Walking Downtown Kent
Tuesday afternoon I spent 2 hours on a walking tour of downtown Kent with a group that included a couple of local business people, the Chamber of Commerce, City staff, Mayor Fender, Councilman Bargerstock and three guests from the Ohio Main Street program. The walking tour was a chance for us to share the high’s and low’s of our downtown. I’ve certainly been downtown plenty of times before but yesterday I wasn’t on a mission to get my haircut at Jason’s or pick up dinner from Taco Tonto’s. Yesterday my mission was to share downtown Kent with our guests and in so doing I found myself rediscovering our downtown in a new way.
As we walked store by store the length of the streets I was surprised by the variety that I usually miss in my haste. I found myself feeling proud about all the little things that are happening downtown that I often overlook because I’m so focused on the bigger projects that have been such a struggle, e.g., Old Hotel, new hotel. Our guests made the remark that downtowns don’t usually decline overnight and they don’t usually become revitalized with one big project. Instead, what we should be looking for are small steps that create ripples of progress that gradually spread and build momentum that in time add up to something significant.
I know our downtown has bumps, bruises and scars from years of hard living but who among us doesn’t? It’s good to know your weaknesses so you can have things to work on improving but too much of a good thing can be bad and I have a sense that we’ve fallen into the trap of obsessing over our troubles so much so that we let them blind us from the little successes that are going on all over town.
As we provided the guided tour I was struck by the number of small new businesses that are trying to make a run at success in downtown Kent. A new attorney’s office, a new bar/restaurant opening later this month. These are good signs. None of these are home runs but you can win the game if you get enough base hits too.
Wednesday the Ohio Main Street staff will host workshops all day long at the Kent Stage to talk about their observations and discuss the role they think their organization can play in revitalizing our downtown. I was impressed by their knowledge in dealing with downtown issues. Downtowns don’t differ all that much from one city to the next and with 20 years experience helping downtowns reinvent themselves I think the Ohio program has a lot to offer. Nothing is free and participation in the Main Street program will cost money but I am convinced that it would be money well spent.
Since I arrived a year ago, I’ve heard people from all over the community talk about the need to restore downtown Kent to it’s glory days. I couldn’t agree more but I’m not sure we really want to wind the clock back. I’d rather roll up our sleeves to make something really special today. The Main Street program is not a white knight that will ride into town and save us but it does have the tools, experience and expertise to rally people around important issues and it will offer an increased focus on downtown needs and opportunities. That’s how you win games with base hits.