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Gearing Up For Parking Meters...

Last month I saw Kent’s Community Development Director walking the streets downtown with her safety vest and clipboard in hand.

She was double checking the proposed locations for the installation of parking meters in the next couple of weeks to make sure those spots made sense and wouldn’t interfere with anything that was already out in the public right of way.

It’s been about a year since Council gave their blessing for the next phase of the downtown parking plan which included installation of about 230 parking meters out of approximately 1,200 parking spaces in downtown Kent.

The meters are about step 4 in a multi-stage parking plan (preceded by the construction of the parking deck, surface lot and new on street parking) that tries to thoughtfully balance a mix of paid and free long term parking, and short term parking, based on the types of businesses being served by the parking.

The challenge is getting that balance right when you’ve got a place like Robeks juice bar that relies on quick easy access of really short term parking (like about 5 minutes to run in and run out with smoothie in hand) situated next to Panini’s who’s lunch and dinner customers probably need 1-2 hours of parking  – and then throw in the corporate offices of Smithers Oasis and Davey Tree who work upstairs and all their daily business parking needs and things can get complicated pretty quick.

Having a downtown that people want to park in is a problem we’re happy to have but after investing so much in the economic recovery of downtown, the last thing anyone on the City staff want is for parking to become a problem.

The beauty of the ”mixed use” development in downtown Kent is in the mix; how the diverse pieces all comes together to make a unique whole — but that’s also the biggest challenge.

Different uses have different parking needs in a shared common space.  What works for one may be a problem for their neighbor.

In shared space the solution seems to be making sure the businesses and customers have what they need, when they need it, rather than necessarily getting everything they want.  Who doesn’t want a personalized reserved spot right next to the front door?  But how many of us really need it?

For some that might mean a little longer walk than they’d want but if it means keeping a few more spots open for businesses that live and die on quick stop-n-go parking, then that’s what needs to be done for the good of the whole.

Admittedly, there’s a lot less room for selfish interests in shared space.  That’s part of what makes downtowns special –  it functions more like a neighborhood than a shopping mall.  Neighbors look out for one another and that includes parking.

I think that’s what makes downtowns so popular  — that feeling of shared space where people mix, mingle and pitch-in for each other.  Maybe that sounds like old school, rose-colored glasses stuff but when people talk about the great old downtowns that they grew up with, that common spirit comes up every time.

The funny thing is most of those great old downtowns had to deal with the same sorts of parking problems — and many, including Kent, found the answer in a mix of free parking and metered parking.

Here’s a shot of Water Street in downtown Kent from the 1960′s, complete with American Flags and parking meters.  As much as things change, some things are good solutions no matter what era they come from.


“Quarters for Commerce” helped support hometown businesses in 1960′s and we hope it will be just as good in 2014.

The new parking meter poles will start popping up in September and October but they won’t likely go online until November.   We still have to present City Council with the changes we need to make to our City Parking Ordinances to reflect the return of meters in downtown Kent but I know that the merchants are anxious to see them turned on in time for the holiday shopping season.

A Beautiful Bridge...

It seems that some of the craftsmanship that was more evident on historic bridges is making a comeback in Kent.

No covered wooden bridges yet but we’ve worked hard to make sure that any bridge repairs is done with an eye for function and form.  If you’re going to repair abutments, trusses or wing walls, why not take a little extra time to think about how the bridge is going to look for the next 30 years.

After decades of minimalist infrastructure design, advances in technology have made it possible to construct bridges that reflect a little personality rather than just being a monolithic hunk of concrete.

Dollars are too tight these days to afford the hand work that made the historic bridges so iconic but construction techniques have made it possible to make things look hand crafted at half the price.


New decking and walls on the Redmond Bridge.

The Redmond Bridge at the Kramer Ball Fields is a great example of putting a few unconventional elements into the look of the new bridge.

With the bike trail, river kayaking and all the ballgames at the park bringing so many people to the bridge, it was a great opportunity to show that Kent is the kind of place where the little details still matter; where form is just as important as function.

Parks and Recreation had to wait an extra year to receive the $1 million in grant funding to repair the bridge but it’s hard not to look at the bridge today and think that it was worth the wait.






LEED Certification...

There’s been a flurry of discussions this summer with City Council regarding LEED certification for the new Police Building.  The more I listened, the more I had a sense that a little clarification might be helpful.

In honor of Kent’s longstanding commitment to sustainable practices, City Council adopted a policy a couple of years ago stating that new City buildings will be LEED certified.  The LEED certification was viewed as the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval for energy efficiency and the City policy was a way to publicly demonstrate the City’s commitment to sustainable building design and performance.

Fast forward a couple of years to this spring when we began doing interviews to hire an architectural firm to design the new Police Building and three different architectural firms mentioned that over time LEEDs has become yesterday’s news and most building codes and architectural design practices have incorporated LEEDs standards — to the point where the official LEEDs certificate had become little more than an expensive piece of paper.

Hmmm.  We knew the Police Building was on a tight budget so we figured it was worth raising this question to City Council since their LEEDs policy explicitly stated that the LEEDs policy would be considered on a case by case basis.
Based on the architects comments, the question we began to wonder whether it was a “more sustainable” practice to take the $50,000 to $75,000 that it would likely cost in paperwork to get the LEEDs certification and invest those funds in higher environmental standards in the building itself?  That was the question we took into City Council.
City Council and the staff are proud to have been a pioneer in pushing forward with a sustainability agenda going back 2 decades, long before it was trending the way it is today, so any perception of back-peddling was unacceptable.  The question was whether this was a step back or the maturation of the sustainability movement that made the policy unnecessary.
With issues like this it’s easy to oversimplify the discussion and let it become some sort of flash point for whether you’re pro-environment, pro-sustainability or not.  That was not intention behind the question – the issue is which path advances sustainability the best in the new City building?
It was clear in the Council discussions that everyone is proud of Kent’s sustainability heritage — both environmentally and financially — and to a certain extent this issue rubs those two values up against each other.  I see this as a case where there is no wrong answer, it’s more a matter of where Council wishes to land along the spectrum of two important community values.
We started this discussion because multiple architects told us that the certification element may be unnecessary today since most of the LEEDs elements have been integrated into building codes and best practices. Architects do this for a living and they make the same money (maybe even a little more thru LEEDs certification) so we felt we were getting honest professional advice and we owed it to Council to raise this issue and ask the question.  After all, our policy explicitly references case by case exceptions.
Despite some of the difference of opinion aired during Council, I still have get the sense that everybody is on the same page — we all want to continue to be viewed as a leader in sustainability, the question is how is that best served?
Is that best achieved through a 3rd party verification process or are we comfortable having our Architect manage that for us?  It will likely cost a little more administratively to get 3rd party verification and like anything we buy we have to determine if the value is worth that price. Likewise, if we trust our architect we’ll spend less on verification and perhaps a little more on extra green items that might otherwise be outside the project budget.
The City’s Architect was ask to refine the numbers on the cost of LEEDs versus the value of LEEDs — and that should help help Council members gauge their position on the value vs. price question – but I don’t want to get too hung up on the exactness of the numbers; it’s still an estimate and at the end of the day paying for LEEDs is not a budget breaker nor is the extra money spent in the building a green game changer
Hopefully we can keep our perspective — it’s an important discussion because these are core values that mean something to us but this shouldn’t be an issue that we let become divisive since the end result will essentially be the same either way and should be something we can take all take pride in for upholding both of these community values.
A little healthy debate in Council Chambers on things that matter to this community is a good thing and it helped draw attention to the fact that the City works hard to promote sustainability in everything we do and as a result of our sustainability efforts over the years we’ve saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
So all of us are pro-green, no questions asked.  In this case we’re just trying to dial in on what’s the best way to honor our green — both financially and environmentally.

My Friend Dan...

I had the pleasure of hiring Dan Smith to be the City’s Economic Director in February 2008.  Today, I went to his calling hours after he lost his 15 month battle with brain cancer.

Dan and Dave, Summer 2005.

Dan and Dave, Summer 2005.

Together, with a handful of others, we made up what Dan liked to call “Team Kent.”  This was a group of like minded people dedicated to giving downtown Kent a second chance.  I think the whole community was part of Dan’s Team Kent.

It’s safe to say that the success of downtown Kent even exceeded Dan’s compulsively optimistic view of the world.  Yet without Dan around to enjoy it, it seems a lot smaller.

It’s not possible to sum up Dan’s legacy in a paragraph or two, his personality and impact was too big to fit within the margins of the page but I feel like his contributions deserve to be honored and I’m happy to offer a few of my favorite Dan stories.

In looking back at what made Dan such a success in Kent I think a lot of it came from the fact that he had so much in common with the community he served.  Just like Kent he was an eclectic guy with a REALLY wide range of interests and hobbies.  His after hours guitar licks and bad stage jokes were as legendary as the PowerPoint pitches he produced in his day job.  He was a competitive soccer player, railroad train buff, and gun enthusiast who could jump out of his suit and into a Hawaiian print shirt in a heartbeat.

Dan was just as comfortable riding his motorcycle and talking about his latest car restoration project as he was helping people write up business plans and explaining investment programs. He was a guy with a blue collar work ethic, strong family values and a Kent State education that prepared him for whatever came his way and helped make him accessible to people from all corners of the community.

Whenever an ambassador was needed to represent Kent, Dan’s name was at the top of the list and he was always first in line to volunteer.  That’s just the kind of guy he was; service wasn’t his job it was how he lived his life.  That’s a real gift.

I think one of the secrets to Dan’s success was that no matter the setting, he never tried to be something he wasn’t.  He was genuine and authentic to a fault.  He wasn’t perfect but his imperfections made him real and they became what we loved most about him.  He stayed true to himself and the community, and I don’t know if Dan picked up some of Kent’s best traits or if he brought out the best of Kent — either way it was a great fit for both.

Dan inherently understood the privilege of what it meant to serve his community.  He took that responsibility seriously but he never took himself too seriously or let the daily grind beat him down. Dan provided our daily dose of optimism and together we used humor to laugh our way out of every insurmountable problem.

I think he’d admit that he was an entertainer at heart and his greatest satisfaction came from putting smiles on people’s faces and joy in their hearts.

That’s how I think he would measure the meaning of his life.

That’s why I’ll miss Dan every day.

Downtown Kent Before and After...

Whoa — been a while since my last blog post.  Sorry about that.

Seriously, where does the time go?  I’ve just finished complaining about winter and we’re already half way thru summer.  Just can’t catch a break from Father Time.

Despite the low productivity on the blog, we’ve actually been quite busy.  A lot of the initial new construction has wrapped up but our work is far from done; it’s actually just begun.

The revitalization of downtown was never a finish line to get across and then relax.  It was a starting line for us to live up to the promise of a vibrant university City.

The pieces have come together remarkably well but now we’ve got to put them to work for us — to drive our local economy, bring more jobs, more visitors, more businesses and students to create the kind of unique community experience that sets Kent apart from anyplace else.AcornAlleyPeopleWalking

There’s still room for some more new construction and we’re actively trying to push some projects into that pipeline, but in the meantime the new downtown Kent is officially open for business and we’re out there doing everything we can to make sure all the new stuff gets off on the right foot and keeps rolling along.

Downtown revitalization of this magnitude is a massive undertaking, much of which remains outside the control of the City, but it’s our job to give everything the greatest chance possible to succeed so we’re in the trenches along with the new businesses trying to figure out how to get this new machine running on all cylinders.

Everything from parking, to flowers, to crosswalks, to signs, to sidewalks, alleys, lights, trash, recyclables, trees and pocket parks.  It’s all on the table and everyday brings another surprise.  Needless to say, we’re never bored and work has never felt more fulfilling.

In a rare moment of reprieve, we took the time to reach back in pictures a mere 4 years to compare how downtown Kent looked at the end of 2009 and how it looks today.  It’s pretty astonishing which is why we wanted to share it.

How soon we forget how far we’ve come.

(the file is full of pictures so it takes a little longer than normal to load, so please be patient)

For faster uploading try these links:
- pages 1 to 5
- pages 6 to 10
- pages 11 to 15
- pages 16 to 20
- pages 21 to 25
- pages 26 to 33


Fox 8 News Road Trip To Kent...

Downtown Kent got some nice air-time this morning on Cleveland’s Channel 8 Fox News.

I was at work when it aired but I heard from the Mayor that Channel 8 did a New Day ”Road Trip Visit to Kent” that featured a couple of our favorite downtown businesses.

The Mayor said it was a great piece and I’m working on finding that original news clip to share but in the meantime I did find “extra” footage that Channel 8 posted on their website that showed extended interviews with the owners of Popped, Bent Tree Coffee, and the KSU Fashion Store.

Fox 8 News Interview at Popped in Downtown Kent

These businesses showcase the kind of unique stores downtown Kent offers — the kinds that you won’t find anywhere else which makes a road trip to Kent worth taking.

Click here to view the Fox 8 visit to Kent.

Kent’s Utility Plants Featured...

Usually in the world of municipal water production and wastewater reclamation, no news is good news.

It’s one of the few service areas of the City where out of sight, out of mind, and out of the headlines is our goal.

Kent’s modern and professionally managed utilities perform so well that we rarely have to think about them — and the men and women that are working the plants are ok with that – they’re proud to have the results of their work speak on their behalf.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the occasional cheer from the sideline and fist bump for a job well done.  That’s exactly what they got in February of this year when they were featured in an issue of Automation World magazine.

It was a hot seller and flew off the shelves at the store so in case your copy is on back-order I’m happy to share a copy of the story here.


Cover page of the magazine article.

Admittedly, the magazine may not have as broad popular appeal as Rolling Stone or National Geographic but in the world of utility engineers it’s a keeper with a strong technology emphasis — so it was a point of pride for our utility plants to be featured, particularly given the high praise they received for technological sophistication in running the plants.

Turning the faucets and flushing toilets seems so simple but when you take a peek behind the curtain you quickly appreciate how much work it takes to keep those tasks simple in your life.

Feel free to high five your water meter reader the next time you see him and tell him to pass it along back at the plant for a job well done.






Kent Health Department Update...

It’s usually not a good sign when Jeff Neistadt, the City’s Health Commissioner, knocks on my door and says he needs to talk to me.

Thoughts of measles and mumps outbreaks immediately come into mind (just ask Ohio State about that) but thankfully Jeff’s recent visit was good news — he reported that the Health Department web site now has all of the 2013 environmental health inspections posted online for the public to access and review.

That means that all of the food service and swimming pool inspections can be viewed by anyone interested in learning about where they are eating or swimming in Kent.

With casual dining more popular than ever, it’s nice to know that the Kent Health Department is on the job making sure the food we eat is safe.  Jeff can’t necessarily do anything about the calories we consume but his staff is on the front lines of sanitation — and we should all be thankful.

Hang out too long with Jeff and you learn more than you ever wanted to know about the battle health departments wage against viruses, bacteria and the millions of bugs that share our world and are all to happy to invade our bodies through any opportunity we give them.

A big part of Jeff’s job is to teach us how to keep those bugs out and the doors of opportunity closed.  It turns out that it takes a village to stay healthy and as hard as Jeff and his staff work, it’s up to all us carriers to do our part to stay a couple steps ahead of the next contagion.

That’s why Jeff’s expanded use of the web site is great news.  He’s giving us access to more public health information than ever before and that’s our best weapon against these critters.

To view the reports, go to and click on the Inspections tab on the left.  You will then be redirected to Jeff’s healthspace website where you can click on food facility inspections (or swimming pools) also on the left. From there you can search for any restaurant in Kent and see their last few inspection results.

There’s also great search function that let’s you find your restaurant quickly and easily. After reading through some of last year’s results, you’ll see that there’s a difference between “critical” and “non critical” violations.

The nice thing is that over time we’ll be able see which restaurants routinely run into trouble and which one’s do a great job so that we can plan our dinner locations accordingly.

Sharing Downtown Kent...

With the arrival of warm weather, downtown Kent is starting to show off it’s best side.

Kent’s mix of something old and something new has given the downtown a second chance to be a point of hometown pride — a place where another generation of Kent visitors and residents can create memories that will make them fans for life.

A lot may have changed on the outside but it’s still the same downtown on the inside.  It’s a place where people of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities and interests can mix and mingle in a way that is hard to find anywhere else.  It’s a place custom made for people watching, casual dining, conversation, and raising a toast to celebrate our differences as much as our commonalities.

A stroll down Acorn Alley.

A stroll down Acorn Alley.

The new shops, outdoor patios, benches, landscaping, artwork and all-around great public space add up to a enjoyable, walk-able, and bike-able experience that is unmistakably Kent.  Downtown Kent was designed with variety in mind and Kent’s characters come from all walks of life to get here. We know we’ve succeeded when people look around, smile, and say “only in Kent.”

The redevelopment of the downtown has won admiration and awards, turning up the volume of Kent buzz at kitchen tables, barbershops, and social media all over Ohio.  As a result, thousands of people are re-discovering what makes Kent such a great community.

Kent’s rising popularity has put Kent back on the map and the our stores and restaurants make sure people keep coming back.  Even our peer cities are coming into town to see what the excitement is all about and take home a few lessons learned.

An early spring walk on Water Street.

A spring walk on water (street).

We’ve hosted groups of elected officials and city staff from Medina, Bowling Green, Youngstown, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Team NEO, Hiram, and Aurora — and even groups from as far away as India and Azerbaijan.  We make the tours a priority because it’s a chance to create a bunch of new loyal customers for our downtown businesses.  It’s our way to pay our success forward.

It appears that Kent is no longer northeast Ohio’s best kept secret and I think I can speak on behalf of all our downtown businesses when I say that’s fine because we’re happy to share.

I’m also happy to share a link to a new Akron region tourism video titled “This Is Now” that I’m pleased to report includes a feature on Kent.

Recycling in Downtown Kent is Back...

Nice weather brought lots of people to downtown Kent last weekend and besides kicking-back in the new benches downtown visitors also got a chance to show off their “green” by using the new blue recycling containers that were set out just in time for Earth Day.

Kent is proud of it’s environmental legacy — being one of the first communities to recycle in the early 1970′s — so it’s no surprise to see recycling get “recycled” back on Main Street.Recycling01

With all the changes in downtown, the old wooden recycling containers were pulled and we’re just now installing the new versions.  The old wooden containers had a great nostalgic look but an ill advised cigarette butt tossed inside would put these out of service for months.

Kent residents on the City’s “Sustainability Commission” hand-picked the new blue containers because they proved successful in other downtowns where it can sometimes be a challenge to get recyclables in but keep garbage out.

The bright blue might not blend downtown but that’s the point — the Commission members were looking for something that stood out so people could find the recycling bins easily and not be confused over whether they were trash bins or recycling bins.  There’s no mistaking that bright blue bin.

New and Improved Downtown Kent Recycling Bin

New and Improved Downtown Kent Recycling Bin

Also, these containers have a small round opening to let bottles in but hopefully keep other trash out.  Recycling in downtowns is always plagued by trash contamination issues so anything we can do to limit the random pizza boxes from being shoved in the better.

These first recycling bins were purchased with the intent of giving them try to make sure they work as planned before investing lots of money to put bins all over only to watch them fail.

Hopefully these will bins will prove as popular as the other changes downtown and we’ll try to build on that success over time.




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