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Kent Heritage Fest...

On Saturday, July 4th downtown Kent is set to host the 20th Heritage Festival.

HeritageFest2

The Greater Kent Area Chamber of Commerce does an amazing job at orchestrating Kent’s largest community festival of the year.  Here’s the Chamber’s announcement of the 2015 Heritage Festival activities:

2015HeritageFestThe Chamber reports that “over 100 vendors are expected to participate this year and there will be local talent on three stages throughout the day, the NAPA Car Show, new models on display from Klaben and Montrose, an expanded Children’s Area + a bigger FREE fireworks show at 9:45!!”

Here’s links provided by the Chamber of Commerce for more details.

Kent Heritage Festival Map

Kent Heritage Festival Vendor Map

Kent Heritage Festival Vendor List

Kent Heritage Festival Entertainment Schedule

 

New Business Openings...

There’s nothing like ribbon cuttings to brighten a City Manager’s day and downtown Kent cut a couple over the last couple of weeks welcoming 2 new businesses and a new visitor center in the ground floor of the PARTA parking deck.

NewShoeStore

The PARTA Transit Facility was designed with mixed-use in mind — mixing bus, bike, pedestrian and car traffic with community/office space  on the 2nd floor, and retail space on the ground floor.

“Shared” space is a cornerstone of good urban planning and downtown Kent has lots of examples where that theory has been put into practice.

The Phoenix Properties under the guidance of Ron Burbick set the standard for mixed use in the renovation of the properties along Main Street (including the old Kent Hotel)  and he’s hoping to carry that success over to the ground floor of the PARTA facility.

NewFashionStore

PARTA is in the bus business — although they’ve been busy getting up to speed in the parking deck business too — but when it came to managing retail they recognized their limits and brought in professional help (Phoenix Properties) to get the job done right.

Ron has signed a long term lease with PARTA to manage the tenant spaces on the ground floor of the deck and he’s already got 3 of the 4 spaces filled with tenants — with the fourth (Cutler Realty) coming shortly.

For typical retail, the PARTA ground floor is a bit atypical.  As a result of cost and transit configuration needs, the ground floor retail had to be built in an unusually narrow layout.  The result is space that is fairly long east and west — but short north and south.

Since big name retailers are notoriously compulsive over standardized store layouts, the narrow space proved to be a bit of a challenge to find the right retailer fit.

Ron loves a challenge, and the Kent market embraces unconventionality, so we’re proud to welcome a new, locally owned shoe store, and the KSU Fashion Store to the downtown retail mix.

What Kent foregoes in homogenized chainstore retail, we make up for in unique, boutique style retail – and the shoe store and fashion store are great new examples of Kent’s home grown eclectic taste.

NEW VISITOR CENTER

With so much going on downtown and so many more places to check out, the new Visitor Center’s time had come.

NewVisitorCenterWith the downtown increasingly becoming a destination, and with a fresh crop of new students and their families arriving in Kent each semester, it became obvious that we need to help all those visitors find their way around and discover all of downtown Kent’s best kept secrets.

The Visitor Center provides maps, brochures, notices, announcements and is staffed with volunteers who serve as community concierge.

Ron has some great ideas to expand the Visitor Center’s technology to allow the visitors to tap into downtown Kent electronically but the building is a great first step.

Also, with the help of Main Street Kent, we’ve located a series of downtown directories that provide a map and listing of all the downtown stores, shops and destinations.

 

DowntownDirectory

Downtown Banners Popping Up...

If you hadn’t noticed, some more finishing touches to the downtown project have arrived — in the form of new downtown banners.

NewBannersEditedMainStBridge2The banners were a small part of the larger downtown way-finding signage plan that has the very practical objective of directing people into downtown Kent, helping them find parking, and getting them to their destination.

But believing that there is more to life than just getting from point A to point B – our banners tried to add a little flair and sense of humor and put some “fun” in all that “fun-ction” of our signs.

NewParkingSignsThe functional way finding signs have been installed for a number of months and this past week the new banners were hung along City street light poles adding a splash of color and hopefully putting a little of Kent’s personality on display.

The banner colors and messages were developed with the help of a small group of downtown business owners who like us saw the banners as a way of highlighting Kent’s distinctiveness.

Every town has standard signs — why not raise the bar a little, be surprising, and pleasantly unpredictable — which is how Kent is often portrayed so we’re doing our best to live up to that reputation with our signs.

This initial banner effort includes about a half dozen of the smaller banners that are located in specific locations that were selected to try to match the banner message with the adjacent business.  For example, in front of the historic train depot you’ll find the banner message of a “Blast From The Past.”

NewBannersEditedTrainDepot

NewBannerEditedHikeandBike

NewBannerEditedFarmersMarket

 

 

NewBannerEditedHometownBank

The thinking behind the banner messaging is that downtown Kent has so many interesting and unique parts why not use the banners to call them out and highlight those downtown points of pride.

This was just the first take on the banner messaging and we welcome ideas for future banners as we hope to turn them over to keep the messaging fresh every 6 months or so.

Kent State University has worked with us to hang university related banners along Haymaker Parkway in front of campus and those should be up in time for the arrival of the students in August.

 

Waterfalls at the Kent Dam...

With all the rain we’ve had, it would be logical to expect to see a good flow of water coming over the waterfalls at the Kent Dam but the waterfalls has been operated by a large pump system ever since we opened up the Dam 15 years ago.
KentWaterfallsOpeningOpening up the Dam did wonders for the oxygen levels and water quality of the river downstream — and there’s a lot of happy fish because of it — but we have to rely on those pumps to create the waterfalls and at the moment the pumps are waiting on repair parts so the waterfalls is temporarily out of commission.
We ordered back in April and we were told that they would arrive by mid-May.  Apparently those projections were overly optimistic as we are still waiting for the parts that are on back-order.
With the arrival of nice weather there’s been a lot more people spending time down by the river and I’m sure they are wondering what’s happened to the waterfalls.Don’t despair, while we’ve been waiting for the parts, we’ve also been looking at ways we can manually start and stop the waterfalls until the parts arrive. The trouble is once we start the pumps manually we’d need to let them run continuously which given the large horsepower electric motors required to run the waterfalls could be expensive.

Hopefully the parts will arrive in time for the waterfalls to be operational by the Heritage Festival but as a last resort we are planning to start them manually for at least the Festival weekend.
Stay tuned.

Grocery Market...

With a couple of developers proposing some version of a smaller footprint grocery store for downtown Kent (as part of the sale of the former County Courthouse building) there’s been a lot of talk around town about what grocery would fit best in the Kent market.

Not surprisingly there’s been a lot of emphasis on affordable, high quality products with as much locally grown, organic fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses as possible.  And some prepared dinners would be great too.

I don’t think those particular customer preferences are unique to Kent shoppers as that category of grocery stores seems to be the fastest growing segment of the market.

There’s been some great press on the recent opening of smaller footprint Heinen’s in downtown Cleveland and according to the article below from Crain’s Business Magazine there’s more coming.

Grocery is a notoriously slim margin business where just a few percentage points in sales volume can be the difference between profitability and closure.  The article suggests that the grocery market is getting a little crowded but based on the feedback the City is getting from the Courthouse block redevelopment, there’s plenty of interest and room for a “right-sized” grocery in downtown Kent.

Plenty of grocers are setting up shop in Northeast Ohio
June 07, 2015 UPDATED 7 DAYS AGO

By STAN BULLARD    

Grocery retailers from Meijer Inc. to Whole Foods Market are starting to set the table for more competition for consumers’ dollars in Northeast Ohio.

The busiest retail sector — far surpassing apparel and electronics retailing — promises to get far busier as Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer has acknowledged interest but has not consummated deals to add its hypermarket stores in Avon, Bainbridge Township, Stow and North Canton.

Meantime, Phoenix-based Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has surfaced as a potential tenant for Golden Gate Shopping Center in Mayfield Heights after opening two stores downstate in the past year.

The competition will be intense as Northeast Ohio is losing mouths to feed, not gaining them.

The most recent population estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit counties combined lost almost 45,000 people in the last five years.

Although the Meijer stores are bound for outer-ring suburbs where home construction has gained some population from neighboring counties due to slow growth in housing development, convenience only goes so far in keeping stores afloat.

More organic specialty stores also are poised to expand. Whole Foods Market is completing construction of its first store in the west suburbs in Rocky River, in addition to stores it already operates in University Heights and Woodmere Village.

In addition, a real estate developer shows a Lucky’s — a fast-growing organic and natural foods chain — going into a proposed Cleveland shopping center at Clifton Avenue and West 117th Street. The Niwot, Colo.-based grocer declined to confirm the location but said it is interested in setting up shop in the region.

Fresh Thyme, which announced its second store in Dayton last year, surfaced as a potential tenant when Golden Gate Shopping Center co-owner Hornig Real Estate of New York requested, but did not receive, approval for a sign for Fresh Thyme at the property. Daren Hornig, a principal, declined to comment on whether Fresh Thyme is a prospect for the center but said his plan for it calls for a high-end grocer.

Fresh Thyme’s corporate office and ad agencies did not respond to three emails and two phone calls by Crain’s deadline last week. Fresh Thyme also has two stores open in Cincinnati, one that opened last year and another planned to open this year.

Rugged competition

If Fresh Thyme commits to Northeast Ohio, its format the size of OfficeMax stores could produce multiple opportunities. Keith Hamulak, a CBRE Group Inc. vice president and retail specialist, said a store of such size could find many more opportunities to set up shop in empty space in existing shopping centers. By contrast, the 200,000-square-foot Meijer stores require as much ground as a small farm to open a store — and that is scarce in populated Northeast Ohio markets.

In such a situation, new entrants must take away market share from existing operators, said David Livingston, managing partner of Milwaukee-based grocery site consultancy DJL LLC. In this case, it’s either Giant Eagle, which dominates the region with multiple stores, or Marc’s. He said Marc’s penchant for low prices makes it less a target than Giant Eagle.

Meijer has long operated in Ohio but eschewed the state’s northeast corner. Giant Eagle had tried entering the Toledo market, where both Meijer and Kroger operate, but shut its two stores there last year. However, Livingston said Meijer might have a tough time taking on Giant Eagle in Northeast Ohio.

“Giant Eagle actually runs pretty good stores,” Livingston said. “It’s not like they are an easy company to compete with. What is the compelling reason to shop at Meijer? It does not have anything that Giant Eagle does not.”

On that basis, Meijer marching on Northeast Ohio makes geographic sense — it surrounds Northeast Ohio, with its closest store in Sandusky. However, Livingston said, “It does not make sense strategically.”

He believes Warrensville Heights-based Heinen’s Fine Foods will be clear of the fray as an upscale operator. Meijer did not respond to two emails and phone calls about its rationale for pushing into the region.

Meantime, Heinen’s and several local operators stand to also get competition from the expansion of Whole Foods or advent of Fresh Thyme.

Jim Rego, the operator of Rego Brothers Lake Road Market in Rocky River, is skeptical about what Whole Foods will bring that’s new to the western suburb.

“We’ve got what they’ve got,” Rego said, noting that he has long offered organic foods and specialty foods. “We had quinoa for years. Now everyone has it.”

He noted there are subtleties to the market, such as being busier during the holiday season and summer than the winter months. The reason: the high population of snow birds who exit ritzy nearby neighborhoods for the winter.

In a sign of how competitive the region is, consider Greensboro, N.C.-based Earth Fare, which operates stores in Fairlawn and Fairview Park but shut its Solon store last year after only a year of operations. Conversely, the Trader Joe’s in Eton Collection in Woodmere Village is heading for a freestanding store at the west end of the center to expand from an inline store.

Hungry for more

Part of the buzz over grocers comes from the lack of energy in other retail sectors as consumers stay price-conscious in the wake of the Great Recession.

Rich Moore, a Solon-based real estate analyst for RBC Capital Markets, said at the recent International Conference of Shopping Centers trade show in Las Vegas, realty developers who have centers with grocery stores or such shopping centers in the planning phase are excited about the movement as new grocery concepts hunt space or old ones retool.

“As the economy picks up,” Moore said, momentum will go back to discretionary items.

Livingston added, “The grocery business is always good. If not, you just have a bad operator.”

Rego notes he occupies a secluded location near Lake Erie and believes his clientele is loyal enough to return. “We’re ready,” Rego said.

“Bring it on.”

Greater Ohio Award Kent Team Photo...

Here’s Kent’s “podium” photo from the Greater Ohio Award presented to the City and Kent State University last week for Kent’s “catalytic partnership.”

Big thanks to Tom Wilke, Kent Economic Development Director, Kelvin Barry, KSU Economic Development Director and Mayor Jerry Fiala for representing Kent on the podium in Columbus.

GreaterOhioSummitAwardGroupPhoto

 

Joe Walsh Mural...

Mixing a little public art with classic rock history, the Water Street Tavern is home to the latest mural in downtown Kent — featuring Joe Walsh honing his iconic guitar style in Kent during the 1970s.

JoeWalshMuralHere’s a recent video clip of Joe talking about his new mural.

From Joan Baez, Leon Redbone and Judy Collins to Bo Diddley, Michelle Shocked and the Cowboy Junkies, the Kent music scene has rocked northeast Ohio for half a century and shows no signs of slowing down.

Joe Walsh of Eagles fame was a regular, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, Devo, and even Led Zeppelin followed up a stadium show in Cleveland with a surprise impromptu concert in a Kent bar.

Kent’s small venue gigs have always given the artists a chance to kick-back, unplug, and showcase their talent. That tradition continues today at the Kent Stage and other venues around town.

Welcome home Joe.

 

Greater Ohio Winner!...

Mayor Fiala and Tom Wilke, the City’s Economic Development Director, had a successful road trip to the Greater Ohio Policy Center Summit in Columbus this morning where they picked up the 2015 Catalytic Partnership Award (shared with Kent State University).

The Summit featured examples of sustainable development projects going on all over Ohio; and it was great to have Kent part of that conversation — but even better to be selected as the best example in the State of Ohio.

Continental breakfast, accolades for your hometown, applause from the audience, and a trophy to bring home — all in all a great morning for the Mayor, Tom and the entire Kent community.

GreaterOhioSummitAwardPic2

 

 

A Little Piece of Summit Street...

I shared some of the Summit Street Improvement project information yesterday and while it’s still fresh in my mind I thought I’d pass along another small piece of that project – the planned HAWK Pedestrian Signals.

Way back, when we held all of the public input sessions that factored into the design of the project, a common theme we heard was pedestrian safety.  That’s no surprise since Summit Street parts the campus and students, parents, visitors and faculty cross the road all day long in what resembles a live version of the game Frogger far more than anyone is comfortable with.

There’s lots of elements built into the new project that will help solve that problem but one of the more interesting fixes is the new HAWK pedestrian signals planned for the two new round-abouts.

The HAWK signals have been reported to have been effective in other similar project applications so the City and University staff have included them in the Summit Street project.

The HAWK’s are still fairly new but AMATS has been working with the City of Akron to install a new HAWK signal at the intersection of the Freedom Hike & Bike Trail and Brittain Road.

They have developed a new video that explains how the signal works and I thought it was a good way to introduce one of the centerpieces to the Summit Street project coming to Kent.

Click here to watch the Akron video:  http://amatsplanning.org/hawk-walk/

HAWKBeacon

Summit Street Improvement Project...

The Summit Street Improvement Project design and engineering work is complete, and the construction contract is being advertised for bids through the end of this month.

SummitTransImprBidNotice

Traffic safety and congestion projects don’t often generate the kind of buzz that a downtown revitalization project does but the more I look at the plans, the more convinced I am that when it’s all said and done — the Summit Street project will have the same sort of transformative impact on the University corridor as our downtown project had on the central business district.

The Summit Street project is big, complicated, and full of opportunities for frustrations so even though the start of the project is months away, the City and University have already started to roll out information flyers to help people understand what they’re in for and how to make the most of it during the 2-3 years of construction.

There’s no way to guarantee a frustration-free 2-3 years of construction but everybody is committed to keeping as much information in the hands of people that need to walk, bike and drive in this corridor so that they understand the best ways to keep stress levels as low as possible.

Here’s the first round of information flyers:

SummitStreetFlyer1

SummitStreetFlyer2

SummitStreetFlyer3SummitStreetFlyer4

 

 

 

 

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