Friday, February 19, 2010

Big news for Kent!

First, if any of you have been watching my blog and noticed some random posts coming up and then disappearing, it's because I was moving all my old posts from my old MySpace blog to here and would occasionally forget to put the original date in. I was doing it to create a book of all my blog posts and couldn't find a place that would make a book using MySpace blogs; only Blogger, WordPress, or the other major blogging sites. I had to hide some of my first posts at this site to create the book of just my MySpace posts (as they briefly overlap) but now everything is done. It was fun to re-read all my old posts and realize I've been blogging now to some degree for almost 4 years!

Anyway, Kent got some big news Wednesday that I was very happy to find out about! The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA) was awarded a $20 million grant for construction of the Kent Central Gateway, better known as the "multi-modal facility" I blogged about way back in April 2008 and an idea that has been around for close to 10 years. If you do check that blog post, the facility proposed at that time was considerably larger than the one that was finally approved yesterday. This new facility will only take up about 1/3 the footprint that the initial design had and will occupy land along the north side of East Erie Street between South DePeyster Street and Haymaker Parkway. It will not involve properties along East Main Street.

Any time a large grant is received for something like this it's big news, but especially so here in Kent which has seen so many "plans" for downtown development come and go with no results over the past few decades. Of all the grants handed out, Ohio as a state only got $50 million and $20 million of that was to Kent, so this has already drawn some comparisons to Kent winning the state normal school in 1910 (which became Kent State University) in terms of surprising and landscape-changing events. Obviously a structure like this will change the look of part of downtown, but the biggest reason for excitement is the fact that this project promises to be a linchpin for even more development which, if it all actually happens, will affect most of the southeastern quadrant of downtown bordered by Haymaker Parkway, East Main, and South Water Streets. At long last, we know one of the major projects WILL happen after so many have amounted to nothing and downtown has continued to struggle. With the recent completion of the Phoenix Project last year and now this, it finally seems like downtown is turning a corner from the doldrums that it has seemingly been in since the 1970s.

As I've read the various articles online about this news and the accompanying comments, there are some major misunderstandings and false ideas out there. The most surprising are comments that basically lead me to believe the reader thinks this grant has been won to establish a bus system in Kent through this new facility. PARTA was established in 1975 and has been steadily growing the last decade, so it is hardly anything new. This facility is merely centralizing the already existing bus system, similar to what most transit systems already have. Along those lines, many commentators have wondered about the "multi-modal" moniker that is commonly used to describe the facility. It is "multi-modal" because it will provide a center for four forms of transportation: bus, car, bike, and walking. Bus transportation is obviously the biggest reason for the center, but it will also have a parking deck, which is a huge reason behind it being a "linchpin" for other downtown development as parking has long been a problem there. It will also be a stop on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, so people can park their car and/or their bike there to access the trail. In addition to the regular local PARTA lines that will use it, PARTA will also operate their Cleveland and Akron express routes from the building and there are at least hopes to someday have a Greyhound stop there. On top of that it will have commercial space, so not only will there be additional activity besides bus traffic, but tax revenue-generating activity as well so this building is far more than just a glorified bus shelter.

One concern, though, I've thought a lot about is the fact the funding comes from the controversial "stimulus" bill, which I have hardly been short on criticism for. I think here, this could actually be a case where the funds stimulate a local economy by creating a structure which not only improves transportation, but spurs other development. So much of the "stimulus" has been to projects that improve something, but do little to stimulate actual economic growth beyond temporary construction jobs. Indeed, only time will tell if this project actually does stimulate any economic activity in Kent beyond the construction jobs to build it, but from the looks, it would appear at least headed that way. And while I still have a problem with the massive amount of debt Congress is piling up, in the end, these grants would've been given out whether I liked them or not, so it's nice to see some of it come back to Kent for once. It is also refreshing to see leadership in Kent that sees the bigger picture of town-and-gown relations and is actually doing something to help Kent and KSU mutually improve for the benefit of both. I've always thought there was so much potential here and now it seems we're finally seeing it. Go Kent!

Below I included a link to a map of the area now for reference. The marker "A" is the end of Erie Street where it currently dead-ends at Haymaker Parkway. The new building will be to the left of the marker on the north side of the street. The other pictures I included came from PDF files of PARTA's presentation materials to get the grant, which were included on Kent city manager Dave Ruller's post "Beating The Drum" on November 11, 2009. I cropped and labeled both pictures with street names and the red oval on the conceptual map and captions on the building renderings.

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