In May 2015 the former grocery store and dental offices that had been serving as City Hall since 1992 were sold by the City. These 60 year old buildings were showing their age and the City was looking at spending a quarter of a million dollars to keep the buildings functioning — so when a developer offered to buy the land for $1 million more than the appraised value, it was a deal that made financial sense and the timing was right.
With the $2.1 million in proceeds from the land sale, the City has a unique opportunity to provide Kent residents with a modern, efficient, and convenient City Administration building that hopefully can continue the momentum of downtown revitalization, ensure the optimum delivery of public services, and create a prominent building worthy of civic pride.
There’s still more questions than answers for what the community wants in the next City Hall building – where to put it, how big to build it, and what services to offer out of it? – but the $2.1 million will go a long ways towards providing the kind of new building that Kent residents should be proud to call City Hall for the next 50 years.
For the last 92 years, Kent City Hall functions were provided within a one block radius of Water Street and Depeyster Street. From 1924 until 1992, Kent City Hall operated out of the existing Police Station at the corner of Water Street and Haymaker Parkway.
In 1992, the City repurposed the former grocery store and dental offices at the corner of Depeyster and Summit Streets to serve as the most recent City Hall.
These buildings hosted City Council and Boards & Commissions meetings, and housed the City Administration, Law Department, Economic Development, Health Services, Human Resources, Utility Billing, Income Tax, Mayor and Clerk of Council, and the Civil Service Commission.
In May 2015, City Hall related services previously located on Depeyster Street were packed up and relocated to other City facilities including the Service Administration Complex (S.A.C.), Police Administration Building, and Central Fire Station. The relocation of City services to these other locations was part of a transition strategy, giving us the time we’ll need to work with Kent residents and City Council to figure out what’s next for Kent City Hall.
A new City Hall should last 50 years so we want to take the time to get the building designed right. It’s figuring out what “right” means that’s the tricky part.
To some people, “right” means taking the employees that were in the former City Hall and putting them in a new, more modern and energy efficient facility, ideally located on the same corner of Water and Haymaker Parkway that the City has had a presence for the last 90 years. A pretty simple and straightforward solution. Let’s do it.
To others “right” means taking this opportunity to do more than replace the last building, and maybe mix in some other City services to operate out of the new City Hall to create more of a “one stop” shop for residents that visit City Hall. This option gets a little more complicated to plan and coordinate because it involves figuring out which employees (and even other social service agencies) make sense to be co-located in City Hall, but if in the end it makes the delivery of City services better, we’re all in.
A few others have said this is a time to step back and think even “bigger” and look at whether it would be possible to combine a new City Hall with a new Community Recreation Center. Kent Parks and Recreation has been talking about a new Rec Center for many years – and now City Council is talking about a new City Hall – is this potentially a match that could help both projects get over the top and bring about a transformative change in residents’ engagement with their City? It’s a visionary idea that seems to hold great promise.
And not to be left out, there are others that point to the success of the City’s investments in downtown Kent and suggest taking a page out of that revitalization story to leverage a new City Hall investment in another area of the City that could benefit from a catalytic investment. Using downtown Kent’s resurgence as a model, a strong case can be made to spread the wealth and broaden the City’s investment impact into areas outside of the downtown.
There’s no shortage of great ideas and suggestions which makes it an exciting time to think about all the possibilities for the next City Hall. The challenge is narrowing down the great ideas to the “best” idea for the community in the long term.
If we can build some consensus around a particular City Hall concept, I am certain that the building can live up to the community’s aspirations. The question is how to get there?
We’re starting by studying how our neighboring cities have resolved the same issues in their respective communities. We’ve looked at about a dozen different City Halls around northeast Ohio to see who is in them, where are they located, how much did they cost, and how are they working? The goal is to “go to school” on their experience and draw some conclusions that may help us avoid learning the hard way as we begin to design our own new City Hall.
At the same time, we’re asking for Kent resident’s thoughts and input about their next City Hall through telephone and online surveys. After a couple rounds of general surveys we’ll look to host some informational meetings to share some early findings and continue to receive public comment on the direction the new City Hall building should take.
Throughout this process, we’ll continue to hold public meetings with City Council to help them understand the choices and community preferences as they work with the staff to customize Kent’s next City Hall to meet our community needs and resources.