In 15 years, Kent State University could own the vacant former DuBois Book Store property at the corner of Summit and South Lincoln streets, according to university officials.
The Kent State University Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday — with one abstention — to approve a tenative deal that would see Kent State lease the property from the Portage Port Authority, an economic development body comprised of members appointed by the Portage County Commissioners.
Kent State President Lester Lefton said immediate plans for the property are to use it as a construction staging area for the new College of Architecture and Environmental Design, which will stand on the new Esplanade extension into downtown.
"We see that as a strategic piece of property," Lefton said. "We don’t have a specific plan, except for the next couple years where we would use it for (construction) staging."
How the deal works
Right now, neither Kent State nor the Portage Port Authority owns the property.
The nearly 4 acres of land remains in the hands of Howard DuBois, whose father Harold in 1936 started the book store, which closed in the summer of 2011.
DuBois, now 88, also runs two other DuBois family bookstores, one in Cincinnati and another in Oxford, OH, near Miami University.
DuBois said he has a deal in the works with a private developer, who he declined to name, that would lead to the arrangement between Kent State and the Portage Port Authority. He's awaiting final payment on the roughly 15 parcels that comprise the property and expects to receive it by Dec. 17.
"He’s got money down on it," DuBois said of the developer. "But he’s got to either make a definite decision by the 17th or it will be back on the market again.”
University documents identify the developer as Cleveland-based firm Polaris Real Estate Equities, a student housing development firm which has helped Cleveland State University in the past on projects.
Earlier this year Polaris approached Kent State officials with a deal that would see the Portage Port Authority acquire the land and then lease it back to the university.
It's unclear how the port authority will pay to buy the land.
Gregg Floyd, vice president for finance and administration at Kent State, said the deal with the Portage Port Authority would see Kent State lease the land for 15 years at a cost of between $20,000 and $25,000 per month.
That means, at minimum, Kent State could pay $3.6 million or as much as $4.5 million to lease the property for the full 15 years.
At the end of the lease, the university would have the option to buy the land outright from the port authority for a nominal amount, such as $1, or sell its option to a private developer or other entity, Floyd said.
"Before we do anything, we need the board of trustees' approval on real estate matters," he said. "And the person that was holding the property had a time table that did not permit us to go through that process and go through all the state approvals for the purchase.
"This particular lease arrangement provides the university the flexibility with regard to that property for a number of uses," Floyd said. "And at the end of that time it gives us ultimately the flexibility to make the choice whether we want to make it a permanent purchase or to allow it to be placed essentially in third-party hands."
An actual lease agreement between the university and port authority has not been reached, but lawyers have been drafting the document almost since Kent State officials approached members of the port authority board about a month ago, Floyd said.
The port authority voted Dec. 4 to approve its role in the deal.
So here's what Kent State's trustees did with regards to the deal Wednesday: they approved assigning the university's option to buy the land from Polaris Real Estate to the port authority; approved entering into a long-term lease with the port authority once the lease agreement is finished; and appropriate money in the current fiscal year budget to make payments on the lease.
What's the property's future?
Once the deal is finished the university will use it to stage construction materials and equipment for the new architecture building, which has a $40 million budget. Four finalists have been named in the design competition under way to find an architecture firm for the project.
"You’ve got to have big pieces of steel and roofs and bricks and equipment and tractors," Lefton said. "We’ll keep them on the DuBois property, but the architecture building is very likely to be on the Esplanade."
Lefton said it's also likely that sometime after the lease expires the university will plan some project for the space if it exercises the purchase option.
"What it ultimately might be used for we’re not exactly sure, but given it’s proximity to campus and some of our key academic buildings we don’t want a Wal-Mart to spring up there," he said. "It wouldn’t be consistent with the aesthetic of campus or the Esplanade. This gives us some control."
The lease also will give Kent State the right to demolish the former book store building, but Lefton said they're not sure if that would happen immediately.
The property is adjacent to land the university has already bought as part of the Esplanade expansion.
DuBois said however the property is redeveloped he would like to see some inclusion or recognition of his family's name given their 75-year history of selling books to, and buying them from, students at Kent State.
Overall, he has no qualms with the university eventually acquiring the property.
"Sentimentally it would be nice if one of the developers along the way made something that would incorporate the name," DuBois said. "If they don’t, my feelings wouldn’t be hurt.
"It goes back to 1936 when my dad bought his first parcel there and moved us from Hiram to Kent," DuBois said. “We squeezed a family of six kids into a small house there on South Lincoln Street, and the rest of it is history."
City supports deal
As recent as May DuBois told Kent Patch he was talking with a developer about buying the land and turning it into high-density apartments.
Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith said he views the deal to possibly put the land into Kent State's ownership as a positive move for the neighborhood compared with the potential alternatives.
"Other than that, I think we were probably destined for high-density student housing if the university didn’t acquire that property," Smith said. "I’ve talked to probably 15 groups that wanted to come to Kent and put student housing on that site."