KENT: Winter weather or not, a key piece of the city's downtown development plan is marching onward.
The downtown transit center and parking deck, which City of Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith calls "an absolutely integral" piece of the downtown picture, is moving toward completion even as the snow continues to fall and cold temperatures prevail on a daily basis.
The structure remains on track to open in March, although Smith points out with a laugh that he has been reminded on several occasions "that March has 31 days in it."
Since the construction phase of the project began, there have been no significant delays, according to Smith, who said that the only real hurdles the plan faced came more than a year ago when bidding and the detail-specific planning phase began.
"There have been no recent setbacks. The only setbacks, really, happened over a year ago, around the time we were starting to get bids for it," he explained.
When finished, the deck will add 364 additional spaces, parking that is much needed with the rise in businesses downtown and especially the two new tenants with large corporate offices near the transit center, the Davey Tree Resource Group and AMETEK.
"We're doing pretty well, the goal is still March. Right now, much of the work is concentrated on the stairways and elevator," Smith explained. "Everybody highly anticipates it being done and obviously the business climate has been much strong in the area over the past few months. The good news is that the tide is rising for everyone."
When completed, the transit center will feature not only additional parking, but also serve as the primary transfer station for the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA). Presently, transfers go through a hub on the Kent State campus, but once the new facility opens it will be the location commuters pass through when they are going downtown or making a transfer to Cleveland.
Smith does not hesitate to say that without the transit center and three levels of parking - plus rooftop parking - it will add to the downtown landscape were an essential part of luring new businesses and tenants to the area.
"Without the deck and the 364 spaces that are going to become available, it would not have allowed us to secure the leases for our two downtown corporate anchor tenants, or so many of the other businesses that followed," Smith added. "None of the project could have taken place without the transit center, it was single biggest linchpin."
City officials hope the new deck will ease the flow of traffic, both pedestrian and vehicle, and add to the so-called "walkable city" aesthetic they have been working to create downtown in recent years.
The extra parking will also be a vital resource for the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, which is scheduled to open in June a short distance from the new deck.
Quandel Construction is overseeing the project and within the next month, the work will expand to include what is being called "Building C," a structure diagonally across from the deck, near Acorn Alley, that will house a Bricco's restaurant and 32 apartments. Construction on this new phase of the project is expected to begin in March.