Randall Smith, Kent Downtown Partnership president and business owner, raises a glass to toast the organization’s 25 years at the gala Thursday night. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Randall Smith, Kent Downtown Partnership president and business owner, raises a glass to toast the organization’s 25 years at the gala Thursday night. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

KDP turns silver: Downtown organization celebrates 25 years of work

In commemorating its silver anniversary, Kent Downtown Partnership highlighted some golden moments.

Like welcoming new businesses, bringing different events and making improvements to a downtown area that has persevered through difficult economic times.

“It’s a celebration of 25 years and the many people who have made it possible,” said Barb Smith, KDP executive director, as she mingled with the crowd at the Nov. 2 gala at Green River College’s Kent campus. “(In looking back) we realized how many people were involved, how passionate they were in making a difference in our downtown and making improvements. We realized how hard they worked and how much fun they had.”

Smith joined other KDP leaders, board members, volunteers and city supporters at the event, which honored those who established, invested and maintained the nonprofit organization dedicated to serving and promoting the downtown business community.

KDP’s vision is to make downtown Kent a thriving destination by promoting a core of vibrant, mixed uses in a pedestrian-friendly environment. The KDP is affiliated with the state and national Main Street Program, which was founded by the National Trust of Historic Preservation in 1977. The trust provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to save and protect irreplaceable and historic places, and to revitalize America’s communities.

From humble beginnings, the KDP has grown financially stronger as its takes on new challenges. As Smith pointed out, revenue from the state’s business and occupation (B&O) Main Street tax credit incentive program have “moved our efforts forward.”

The KDP has more than 100 members, Smith said, but its impact can be truly measured in the participation and completion of projects.

Smith is the organization’s third director. Linda Johnson served as the first director for nearly 10 years, bringing the Main Street program to the KDP. Jacquie Alexander followed, and the organization grew, as did Kent, notably with the opening of the Maleng Regional Justice Center, the Kent Station and the ShoWare Center. Under her watch, the KDP began its annual fundraising dinner and ushered in improvement projects downtown.

Smith has continued those programs and coordinated new downtown events. Regular wine and art walks, a pet walk, Hawktoberfest and its car show, and the popular Kent Lions-backed farmers market have been successful, KDP leaders said.

The KDP has updated downtown design guidelines and continues to provide facade improvement grants to eligible businesses.

The gathering recognized those efforts, past and present, as it turns to the future.

“It’s a celebration for the many volunteers who did so much for the city and its downtown,” said Greg Haffner, an attorney for the Curran Law Firm who has served as legal counsel for the KDP for nearly 18 years. “It’s made a difference downtown, it’s made the downtown look better. It’s kept businesses going. It’s kept people motivated.

“There’s some really interesting businesses downtown … I really like the feel of downtown. It’s a great, walkable downtown area,” Haffner said. “It’s got its challenges, but a part of the excitement of being an organization like this is trying to find solutions to the challenges.”

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