Main Street Kent program gets its first review tomorrow

Timothy Magaw

There have been many efforts to revitalize downtown Kent over the years. But what’s different this time is that the Main Street Kent program offers the city the structure to do so, said Mary Gilbert, executive director of the Main Street Kent program.

“It’s a great group of people who are committed to making downtown the way they used to be. But maybe not just the way they used to be, but better and a different kind of downtown,” said Gilbert, who has been leading the organization since its inception early last year.

The Main Street Kent program will undergo its first review by Heritage Ohio, which administers the Ohio Main Street programs, tomorrow. The review will be based on 10 national criteria, which is a part of the structure aimed at making Main Street programs successful.

Joyce Barrett, executive director of Heritage Ohio, said Main Street programs have a specific template in order to be successful.

“The program has to be doing those things or they’re not doing Main Street,” Barrett said. “In no part is it a punitive evaluation, but it can be done to get things on track if they’re off track.

“If there are any deficiencies, it’s more of a discussion,” she said, adding that there are 39 other Main Street programs in just Ohio.

“It’s an opportunity to share practices from other Main Streets. It’s a very energizing process because people get to show off what they’re doing.”

The City of Kent agreed to pay the $3,000 membership fee for Heritage Ohio, and to pay Gilbert about $76,000 in salary and benefits for first two years. To sustain the program after the first two years, Main Street Kent has a $500,000 fundraising goal for this year.

Gilbert said another one of the organization’s goals is to organize a whitewater park downtown near the Cuyahoga River for swimming, canoeing, kayaking and tubing. To pay for the park, the organization is applying for a grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and hopes to have the park open sometime next year.

“From there, we hope there will be spin-off businesses of canoe liveries, restaurants, ice cream shops on that part of the river people are going to be taking advantage of,” she said.

Carl Picelle, owner of Franklin Square Deli on South Water Street, said the program has been just what downtown needed. He agreed with Gilbert the river project has enormous potential.

“I’ve been here for 25 years, and there’s been a number of whatever you want to call them — merchant associations and things of that nature — and they all ended up faltering,” he said. “It’s hard to get change to envelop the whole downtown area.”

Picelle agreed with Gilbert that the structure is what makes the program successful because it has a national backing and state depth to sustain and offer ideas to the organization.

Gilbert said the organization has been successful in creating an atmosphere that would bring people downtown as well as putting together some popular events such as the Art and Wine Festival and the ghost walk.

But Gilbert said some businesses are still skeptical.

“They’re a little leery about the program so far, not sure if it’s going to work or not,” she said. “But at least they’re being open-minded about it.”

Karen Barrett, owner of City Bank Antiques on South Water Street, said Main Street Kent has been successful in the aspect that it’s brought activities to the downtown area, but there’s more the program can do.

“I think that probably whenever there’s an activity, things are good downtown. When there isn’t, it just reverts to a very quiet, not too much going on type of day-to-day thing, hoping somebody stops in,” she said, adding that the city needs a permanent tourist attraction to bring people in.

Heritage Ohio’s Main Street Criteria for national main street accreditation

• Broad-based public support for the commercial district revitalization process with strong support from both the public and private sectors

• Vision and mission statements

• Comprehensive Main Street work plans with measurable objectives

• Historic preservation ethic

• Active board of directors and committees

• Adequate operation budget

• Paid, professional program director

• Program of on-going training for staff and volunteers

• Reporting of key statistics

• Current member of the National Main Street network

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