Transportation investments spur private development in downtown Kent, Ohio

Architect’s rendering of proposed Kent Central Gateway. Image via Kent State University.

When the federal government invests in infrastructure, the funds directly help communities with large, long-term projects. But these investments go beyond direct help: when the government invests in an area, private developers often follow its lead and invest as well. In doing so, these federal investments have an even bigger impact.

Downtown Kent, Ohio, is a great example of this. After many public meetings to create a vision for the city’s future, Kent is transforming its downtown into a vibrant public space. A $20 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities) has helped the town build a new multimodal transportation facility – and the city is now experiencing over $100 million in related development.

The Central Gateway Multimodal Facility will provide downtown Kent with convenient bus transfer stations, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and parking decks to accommodate transit users and the general public. By reserving some parking spaces for transit riders, the facility will be a hub to transport people efficiently from Kent to its neighbor cities of Cleveland and Akron. The facility is also located on a regional multi-use trail, creating a safe environment for bicyclists to travel to Akron.

The project has enabled and inspired the private sector investments critical to establishing a thriving town center. Private investors are creating new office, retail, dining and residential space in the Phoenix, Acorn Alley, Davey Tree and Ametek projects. Developers chose to invest in the blocks immediately adjacent to the Gateway facility because of the amenities it offers their customers.

Before the TIGER grant, Kent’s developers had less interest in building downtown. Kent State University had long desired a hotel and conference center, but without the prospect of broader neighborhood improvement no developer was willing to make that investment. Now, plans are in the works for a 100-room hotel and 10-15,000 square foot conference center, both spurred by the transportation hub and the federal grant that made it possible. Visitors will come to the city and stay, filling it with the energy and new ideas that help build a strong local economy.

The TIGER grant program is just one element of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which coordinates activities by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Housing and Urban Development. Smart Growth America has been helping rural towns like Kent learn about and apply for the current round of grants from the Partnership agencies. Congress can foster strong local economies by ensuring continued support for the Partnership.

Many thanks for Bryan Smith, Director of Planning with the Portage Area Regional Transit Authority, for telling this project’s inspiring story at the Small City Transportation Solutions briefing hosted by the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Tuesday, November 1. For more information, visit the project website.

Thanks also to our coalition member the Northeast-Midwest Institute and its other panelists: Matt Dalbey, PhD., Director of the Federal & State Division of U.S. EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities; Matt Chase, Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations; and Robert Morris, Senior Project Manager of the National Gateway Freight Rail Project in FHWA’s Eastern Federal Lands Office.