Pathway that connects Kent State University to downtown Kent is latest road to economic boom

University esplanade named for KSU president

KENT, Ohio - What many considered a college and a town is now being referred to as "a college town" after the dedication of a pathway that connects Kent State University to downtown Kent.

On Friday afternoon, the Kent State University Esplanade near Main and Willow streets was dedicated. It was revealed that the pathway will be named the Lester A. Lefton Esplanade, honoring Kent State President Lefton.

Last spring, Lefton announced he will retire from the presidency of Kent State, effective July 1, 2014.

"There could not be a more fitting tribute to President Lefton than naming the esplanade, which now physically and symbolically connects town and gown, in his honor," said Jane Murphy Timken, chair of the Kent State Board of Trustees.

The path is built around economic development that has transformed Kent in recent years.

It's considered a vital connection to PARTA's new Kent Central Gateway multimodal transit center, private developments from Acorn Alley and Fairmount Properties, and the new Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center.

The resurgence of the area started when private investor, Ron Burbick, decided to start investing in the downtown area because he didn't like what he saw.

"It was almost like a ghost town because there was nothing to do in Kent. Unless you wanted a beer or a tattoo, you were pretty much out of luck," Burbick said.

He would eventually spent $22 million developing Acorn Alley. There have been three phases of the project and 38 businesses are now tenants there.

"There's probably $20 million in revenue that's being spent in Kent that wouldn't have been spent before," Burbick added.

Gwen Rosenberg owns Popped, a gourmet popcorn shop, and said her business has been bursting. She's considering further expansion.

"I really do believe I am the beneficiary of a lot people's hard work over the last couple of decades," Rosenberg said.

Lefton pointed out that $130 million was spent through a public-private partnership to jumpstart the major development.

He called the esplanade "the special sauce" that links the city to the university.

"What he did is we purchased a bunch of land in between the city and the university, demolished a lot of rundown old homes and turned it into a beautiful park-like area," Lefton said.

Lefton said negotiations are on-going with developers for other possible projects, including high-end supermarkets and movie theaters.

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