Supporters of a historic Kent house slated for demolition have money to move it from the wrecking ball's path, but they're still struggling to find a permanent or temporary location for it.
The friends of the Kent Wells-Sherman House at 250 E. Erie St. learned Wednesday night they have the city's technical support and Kent State University's financial backing to relocate the house, which has ties to the city's namesake family. (See a copy of the original property deed attached to this article).
Kent City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to let city administrators continue examining options for the city's involvement, but council did not vote to spend any money yet on the effort.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said he learned Tuesday the university is willing to spend up to $40,000 to relocate the house, but Kent State officials don't appear interested in finding a permanent home for it on campus or on the Esplanade. And that $40,000 would not include costs for a new foundation.
Ruller said there aren't too many ideal locations in Kent for the house.
"I think that’s why they’re being so gracious is because they don’t see it as a good fit on their campus or the Esplanade," he said. "And that remains our challenge. It comes down to … that ultimate use of it."
Rick Hawksley, a member of the group working to save the house, said their plan for the house's final use is still "in the oven."
"One of the questions we’re hearing is, 'what are you going to do with the thing?'" Hawksley said. "The Pufferbelly model is the model we have to have. We have to have opportunity for this house to generate income so it can sustain itself over time. The critical thing obviously is first to move it out of the way."
The Kent Historical Society formed in the early 1970s to restore the Pufferbelly building, which at the time was a vacant and dilapidate former railroad depot. The society, a non-profit organization, owns the building and today rents space for the restaurant and offices.
Hawksley said this house could be used and operated in a variety of ways if it can be moved and saved.
"I can’t promise what’s going to be done in the future," he said. "All we’ve been trying to do is present a vision."
Part of that vision for Sally Burnell, the friends group founder, could include making the house a center for new urbanism.
"There’s a movement around the country called 'new urbanism,'" Burnell said. "What that means is people are learning the skills to fix up old homes and move back into them. That revitalizes our old neighborhoods.
Still, the challenge of finding a location remains and time is of the essence. Construction on the Esplanade extension is expected to start as early as next month.
Council members and city administrators talked about the western, dead-end of College Street as a possible temporary location for the house. That location poses challenges as a permanent spot, but the cost to move it rises the farther away the house is moved from its current location.
The friends group plans to work with the historical society to raise money to restore the house, but Hawksley said ideally the city and university would find the land and pay to move the house and set it on a new foundation.
"Then we can say to the public … 'we’ve got it to this point. Here’s what we want to do with it … and it’s going to cost us this much money to do the renovations,'" Hawksley said. "This is a once in a generation opportunity for a community."
Burnell, who found the original deed tying the house to the Kent family on Friday, said after the meeting she was happy with council's agreement to at least keep working on the effort to save the house.
"It's better than nothing," she said.