This past week President Lefton graciously hosted the annual town/gown dinner up at Kent State and the table talk quickly turned to all the partnership projects that the City and Kent State have launched together over the last 18 months.
This year’s dinner event was a well deserved pat on the back for all of the senior staff from Kent State and the City that have worked so hard to break down old barriers and chart a new course that aspires to bring out the best in the Kent community.
The Downtown Revitalization/Hotel & Conference Center/PARTA project was obviously a hot topic of conversation but honestly, there were a number of smaller projects this past year that together add up to an impressive track record for the state of town gown collaboration in 2010.
At my table we remarked how popular the new Crooked River Adventure canoe and kayak services was in it’s first year of operation. In terms of the total number of customers, I heard that the rentals ran about double what the KSU business plan projected for year one, and most of that customer base was community folks that took advantage of the nice weather and livery operation that Crooked River Adventure set up at Tannery Park.
Crooked River Adventure smartly tapped into the local race circuit by participating in a multi-race series that included 3 adventure/triathlon races in Portage County, including Kent’s second annual Black Squirrel Adventure Race in downtown Kent.
Being good stewards of the river, Crooked River also participated in a couple of river clean up events, making kayaks and canoes available for volunteers to patrol the river and haul out trash and debris.
The Community Liaison position came up in conversation as a great example of not just talking about improving relations but backing up the talk with resources and an action plan. With only one semester under his belt the Liaison has built a good base of communication with students and residents in those shared neighborhoods that we hope will help come springtime when the flowers and end of year parties bloom.
It was hard not to keep coming back to all the downtown plans and everyone agreed that the demolition work that we jointly paid for was a great statment about each organization’s commitment to fulfilling the promise of a vibrant university city. If 2010 was a year of tearing down, 2011 should be a year of building up which kept the conversation buzzing in excited tones. Ron Burbick has shown that nothing beats building new stuff to amp up community enthusiasm and we’re happy to follow his lead.
The University has reached deep into their pockets to acquire key properties that will enable us to work with them to extend the esplanade that meanders through campus and carry it (and all its walkers, bikers, joggers) straight into the heart of downtown Kent’s business district. Dr. Lefton often refers to the esplanade as the yellow brick road — that should bring the sweet sound of cash registers ringing in downtown Kent — and like a good partner, I happen to agree.
The engineering and design work for the esplanade is underway, and as far as some of the students that I talked with, it couldn’t come soon enough. One of the Student Senate leaders I broke bread with said that he was pretty stoked about the prospect of taking the FlashFeet Bike Share Program off campus so that the students could rent the bikes on campus and cruise the esplanade all the way into downtown. I’m pretty stoked about that idea too.
It was a good night full of good food and good conversation among friends. Those friendships have helped us set the high water mark for town gown relations in 2010 but I am optimistic that we can raise the bar again in 2011.
The best part of this new level of collaboration is how it has transformed what town/gown means. I had a real sense of affirmation that rather than being a point of friction, town/gown relations have become one of our community’s greatest assets.
Alchemy is alive and well in Kent.