The City of Kent and PARTA (the county/regional bus service provider) have enjoyed a longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship since the transit agency was born. As the largest city in the county and home to Kent State University, Kent was a big reason why PARTA came to be in the first place. Bus service is all about ridership and Kent has lots of riders so the PARTA-Kent partnership came easily. Over the years, thanks to a shared philosophy of sustainable living that includes promoting as much transit ridership as possible, that partnership has grown into a close collaboration. When Kent has needed new routes or different route times PARTA has always found a way to make things work. That’s why, with PARTA looking to lock-in it’s role in the downtown redevelopment project with a new Multi-Modal facility, the City is doing everything we can to assist that effort.
Like any transit agency worth it’s salt, PARTA works hard to offer great bus service today while also keeping an eye on the horizon for what’s coming next. PARTA looks for ways to position themselves for the future — they’re anticipating trends, forecasting population growth and calculating ridership patterns to figure out where they need to be to best serve today’s bus riders and the next generation of bus riders.
As the population growth continues to move eastward through Portage County, Kent’s location on the western border of the county — connecting Portage to the population centers of Summit County — makes it an ideal location for a long term PARTA presence. In bus parlance that presence translates into having a first rate transit center which can serve as a hub for local and regional bus trips. Throw in connections to the regional hike and bike networks and you’ve got a winner.
PARTA has been part of the downtown redevelopment discussions from the start and they think they can play a significant role not only in transporting more folks in and out of downtown from campus and around the county — but also as part of the critical mass of new investment that we hope to leverage to close the deal on the hotel conference center project with Kent State.
In downtowns parking is usually an issue that has to be resolved up front in order to assure new retailers and restauranteurs that their customers will be able to get to them if they invest in our city. Given the typical space constraints of downtowns, parking often goes vertical in parking garages — and that gets expensive. An average parking space in garage runs around $20,000 and if you need 300 spaces that’s a big chunk of change that is hard to make up in fees unless you’re in downtown Manhattan. Parking rates around here are lucky to even cover annual operating costs but are certainly nowhere near able to support financing the construction of a multi-million dollar parking garage.
That’s where PARTA thinks they can help. They need a long term transit facility located in Kent. They would like it to be as centrally located as possible to the downtown and to the Kent State campus since those are the greatest travel destinations. They also want to be close to the major travel routes heading west to Akron and north to Cleveland. And most importantly, they have a plan in hand — paid for through federal funds provided by Congressman Ryan over the last 6 years — that is shovel ready which means it is eligible for the next round of Federal Transit stimulus funding.
PARTA submitted their stimulus funds application in September and decisions are expected by the end of this year with award announcements to follow in January. If successful, the stimulus funds could pay for the foundation of the facility and dramatically reduce the cost of any additional parking that the city or developer may partner to build on the upper floors of the shared parking deck.
That’s the kind of collaboration and creative financing that it’s going to take to deliver the downtown project especially in these unbelievably tight financial times. If you support the concepts of the downtown project now is the time to support PARTA.
Here’s some of the project summary information that we’ve been sharing with our local, state and federal respresentatives to urge their support for PARTA’s application.