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Kent State buying up land west of campus

By admin Published: December 17, 2011

KENT: The real-estate market is sluggish, but not for property owners in Kent State University's line of sight.

University trustees this week approved the purchase of three more properties between campus and downtown Kent at a total cost of $1.42 million.

The purchases bring to 29 the number of parcels, costing $5.9 million, that the university has absorbed since 2009.

Kent State says the area bounded by Lincoln Street, state Route 59, Haymaker Parkway and part of East College Street is of strategic importance, according to documents filed with the state.

The university wants to be better able to control its environs, President Lester Lefton said this week.

''Our goal is not to create a barrier but to create a neighborhood immediately around the university,'' he said.

Until now, the pod of modest rental homes, rooming houses and small businesses sandwiched between downtown and campus has been ''an impediment to pedestrian movement,'' said Dan Smith, the city's economic development director. ''It disconnected the western edge of campus with the central business district.''

That was by design, keeping students out of downtown to some degree and insulating downtown from students.

That attitude began to change about three years ago, when the city, private developers and Portage Area Regional Transit Authority began to work together for the first real revival of the downtown business area in decades. Now the goal is to weld downtown and the campus into a visitor-friendly mecca with restaurants, stores and other attractions.

The project partners have cleared acres of aging buildings to make way for new ones and a new facility for transportation. The KSU Foundation is providing the money to build a hotel and convention center whose doors will open onto the university's contribution to the project.

That will be an extension of the campus' brick-and-concrete esplanade, or walking path, plus benches, signage, greenery and emergency phones through what was once the city buffer zone.

The one-eighth-mile walkway will cost $3.3 million to build, with $700,000 coming from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The extension will be in the same style as the esplanade that already loops around the south edge of campus. Construction will begin in the spring.

KSU, however, is buying more land than what it needs for the esplanade. The university has purchased properties all the way from East College Street on the south to state Route 59 on the north.

Those buildings won't be razed, and the owners and renters won't be kicked out at least immediately. Many will be allowed to continue operations, with rent helping to defray the cost of the land purchase.

By owning properties adjacent to the esplanade, the university will be able to choose the neighbors it rubs elbows with, Lefton said. That will ensure undesirable businesses don't nestle next to the esplanade.

With about a dozen more properties to buy, the university is closing in on owning all the land for the extended esplanade project, but its goal is even grander.

In papers filed with the state, the university also identifies a larger area south of the esplanade project for ''potential campus expansion.'' KSU has purchased only a few properties in that area and has not publicly indicated what it might do with them.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com.

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