

“If we’re serious about our neighborhoods and believe they matter in the community, we’ve got to get our arms around that issue and give our neighborhoods a little shot in the arm,” Ruller said.

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