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Kent citizens chime in on plans for a better downtown

Kent City Planner Gloria Gould-Wessen hears feedback on downtown development from attendees at a recent open house. - Tracey Compton/Kent Reporter
Kent City Planner Gloria Gould-Wessen hears feedback on downtown development from attendees at a recent open house.
— image credit: Tracey Compton/Kent Reporter

Frankie June, who co-owns Down Home Catering in Kent with her daughter, Brandy Dollarhide, came to an open house hosted by the city seeking information last week. She has some issues with development downtown that she wanted to address and see where the city stood with plans.

"We do see there's no foot traffic in our area," June said. "We just had two businesses close on this street because of lack of foot traffic because people go to the (Kent Station). They don't come here."

Attendees to the Venture Downtown Kent Open House last Thursday were asked to share their ideas and complaints about development downtown with the city by writing their issues on huge white boards.

Just a handful of people attended, including June, to this first and last open house on the issue.

The effort is part of plans to revise a Downtown Strategic Action Plan that was developed in 2005 by the city of Kent. It's being renamed the Downtown Subarea Action Plan and it suggests re-zoning areas along Central Avenue and west of State Route 167.

Ultimately the plan seeks to bring residential areas to downtown Kent, a more diverse mix of businesses and better designed new structures.

The city received some 400 responses from a survey that was made available on the city's website soliciting feedback on downtown development.

"It's really helped us a lot in terms of figuring out our next steps," said Gloria Gould-Wessen, GIS coordinator and city planner. "I think the over-ridding conclusion is that people see the need for residents living in downtown. They love their community and they want it to be well-maintained and inviting."

A running theme also was to link the parks because they're scattered and small, she said.

The biggest complaints were safety issues, with "a lot of fingers pointing to the train station and people feeling uncomfortable with the homeless population," Gould-Wessen said.

June can attest to that issue with her Down Home Catering business.

"The homeless are sleeping in the alcove in the back of my building, peeing and pooping back there," she said. "I get tired of cleaning it up."

She and neighboring business owners have come together to take matters into their own hands. They've had a block party and are working on plans for the holidays.

"So we just decided that the city isn't going to do it, so we're doing it," June said. "We're having a good time and we're pulling together as a whole community on First Ave. making it work."

That's the kind of attitude Barbara Smith, executive director of Kent Downtown Partnership, hopes to foster.

It's a matter of education and helping downtown historic district businesses understand what they need to do to be competitive, Smith said.

The arrival of Kent Station has had an impact on the area, she said.

"One way to look at it is, Kent Station brings tens of thousands of people to Kent Station," Smith said. "It's our job to figure out how to get them across Smith Street and into our historical downtown."

One issue is that historic district businesses tend to be closed after 5 p.m. and on Sundays, which makes it hard to compete with Kent Station.

"What I'd like to get out of this is a good enough plan that more developers will look at downtown Kent as a place to build," Smith said. "We want to see more residential. We need more feet downtown; the best way to guarantee the feet downtown is to have residential."

This need has not gone unnoticed by the city of Kent. Kurt Hanson, the city's economic development manager, has heard comments like this for years at scoping sessions like the open house.

He's received positive feedback on plans for Kent City Center, a large residential project planned at Smith and Fourth Avenue that will have 164 units of market rate, urban quality apartments. Work on the foundation began in October and it will go vertical in the spring.

Hanson feels the city has found a sure-fire solution with developer John Goodman of Goodman Real Estate in Seattle, who now has the Kent City Center project.

"We have a lot of confidence in his product; he does wonderful marketing," Hanson said. "He doesn't just turn the product, he builds it and then he owns it for the long-term."

Hanson hopes with a "very good developer" as an anchor more will follow suit.

"I really want to create a strong connection between Kent Station and the district here," he said referring to the historical district. "Because I think there's wonderful shops and opportunities and restaurants that if we had a stronger connection between Kent Station – which is sort of a known entity to the south into this district area – I think there's a huge upside for all the business owners here."

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