Friday, April 25, 2008

Guess who was in the Stater today?

Well, not only did I get a new digital converter yesterday, but I also made a quick stop at Kent city hall to look over potential plans for what has been referred to as a "multi-modal facility," tentatively planned for the area bordered by Haymaker Parkway, East Main, East Erie, and South DePeyster Streets, adjacent to downtown Kent. The area is currently home to a row of fraternity houses on East Main and a few small businesses on East Main and South DePeyster. It's also a very hilly piece of land. Anyway, this multi-modal facility is better defined as a transportation hub. Basically, it will be a small parking deck that is surrounded by retail and also has a bus stop and places to leave bikes. It can serve as a transfer point to the various transportation systems in Kent, which are PARTA (Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority), the Portage Hike & Bike Trail, and of course cars and walking. I wouldn't be surprised if PARTA decided to route one of the campus buses up there too along with the Interurban line that runs between Stow and Ravenna.

Anyway, so I went to this public meeting at city hall, which was basically a chance for the public to see four possible schemes and to have the opportunity to leave comments on what they liked and didn't like of each one. Schemes 1 & 2 were almost identitcal as were 3 & 4. The differences were in which direction the traffic entered and exited the facility and 1 & 2 had a small amphitheater-like part on the east end of the facility and 3 & 4 had a more open end. The company doing this also had a meeting at Kent State earlier in the day to get feedback from students in the student center. While I was at city hall, a reporter from the Daily Kent Stater, KSU's student newspaper, interviewed me about it. If you'd like to read the article, click here. I thought it was a pretty good article, though my brother wished there had been some more background on the project and some pictures included. I guess the Stater figured that most of its readers would know that stuff since this is not the first article on it. I thought, though, that I'd include some background info on the project as best as I know, and of course, some of my own thoughts. The one thing I didn't like about the Stater article was that it made it sound like Kent was trying to implement an entire new transit system with this project. Like I said earlier, this is being built as a hub to an already exsiting transit system tying together bus, bike, car, and pedestrian.

The first time I ever heard any reference of the "multi-modal facility" was in the early part of the 2000's when the city released the Bicentennial Plan, which had an overall plan to address some of the city's struggling areas with plans for redevelopment. Among them was the controversial "Campus Link" neighborhood, which is the neighborhood sitting in between downtown Kent and the KSU campus, most of which is rental houses and some small businesses along East Main Street. Part of the Campus Link plan was to construct a hotel and conference center and what was deemed a "multi-modal facility" which basically looked like a parking deck next to the hotel. Campus Link became very controversial because it involved such a change in the makeup of the neighborhood and many people, landlords in particular, were opposed to a major change like that. The overall idea seemed to die (I'm not sure on the actual status of the Bicentennial Plan right now), though the hotel/conference center idea is still alive for other possible locations (and still very much needed in my opinion) and the multi-modal one is as well obviously. The Bicentennial Plan, which was done by 2005, can be seen in its entirety here and the Campus Link visual can be seen here. The "multi-modal facility" is identified as #3 on the map, which describes the facility as a "600-space parking structure and transfer facility for reconfigured bus routes and the Portage Trail, a planned regional bike route through the City of Kent." The "Portage Trail" is now the Portage Hike & Bike Trail, which is still being built in phases. The phase through KSU is done and part of the trail through the city is being worked on now to connect the KSU portion with the portion running along the Cuyahoga River.

So in the last few months the "multi-modal facility", now known as the Kent Central Gateway, has gained some momentum as a firm was actually hired to come up with a best location and get some designs out. It's been going on well over a year with public input from the very beginning as well as cooperation with city, university, and PARTA officials. Here are some of the stories that covered it, all from the Record-Courier by Matt Fredmonsky:

  • 29 March 2007 Multi-modal facility plans move ahead
  • 26 April 2007 Multi-modal idea gaining momentum
  • 3 November 2007 Kentites to view Gateway plans
  • 8 November 2007 KSU, Kent seeking public input on plan for multi-modal facility
  • 9 November 2007 Kent community gets look at multi-modal projects
  • 11 April 2008 Kent Public viewing of multi-modal plans set for April 24
  • 25 April 2008 Open houses showcase plans for transportation facility

  • What do I think about all this? Well first, let me state the important fact that although Kent is so liberal politically, it is remarkably conservative when it comes to development. There is this core of residents who have a hard time with any type of change, but especially in development and even more so when that development involves downtown and/or Kent State is involved. There is a faction of residents who seem to consider Kent State the "evil empire" trying to push its will on the city, though I will be the first to admit that KSU has acted at times as if this were the case. That aside, at long last both city and university seem to finally see the benefits of working together versus the "go it alone" approach both have taken for so long. I think this project specifically is a good one, mostly because it isn't just a parking deck/bus stop like I initially thought it was (the College Park, Maryland METRO stop came to mind: a rail and bus stop connected to a parking deck), but includes retail and will extend downtown. On top of that, the retail surrounds the parking area, so it won't be obvious at all. Let's be honest, one of the bigest drawbacks for downtown is the general lack of parking close to businesses, so this will be a big help. I was surprised somewhat when I read quotes in the Stater from another Kent resident interviewed who said she wanted to see the parking deck more underground. Did she look at the plans correctly? The garage won't be visible much at all because it will be virtually surrounded by retail. On top of that the facility will be on the side of a relatively steep hill, so if it's too far underground, it won't be accessible from one side of the development. The plans also include a pedestrial/bike bridge over Haymaker Parkway. While I have already stated that the parkway is hardly a barrier for students to get downtown, if that aspect is built, it should help, plus it will make biking easier for those using the trail.

    The scheme I liked best was #1, which included the amphitheater feature on the east end. I liked it best because it was the only layout that did not direct traffic onto Haymaker Parkway or E. Erie Street. I'd like to see E. Erie be more pedestrian friendly in this development and Haymaker is already a 5-lane road, so adding entrances for buses and/or cars would just add more obstacles. I say keep Haymaker more of a through street and direct the traffic onto S. Depeyster and E. Main. That way it will be easier for both buses and cars to get in and out of the facility and won't require adding another traffic light to Haymaker.I also liked the terraced area that looked like an amphitheater on the east end because it fits with the land there and would provide a nice community area.

    It's nice to see some momentum on downtown Kent development. I see so much potential there, yet for so long it has languished. I try to shop there when I can, but most of what is downtown are things I either don't need or can get at a substantially lower price elsewhere. I've always thought that increasing the amount of living space would help as would more offices and just today I saw some long-awaited plans to do that to a few buildings along East Main in the heart of downtown. What a thrill to read that! This, along with the plans to redevelop the block bordered by East Erie, Haymaker, South DePeyster, and South Water show signs of improvement and hope. I just hope they all happen and don't go by the wayside as so many other projects have downtown. If only we could get that old hotel taken care of too...

    Notes on the pictures: 1. A picture of downtown Kent looking east from the Main Street Bridge, taken by me in December 2006. Another thing I'd like to see is Huntington Bank restore their historic building to fit in better and actually look as old as it is. It's the one with that green stuff all over the upper level right near the center of the picture. It used to be a stately three-story building...not sure when the third floor was removed and the coverings added, though it looks very 60's...2. View of scheme 1 from Dave Ruller's blog showing the upper level (all three levels were shown at the open house). 3. a 3-D view of the same scheme. The arrows indicate the traffic entrances for buses (orange) and cars (blue).

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