Kent nears next step in downtown redevelopment Asembling land for project: Ravenna OH Record-Courier, 8/19/07

By Matthew Fredmonsky

In a little more than 30 days, the city of Kent will be one step closer to a redevelopment project in the heart of downtown.

After Sept. 19, the city can finalize a purchase agreement to buy the Kent Hardware building and surrounding property owned by Demmer Enterprises for $365,000.

About a month's time will give the city official at the center of the purchase, City Manager Dave Ruller, time to think about consulting Kent City Council and that next step.

"Obviously we're assembling the land for the purpose of redevelopment," Ruller said. "The question then becomes trying to market the site. We have some choices we'll have to make and, honestly, some of those conversations are happening now."

Currently, seven entities own property in the block.

Those owners are the city of Kent, Kent State University, Demmer Enterprises, the Ricciardi family, TransOhio Properties, Right Dimensions and Jim and Nancy Arthur. After the agreement is finalized, six property owners will remain.

The city is currently working to implement eminent domain and seize three parcels owned by Right Dimensions. That would trim the number of property owners to five, with the city either owning, or having options on, the majority of the land within the block.

In April, council approved paying for an option on three properties owned by Josephine and Rosario Ricciardi. The properties are: 200 S. DePeyster St., the BarCode nightclub; 126 Erie St., the house next door to BarCode; and 205 S. Water St., formerly Jerry's Diner. Those lots, combined with land the city already owns, would give the city ownership of nearly every lot north of the alley dividing the block.

If it is successful in implementing eminent domain and purchasing the Right Dimensions property, the city would own more than half of the lots south of the alley.

Ruller said he would rather not wait on the eminent domain process before moving forward with the project.

"At this point we've got the majority of the site," he said. "The city should take more of a step forward in marketing the project."

However, Right Dimensions President Andrew Lombardo has said his firm intends to fight the city's eminent domain decision. His firm attempted to redevelop the block, but the project stalled largely because of the firm's failure to acquire all the property.

Council authorized moving forward in the eminent domain process last week - despite an offer Lombardo made in a letter to sell his property for $550,000.

Ruller said KSU is a potential partner for the project and he is trying to gauge what interest, if any, the university may have in building in the block.

He said a hotel and conference center, constructed in part with the university, would strengthen a redevelopment project.

KSU President Lester A. Lefton, in several speeches, has expressed an interest in partnering with the city to improve downtown. When Lefton addressed a crowd in November 2006 for the annual Bowman Breakfast, a town-and-gown tradition in Kent since 1963, he said a first-class hotel and conference center would help "ensure Kent is a vibrant, student-friendly college town ... shopping, dining and entertainment mecca."

The university owns approximately five parcels in the block's southern end.

KSU Senior Vice President for Administration David Creamer said in an e-mail Friday the university remains aligned with the city in its goals for redevelopment downtown.

"A hotel and conference facility continues to be a major part of this vision, although the exact location and ownership of these facilities continues to evolve in the discussions," Creamer said. "While nothing is immediately imminent, progress has been made in the last few weeks that is very encouraging," he said.

Ruller said he understands people will be skeptical of any project there based upon past negotiations with Right Dimensions. He is confident to have learned from those mistakes.

"When I got here everybody said this was a project that has to happen," said Ruller, who was seen strolling the block Friday morning. "We put a lot of focus on it in the last 24 months. A lot has changed, but it's on a track where it can lead us to where we want to go."

Ravenna OH Record-Courier: http://www.recordpub.com