Our view: This city’s on the right track

Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said last week that she “can’t wait to see what Kent looks like in the next few years.”

We can’t either.

Shaffer was talking on the City Council Financial Committee’s selection of Fairmount Properties to oversee the city’s downtown redevelopment project.

Fairmount is the same company Hudson chose to refresh and develop their downtown. If you’ve visited Hudson recently, you certainly have to like the potential of what Fairmount can do.

That said, we’re no Hudson. Kent faces a $2 million deficit for fiscal year 2008; Hudson doesn’t have quite as restrictive of a budget.

Despite this, it sounds like Kent found a good company to help rejuvenate its downtown. And that’s a good thing. It just furthers the proof that the city’s officials are truly serious about making the downtown area better.

And they’d better be serious – council estimates spending between $40 million to $50 million on the redevelopment, for which a timeline has yet to be established. That’s a lot of money, but redeveloping downtown is of great importance for the city. More people spending more money downtown is by far the best way for the city to start to eliminate that deficit.

We know officials and residents are split on the matter, but Kent really is a college town. As such, downtown redevelopment will benefit our university as well.

Would-be students are attracted to places that offer things to do. New shops and restaurants within walking distance of campus are a great selling point for someone looking to find their school. And once they get here, they’ll spend money. Lots of it.

A 2002 Harris Interactive poll found college students age 18 to 30 spend an average of $287 each month on discretionary items. The Kent campus enrolls about 22,000 undergrads, the majority of whom fit the Harris Poll’s age range. Using those numbers, that’s approximately $6 million per month being spent by students on things such as CDs, movie tickets and jeans.

Obviously, Kent could never hope to catch all that spending, but there’s substantial revenue potential for the city.

We do hope though, that Kent doesn’t lose its identity in the name of redevelopment. We know major changes are likely, but it’s our wish that Kent doesn’t become unrecognizable to those who knew it before. Maybe we’re all just sentimental, but we like seeing the old buildings. That’s Kent. That’s part of the charm of the city. Ray’s Place did a great job renovating while going back to what the building originally looked like all those years ago.

While on the topic of suggestions for the city, introducing freshmen to the downtown area early could really increase traffic to the shops we already have – there are some really cool ones. There’s traditionally been a downtown event during the Week of Welcome, but it has traditionally lacked on substance. Do something during Week of Welcome that’s comparable to the Heritage Festival, something big, something that involves not just the shops and students but the community as a whole. Take a big risk and push back the Heritage Festival to late August so students can attend.

Introducing a possible water park is a start, but remember students are an important part of this community. Nonetheless, we think the city is on the right track with downtown redevelopment. Make it worth our while, won’t you?

The above editorial is the consensus of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.