Downtown Kent looks forward to new projects and reflects on historic past

Looking east on Main Street, photographed in 1928.

Age-old residents and newly seasoned locals and lovers of the Downtown Kent area have watched it grow and expand as years go by. Additions such as new businesses, different styles and cultures of art, a variety of dining and a larger sense of community help the city move into a much more dynamic role in Northeast Ohio. When COVID-19 started impacting residents and businesses alike, Kent leaders and long-time natives, like Mitch Reed, reflect on their experiences and hope for the future.

Mitch Reed graduated from Kent State in 1997 and never left. Both sets of his grandparents lived in Kent—his great grandparents on one side lived here since immigrating to the United States FROM WHERE? He lived in Mantua as a child, then moved to Kent for college. Living in Kent as a student, Reed said, is different from his experience as a resident post-graduation.

“The big difference is that you’re used to late nights and noises and things like that when you’re younger,” Reed said. “The older you get, the less you care for it.”

Reed witnessed how Kent slowly morphed into more of what he called a college town.

“Main Street used to be beautiful houses in the residential area,” Reed said. “Now it’s, you know, Burger King and Five Guys and all that stuff.”

Some semblance of the vintage architecture still remains in the downtown area, such as the Franklin Hotel and The Kent Stage, where modern events and gatherings are held today. The Franklin Hotel Bar pays homage to the town that began, as developments and renovations popped up in an effort to put forth a new face on downtown.

“I think the downtown renovation was excellent,” he said. “They did a fantastic job pulling businesses back into the downtown area.”

The renovation to downtown Kent began in 2008 with the addition of Acorn Alley and wrapped up in 2013 with the opening of Buffalo Wild Wings in the former Franklin Hotel. Upcoming renovations include the East Main Street Corridor project that is intended to increase vehicle and pedestrian safety for those traveling to Ravenna or the university. Current construction projects in Kent include the Hasawai Building at the corner of Erie Street and Franklin Avenue, as well as a new City Hall building. The city also recently completed updates to North Water Street.

The old Franklin Hotel now houses a Buffalo Wild Wings, a wine bar, offices and apartments.

“Within the city, we have a number of projects that are ongoing. Redoing North Water Street and the East Main Corridor for pedestrian safety,” said Gwen Rosenberg, an at-large Kent council member. “We are using this opportunity to widen sidewalks for more pedestrian-friendly access. Those are major improvements. We plan for economic development as we are still trying to come out of the global pandemic and its effects on business.”

Many businesses closed during the heat of the pandemic, including the restaurant Treno and the Kent Cheesemonger. But Rosenberg is hopeful the city will continue to evolve.

“Every city is going to have economic fallout from this pandemic. If our income taxes are coming in lower from the pandemic we have to trim some budget things, promote storefronts and available spaces for news businesses. Overall, we have fun, interesting events and a good relationship with the university,” Rosenberg said.

The university is a large part of the hub of activity around downtown Kent. Kent State University enrollment numbers for the fall 2021 semester top 27,000 undergrad and graduate students. Data from the 2020 U.S. Census shows Kent with a population of about 28,000 residents.

In the future, Reed said he wants to see more industries develop in Kent.

“It’s no secret that the city relies on the college,” Reed said. “If the college wasn’t here, we’d be Ravenna basically. But at the same time, you can’t let the college overtake every planning decision.”

Rosenberg tries to keep the whole city in mind when she makes decisions, rather than one specific ward or neighborhood. Involvement in local government not only helps local leaders understand the issues citizens may be facing but can push for an increase in industries and businesses that boost personal and economic growth.

“Local government recently has been overlooked. It impacts every one of us every single day. I think that when you are on city council it’s less about individual actions and decisions and more about the decisions of the city in general. My area of particular interest is the whole city instead of one specific ward,” Rosenberg said.

The Kent Stage, as photographed in 1927. Much of the building’s original facade remains today, almost 100 years later.