There’s been some good buzz lately about downtown Kent. If you’re not plugged-in I’ll catch you up: We’ve got two new terrific art galleries on Main Street, we’ve got a new european style bakery on S. Water Street, we’ve got a new Main Street property owner getting ready to spend $1 million to restore his buildings on the south side of Main Street to their original 1930’s look (with the functionality of today’s standards and conveniences), we’ve got a great new Scribbles fair trade coffee shop, we’ve got a new scholarly hang-out called Professor’s Pub, we’ve got a terrifically renovated Ray’s Place, and Water Street Tavern is well underway with a significant expansion that will include a new outdoor roof cafe. In addition, we’ve got new professional service businesses filling-in the space over the retail. And that’s not even the buzz I’m talking about.
The buzz I’m talking about comes from the developer interest to partner with the city to develop 3 acres in downtown Kent with a mixed use retail, residential, office, and perhaps even a new Kent hotel conference center. We’re still interviewing the developers but so far I’ve been very impressed with their credentials and the experience that they bring to the table. Probably the best news is that they have successfully completed projects just like ours so they don’t just make promises, they deliver on them.
We’ve got a long way to go still but I have to admit It’s really exciting to sit and listen to how these firms worked with other cities to recreate themselves and transform their downtowns into a destination place.
We’re spending a couple of hours interviewing each development team, getting to know them, reviewing their portfolios, and generally looking to find the best fit for Kent. We’ve hired a third party firm to perform due diligence and evaluate each firm’s financial standing so that we can be assured that whatever partner we end up with they have the financial capability to pull off a project that is going to be in the neighborhood of $40 million to complete. That’s a lot of money so we have to make sure that our partner can access that kind of financing at a time when the capital markets are a bit uncertain.
I get asked what’s different this time around with our downtown redevelopment effort and I would say that because we are able to bring more to the table this time (land accumulation) we are able to attract better prospective partners and we’re also able to demand more from those partners. We can be more selective and more business like in our approach. It’s a bit like a corporate merger, the deal has to make sense for both parties, both parties have to have skin in the game (investment is a great motivator for success), and both parties have to benefit from having the other as a partner.
We should wrap up the selection process within the next couple of weeks and then we can sit down and start hammering out the details of the deal. Those details will establish the terms and conditions of the partnership so we have a lot of work to do yet. Still, in the interview process I’ve had glimpses of what could be and it’s been fun doing a little downtown daydreaming.
One thing that’s impressed me has been the sensitivity the developers have shown to the importance of the design phase of the project. They have all talked about the concept of a lifestyle center but more importantly they talk about how to use retaurants and retail to create places that reflect deeper community values such as sustainability, denser mixed-use environments that offer convenience, community focus and connections with surrounding neighborhoods. After all, the point is to enhance our lives not just our lifestyles.