By Lance Lysowski
Special to the Beacon Journal
KENT: Dozens of residents gathered with city, state and national officials in downtown Kent on Monday afternoon for the official opening of the largest collaborative project in the city’s history.
Tours were given around the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority parking garage and multimodal transit facility, live classical music played on Erie Street and a ribbon-cutting ceremony capped the almost decade-long project that came to fruition through the cooperation of the city of Kent, PARTA and Kent State University.
U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, D-Niles, who assisted in securing $20 million in funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant, talked about the city’s transformation over the past five years.
“This is just unbelievable,” Ryan said. “I had a chance to really walk around and seeing phase after phase — to see what has happened in Kent is truly unbelievable. I can’t think of a better town, with better people, better leaders or a better university that should have this.”
The TIGER grant, also known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, provided the city with the majority of funding and the remaining $5 million was raised through private funding.
“The boost for Kent is just going to be unbelievable,” Ryan said. “There was a spirit of cooperation with this project that made it happen. I have had the opportunity of traveling the country and I will tell you, for this size of a community, with this university, I can’t think of a better community that looks like this.”
Seven years ago, City Manager Dave Ruller met with PARTA’s board and urged its continued support of the project. The dream was simply blueprints.
Once a town without an identity — split by a college campus and a cultural hub in downtown — the city of Kent’s new, bustling business district and downtown landscape has turned everything around.
“As Congressman Ryan said, Kent is a great comeback story,” Ruller said. “The reality is that it takes a village to raise a community like this. Kent is a special place, but we felt it could be more than it was producing. Our pitch was that a strong Kent makes for a strong Portage County, and I don’t think that message should be lost at any stretch of the way.”
With the city continuing its growth and economic life prospering, Marisol Simon, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation, stressed the impact the transit hub will have on the community.
“This new facility is attracting development jobs and business opportunities in downtown Kent,” Simon said. “It is improving access to housing, employment and educational opportunities. With the city of Kent once again a thriving employment, business and cultural center — Kent State graduates will have a good reason to stay right here and make their homes here once they graduate.”