Last week in City Council the staff provided an update on the progress of what we commonly call downtown redevelopment. I say commonly because when we started this effort a couple of years ago downtown redevelopment really was characterized by the City’s and the University’s effort to build a hotel/conference center surrounded by new retail and restaurants in the Erie/Haymaker/Water/Depeyster Street block. But something happened along the way and names like the Phoenix project, Ray’s Place, the McKay Bricker Gallery and the Water Street Tavern have taken center stage as the showpieces of downtown redevelopment that is under hammer and nail. Don’t get me wrong we’re still knee deep in hotel/conference center plans but when it comes to evidence of success in downtown, plans have taken a back seat to real bricks and mortar work. And where there’s bricks and motar work, new businesses and new jobs are soon to follow. See for yourself.
Planning is great and it’s definitely important but honestly there’s nothing like seeing actual scaffolding go up, roofs repaired, and old buildings made relevant again. That’s exactly what’s happening in downtown Kent so much so in fact that the scales have been tipped and downtown redevelopment has taken on a new meaning with a new timeframe. It’s about what is happening right now — not what we hope happens soon.
So in the vocabulary of downtown we can officially get rid of the future tense references and lose all those if only’s and what if’s, and replace them with the current tense — what is. If it seems like I’m quibbling over vernacular you’re right but it’s for good reason. From my point of view there’s nothing worse than to watch well intended people let themselves slip into the aw shucks kick the dirt attitude about our downtown, saying that they just wish something would happen to show people what’s possible.
Whoa Nellie, that train has already left the station. Try $2 million plus in new investment in the last 9 months with another $4 or $5 million more to be spent by next summer. That’s more than something that’s a lot of thing. And that thing is downtown redevelopment.
A big reason behind the City’s interest in the hotel/conference center was the catalytic impact we think it would have on our downtown. By design hotel and conference centers bring people (and their money) from outside of Kent into Kent. More people and more money means more demand for goods and services in Kent — which means more jobs for people that make goods and provide services. More jobs means more income tax coming in from outside dollars and more outside dollars means less taxes needed out of the pockets of people that live here. It’s a winning strategy all around.
The theory is still sound but the reality is the redevelopment cat is already out of the bag and rather than needing the hotel/conference center to be the white knight rolling into town to save the day the downtown has started the ball rolling on its own with well planned incremental redevelopment. Incremental may be smaller but smaller is also easier to manage smartly and integrate well in the mix of the best of the old and the best of the new.
Don’t mistake my cheerleading for incremental redevelopment as slowing us down on the major hotel/conference center project — we’re still full speed ahead — but the incremental redevelopment has created the opportunity for us to not put all of our eggs in one basket and rather than setting the hotel/conference center up to fail from untenable expectations to save us, it can now be another piece — albeit a significant piece — to an overall downtown action strategy that is grounded in what is already underway.
That would make the hotel/conference center more of a multiplier than just a catalyst and I like the non-linear math of multipliers. Multipliers take $1 dollar in and put out $4 dollars in return. I think a case can be made that it’s been the progress and success of Main Street Kent and the City’s downtown land acquisition that sent the signal to private investors that this time we’re for real and seeing that signal they decided to stop sitting on the sidelines and get in on the action.
As bold and exciting as the hotel/conference center concept is, the downtown redevelopment that you can see right now is what it’s all about and it’s great to know that what we’re doing is working in the real world.
The Phoenix Project Profile – $6 million project to be done by 7/09, 30 new jobs, new retail, new office, new restaurants.