KENT: Kent State University and city officials have talked about connecting downtown to the campus for at least 20 years.
That dream is finally being realized, as work got under way this week on the Esplanade, a wide pedestrian walk meant to draw students and faculty to dozens of shops and restaurants that are part of downtown’s $100 million makeover.
Crews are removing homes and relocating utilities to prepare the land for the brick and concrete walk.
Meanwhile, other phases of downtown’s rebirth — three entire blocks are being remade — are winding down.
Monday is moving day for the Davey Resource Group, the consulting arm of the Davey Tree Expert Co., which is taking over the top of a new three-story building at Haymaker and South Water Street. A handful of corporate personnel will also move from Davey’s headquarters on North Mantua Street.
“Everyone’s very excited about the move,” spokeswoman Jennifer Lennox said as she walked through the empty offices, filled with work spaces shaped like honeycombs. “We have more space, and we have room to grow.”
The Esplanade is cutting through a residential neighborhood, where KSU has been purchasing property for a couple of years.
A home on Lincoln Street was removed this week, another on Willow is targeted for demolition, and a third historic home that is being saved will be moved out of the way on Saturday.
Once the route is clear, a large pile of soil stockpiled off Haymaker will be used to create an “attractive and comfortable grade for pedestrians,” said Michael Bruder, KSU’s director for design and construction.
That dirt came from the excavation of the new transportation center being built by the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA).
“PARTA had a lot of soil they needed to lose off the site, and we needed a lot to make some of the grades work, so we both saved money,” Bruder said.
The campus has been separated from downtown since the Haymaker bypass (state Route 59) was built decades ago, and rejoining the two areas will only strengthen the city, he said.
“There are things that make a great college town, and one is engaging students with the town, not just the university,” Bruder said. The Esplanade “will engage the students and bring them to restaurants and shops, and it will do the same for faculty and staff.”
The Esplanade is expected to be open to foot traffic in March.
Davey Tree, an iconic Kent business for more than 100 years, is keeping its headquarters and 200 employees in the northern end of town, Lennox said.
“There’s a lot of confusion because people think we’re leaving our headquarters,” Lennox said.
What’s moving downtown is the company’s army of consultants, currently housed in a leased building in Stow, and a handful of corporate personnel — 90 employees, altogether. They will share a 13,000-square-foot office.
Vice President Joe Paul called the move “historic” because it returns part of Davey to downtown, where it was founded before growing into a $646 million company with 7,000 employees around the world.
“Furthermore, it speaks to Davey Tree’s commitment to the city of Kent,” he said.
The new third-floor office at Haymaker and South Water Street has a bird’s-eye view of the city center and features a conference room named “Aquarium” because two walls of windows give an open view of the busy intersection below.
A second three-story building will greet another corporate anchor, Ametek Lamb Electric Co., after Labor Day.
Workers are still busy finishing the lower floors of both buildings, which will become home to several businesses that are all new to Kent.
Expected to open in September and October are the restaurants Panini’s Bar and Grill, El Fresco Mexican Grill, Bricco, Dave’s Cosmic Subs, Newdle Bar, Yogurt Vi, Georgio’s Pizza and Bar 142. Retailers include Palmieri Salon, UniversiTees, Shop 42 and the gift shops Gracy Lane and the Market Path.
Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith provided an update on the rest of the downtown development:
• Acorn Alley II, with about a dozen restaurants and retailers, is nearly complete. More than half of the tenants have already moved in.
• Erie Street, with new pavement and sidewalks, will reopen to traffic next week. Depeyster Street, undergoing similar renovations, will be finished in the fall.
• Facade work on the former Franklin Hotel, which has been rechristened Acorn Corner, is nearly complete, and attention is now focused on the interior. The first floor and mezzanine should be completed by the end of the year and will be occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings (BW3), which is moving from its Franklin Street location.
When finished, a financial institution and the local business chamber will move onto the third floor, the Kent Cycle bike shop will move into the basement, and the upper three floors will be turned into luxury apartments.
• The new Kent Municipal Court will go before the Planning Commission for final approval this month. By October or November, the former Jimmy John’s on the property will be demolished and construction of the $9 million courthouse will get under way. Jimmy John’s has moved to East Main Street.
• Crews are working on the third and fourth stories of the new PARTA transportation center. It is expected to be complete in March.
• Work on the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center continues, with hopes for a spring opening.