The hotel, conference center and restaurants may get all the press for the downtown project, but I think the best part of the project will prove to be one of the more humble elements; the Esplanade extension.
I think of the Esplanade extension as a uniquely Kent combination of old Route 66 and the Appalachian Trail — opening up a whole new town gown frontier by physically reconnecting Kent’s commercial district with Kent’s largest group of customers in a park-like setting that is full of its own surprises and amenities.
Sidewalks have a single-minded sense of purpose; getting you from point A to point B without a lot of extra hooplah — which is why in Esplande-speak, sidewalks are a good walk spoiled.
Rather, the Esplanade is meant to appeal to the age old need to stroll, absorb and contemplate. The Esplanade will get you where you want to go, but like a life lesson, it will also show how the journey can be the best part of the trip.
This new pedestrian boulevard is still early in the design phases but the partners to the project are committed to figuring out how to give the Esplanade its own sense of place. They’re deep in discussions of walkway width, color of pavers, landscaping elements, art opportunities, pocket-parks, wi fi, and just about anything else that they’ve seen work in other cities.
The design team will come up with some different looks and then begin the process of sharing, soliciting input, and modifying to find a look and feel customized for Kent. The goal is to start construction next year so I’d expect the design process to be in full gear through the summer and fall.
While we don’t know yet what the customized Kent look will be, we do know that the Esplanade extension will pick up at the edge of campus on Lincoln Street and head west down what today is the Erie Street corridor. The street will be vacated and converted into a linear park like setting, ending at a new signature KSU gateway and great lawn area adjacent to SR 59.
After soaking in the collegiate sites and sounds of the great lawn area, our walkers will then cross-over SR 59 (at the shiny new intersection) where upon those walkers will then find themselves in the middle of a new hotel & conference center to their left and the new PARTA multi-modal building on their right that will also happen to include a great row of retail stores to tempt their credit cards.
If our walker doesn’t like those options, they can head west for one block and find themselves standing betweeen two great new dining options: a new Brico’s restaurant to their left and the new Liziza restaurant and Oak Room on their right. Another 50 feet or so west will put them at the cross-road where Acron Alley has a dramatic entrance on their right (with access to even more shops and an open plaza) or they can enjoy Aladdin’s restaurant and an outdoor plaza to their left as the alley concept jumps across the street and opens into a welcoming outdoor seating area that will include programmed events.
With a bit more westernly walking our walkers will see Ametek employees waving from the second story of the buildings to their left while they look through the storefront windows of even more dining and retail options on the ground floor. Similarly, the right side of the street will bring an enjoyable mix of more mom and pop stores, including a new coffee house that when walking isn’t an option includes drive thru service.
Arriving at Water Street, our walkers will be lured south by the signature new Davey Tree building at the corner of SR 43 and SR 59, or they can head north into the heart of downtown Kent’s shopping district, or even further west into Kent’s entertainment district.
Roughly 1/2 of a mile from the edge of campus, our walkers will be drawn in by the sites and sounds of the historic train station that has become the local favorite, Pufferbelly restaurant. If all goes as hoped, public art around the renovated train station will punctuate the end of our official Esplanade walk but well fed walkers need not stop there.
A short stroll over the historic Main Street bridge will take our walkers to the Kent Dam and with direct access to the Cuyahoga river trail network. With miles of trail connections heading east or west from the downtown trail hub, our walkers will not be disappointed as they are joined by fisherman, artists, visitors and kayakers that consider Kent’s stretch of river one of the best kept secrets in town — and with canoe and kayak rentals available a couple of hundred yards downstream at Tannery Park our walkers can give their feet a rest and enjoy the river up close and personal.
Our if our walkers are an ambituous lot, they can grab their bikes and ride the Kent hike and bike trail all the way to downtown Akron or even Cleveland if they were so inspired.
All of this brought to you compliments of our humble Esplanade.