Kent – With over $100 million in new construction nearing completion, downtown Kent is currently undergoing massive redevelopment. While these revitalization projects have been successful through the cooperation of many, Ron Burbick , a retired executive turned developer, started the ball rolling with an idea he called the ‘Phoenix Project.’ Burbick, formerly from aircraft part manufacturer, Schneller Inc., sparked an idea to transform an area of dilapidated buildings back to their former glory, but with a modern spin. With his own funds, that idea rose from the ashes — or construction debris — and reenergized the city of Kent. Through the ‘Phoenix Project,’ Burbick purchased and renovated single-story buildings along Main Street. He added second stories to the buildings to house non-retail tenants, with retail space on the ground floor. Retail tenants are accessible via a pedestrian alley, which draws people to the 1910 vintage-inspired area known as ‘Acorn Alley.’ Spurred on by this development, forward-thinking city planner, Dave Ruller, and Kent State University President Lester Lefton, worked together with the city of Kent, and two key non-profit revitalization organizations — Heritage Ohio and Main Street Kent — to further transform the once lackluster college town into a jewel of Portage County.
Ruller and Lefton, who both came to Kent in 2005, saw a disconnect between the city’s downtown area and its nearby university. They envisioned Kent’s rebirth akin to college towns like Ann Arbor, MI or Ithaca, NY. Major investments in hotel and conference space, transportation and infrastructure have resulted in making Kent a destination worth checking out.
As a Kent State student from years past, I fondly remember Kent landmarks like the Pufferbelly, Kent Jewelry, Woodsy’s Music, and of course, Ray’s Place. Those unique gems are all still there, but the area has been rejuvenated with the addition of many new quirky pubs and eateries, quaint shops, live music, art galleries, and more. “There’s a blue-collar humility and work ethic here — that you don’t brag about yourself, you let your work speak for itself,” Dave Ruller mused. “But you need to lose some of that humility and let the story out.” Ladies and gentlemen – the story is out. Visit downtown Kent this holiday season to see the exciting changes for yourself.