The Friends of the Sherman-Wells House (FSWH) are moving a valuable historic Kent family structure from East Erie Street, where it is in the path of KSU’s Esplanade project, to the vacant lot on North Water, next to the Standing Rock Cultural Arts Gallery. SRCA is upset at the loss of a small lot which they have used informally for free for many years. The lot formerly hosted a Greek Revival style house from the 1850s or earlier. SRCA views this as a diminishment to their mission of supporting the arts in Kent.
The FSWH has a deadline of August 4 to move the house. Fourteen locations were feverishly studied beginning last March and the location on North Water has turned out to be an available and practical location for the Wells-Sherman house which will also complement other Civil War era structures in the immediate neighborhood. Historical context is important to this type of effort.
An SRCA supporter mentioned online that the Wells-Sherman house represents nothing more than the heritage of “dead, rich white guys.” The FSWH organizers are by no means rich although we have some assets accrued after many years of work. We are truly committed to saving this house and it is regrettable that this issue has opened a front of class warfare between elements of the community which normally would be in parallel orientation. (One of the FSWH supporters has donated hundreds of dollars to SRCA over 20 years.)
At the chance meeting at McDonald’s a few days ago the representative of SRCA commented that there is a recent trend of such intrusive actions driven largely by the “enemy,” Kent State. We protested and he quickly acknowledged his unfortunate comment and retracted it. However misplaced, his insight was genuine and is worth considering in a broader context, notwithstanding the fact that without KSU the city of Kent, now minus its former industrial base, would present a vastly diminished profile in Portage County and the region. It’s hard to deny that we all benefit from having the largest employer in Portage County here in Kent.
People are being squeezed by the thrust of the Esplanade into redeveloping downtown Kent. Reasonably priced commercially zoned space has been eroding away for years, starting with the large buildings at the northwest corner of Main and Water which burned in 1972. The Haymaker parkway (1976) eliminated scores of houses and some historic and commercial properties while the new Fairchild bridge took away buildings which housed various small enterprises and at least one art gallery. Space lost in this segment of the commercial sector has not been replaced by anything but some new and rather expensive buildings which are certainly welcome redevelopment in the downtown area.
In view of the obvious and accelerating decline of readily affordable commercial space it seems appropriate to ask if the AMETEK structure, which Kent will own and remediate, could not be developed into a honeycomb of loft, studio and commercial spaces suitable for organizations like SRCA? In such a multi-purpose, adaptive reuse structure any resident of the city could find affordable rental space for an art studio, gallery, indoor farmers market or office. Canal Place in Akron has been a longstanding, successful reuse of an old factory.
The retooling of the AMETEK building to offset the loss of moderately priced commercial space would indicate that the Kent City Council and the City Manager both recognize that these large downtown developments have had an unintended negative impact on the marginal, but equally valuable, components of Kent’s culture as a community.