Survey says: Downtown needs improvement

Katie Alberti

Revitalizing downtown Kent is a priority for residents, and now it’s at the top of the city government’s to-do list.

Last fall, about 9,000 city-service surveys were distributed to households and posted on Ruller’s Kent 360 blog to find out what residents thought city officials should focus on.

Out of the 88 responses received by Dec. 31, Kent City Manager David Ruller said half of the respondents ranked downtown as their greatest importance for city officials.

“As far as priorities, if you took all the votes, the number one response, cumulative-wise, was downtown Kent.”

William Schultz, city councilman-at-large, said despite the less than 1 percent response rate, the survey’s findings were correct.

“I think it’s accurate,” he said. “The main focus is revitalization – to make it (downtown) as dynamic as it was in the past.”

Ruller said it’s normal not to receive a lot of resident feedback.

“Getting a low response rate on certain issues is often equated to there not being any significant problems,” he said. “The survey wasn’t academic, it gave a snapshot of the community.”

Kent City Councilwoman Beth Oswitch said revamping downtown is a great idea.

“It needs to be focused on,” she said. “The percentage (of responses) that came back was so small, but I think other residents feel it is important too. Our downtown is failing. We have a lot of great businesses – I’d just like to see more.”

Mary Gilbert, executive director for the Main Street Kent project, said the survey results accurately represent how residents feel.

“I think it’s wonderful that downtown is a priority,” Gilbert said. “The community as a whole believes it should be much more vibrant than it is now.”

With a city budget of almost $34 million for the year, Ruller said city government will take the survey results into consideration when allocating funds.

“We know we’ve only got so much money,” he said. “We try our best to align how we spend it with what the council wants, what citizens want and what we’re capable of.”

Oswitch said any positive change will be beneficial to the area.

“I’m a life-long resident of Kent,” she said. “It was nothing when I was younger for my friends and I to take our bikes downtown to the stores. Now, my kids don’t have that option.”

Contact public affairs reporter Katie Alberti at [email protected].