A plan is forming to save the historic Kent-Wells Sherman House from the wrecking ball and transform it into a beacon for restoring Kent's nieghborhoods.
A group of Kent residents working to save the house, known as the Friends of the Kent-Wells Sherman House, will submit plans to city officials today on a proposal to relocate the house from 250 E. Erie St. to a small plot of land on North Water Street.
"We would like to turn it into a neighborhood preservation center that will work on historic preservation, oriented toward sustainability based on the fact that the greenest way to build is to restore, renovate (and) preserve historic buildings," he said.
Hawksley said the supporters of the house, which has ties to Kent's namesake family and predates the Civil War, have arranged for a purchase agreement for the land on North Water Street to serve as a permanent location for the house. The small plot of land is located between the Scribbles Coffee Company building and the North Water Street Gallery.
Hawksley said today's submission of the plans to the city for eventual review by the Kent Planning Commission is the first step in a series of submissions to city boards, including the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals and the Kent Architectural Review Board.
"We are going to be submitting to the planning commission (today), and we’ll be going to city council next Wednesday night," Hawksley said. "I can’t tell you at this date exactly what we’ll be asking for ... but we will be asking for the city’s help."
That request for help from the city could vary from either a loan or a grant to offset expenses for buying the land, building a crawl space foundation and setting the house onto it.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said the city administration worked daily with the friends group offering feedback on potential sites and then consultation on planning, zoning, utility and other potential issues with the North Water Street site.
"We've tried to offer guidance and facilitate the development of a proposal by the friends so that council would have enough information to make an informed decision, and I feel like we've been able to do that," Ruller said in an email. "As you might imagine the friends have tried to address the issues in a way that would win council's support, and I know that the friends are hoping for a supportive recommendation from the staff as well to help bolster their request to ask for a contribution in city funds."
Ruller stopped short of saying whether or not the city can afford a financial contribution towards the restoration. He pointed to recent redevelopment projects, including brokering a deal for restoration of the old Kent hotel, buying land for the new courthouse, contributing $75,000 annually to Main Street Kent, passing architectural guidelines and becoming a certified local government as evidence of the city's commitment to preservation.
"I think philosophically we think it's a good project, and we are supportive (of) the friend's effort to lead the restoration of the house," Ruller said. "I'm just not sure how much, if any, financial contribution we can afford. Ultimately, city council will make that decision at their meeting next week."
Kent State spokesperson Emily Vincent said the university remains committed to its promise to sell the house for $1 for its restoration.
"And pay the cost of moving expenses up to $40,000 if those who want to preserve the house find a permanent location for it," she said.
Hawksley said it became clear the friends group would have to take ownership of the house after the university, city and several other groups made it clear they were uninterested in owning and maintaining the house. The ultimate end use of the house, he said, would be to serve as either a visitor's center, a hub with information on restoring and preserving Kent's neighborhoods or some combination of both.
The first floor would be semi-public with space available on a rental basis for community groups. A first-floor rear conference room would serve as a preservation center with permanent displays about the history of the house and the pre-civil war period of Kent, along with information regarding sustainability and preservation of buildings.
On the second floor, office space would be available for lease with TransPortage maintaining a small office for management of the house and other activities.
"So it would become a resource center," Hawksley said. "We hope, over time, assuming everything works out all right, it would be a visitor’s center. One of the things we found out in our research is there really is no place for someone coming into Kent to stop and get information and use a restroom if they don’t come during normal operating hours."
Whether the visitor's center concept comes to fruition depends on future potential partnerships to pay the cost of maintaining such an operation.
For now, the group is focused on getting the land in order to set the house on a foundation. Then the group will partner with the Kent Historical Society to raise money for restoration of the house, Hawksley said.
"I’m very optimistic," he said. "We will know within the next couple of weeks whether all the pieces and parts come together. We’re going on the energy that there is some good will towards what we’re doing."
Hawksley said they envision the house as a catalyst for restoring Kent's neighborhoods.
"Between the visitor’s center and a neighborhood preservation center, both of those things are needed," he said. "We really believe that the next big step after the downtown project is our neighborhoods. And it’s going to be about reinvestment, getting families to buy houses, converting rooming houses into at least nice apartment buildings if not single-family."