Andy Harris

KENT: Residents have had plenty of reasons to curse the weather in recent weeks, and visitors to the city’s downtown area can add another entry to that list.

The PARTA downtown transit center and parking deck, which city Economic Development Director Dan Smith calls “an absolutely integral” piece of the downtown picture, has had its progress slowed substantially because of winter’s stubborn refusal to yield to spring.

In addition to the normal cold-weather concerns over street maintenance caused by an extended winter, the parking deck portion of the project has been severely hindered because of temperature-related issues. The deck was scheduled to open by the end of March, a deadline that was not met because of the weather, City Manager Dave Ruller said.

“That opening date literally went south with the warmer temperatures, leaving us stranded up here in the Great White North with a parking deck in need of a stretch of 40- to 45-degree days to seal the concrete and paint the [300] parking spaces,” Ruller explained.

PARTA considered the option of heating the structure from inside to facilitate work, Ruller said, but its open design, exposing each level to the elements, rendered that impractical.

The agency’s unofficial meteorological study of the past five years showed that temperatures at the end of March have been above the 40- to 45-degree mark necessary for the work at hand. This year was the exception.

Temperatures reached the 70s last March, inspiring hope that this year would be more of the same.

With portions of the project on hold, officials aim to tackle other areas of the deck to make as much progress as possible.

“There’s still plenty of collateral work that will continue on the building over the months that follow, particularly for the retail stores being built along Erie Street, but until we get the right temperature, the parking spaces are stuck in neutral,” Ruller said. “PARTA’s leadership is appropriately stressed over the late cold temps, but there’s not a lot of options for them other than to sit and wait with the rest of us.”

With key components of the deck on pause, alternatives may need to be found for some downtown functions slated for April.

One example is Mayor Jerry Fiala’s luncheon planned for April 11 at Laziza, when mayors and state representatives from across Northeast Ohio will visit to see the city’s progress. Along with their invitations to the event, attendees received directions for parking in the new deck.

The only way that will happen is if an immediate uptick in temperatures allows for sealing and painting. The National Weather Service is forecasting highs in the 30s this week after a brief warming spell the past two days.

“The logical part of my brain recognizes that warmer weather will be here any day, but at this point that part of my brain is being ambushed by the emotional centers of that same brain that are screaming for some cooperation around here,” Ruller said.

“Hopefully Mother Nature is listening.”