Sen. Sherrod Brown got the Cliffs Notes version of Kent's revival Wednesday as city and Kent State University officials gave him a brief tour of three of the downtown redevelopment projects.
Brown first met with Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala, Kent City Manager Dave Ruller, Kent State President Lester Lefton and AMETEK Kent Vice President Matt French at AMETEK's new offices downtown before touring the Kent State hotel and PARTA's transit center.
Brown, whose wife, Connie Schultz, graduated from Kent State, said he found Wednesday's visit and brief tour exciting given all the dramatic changes in the past two years.
"I’ve been to Kent lots of times over the last 30 years, seeing the problems and seeing it coming back," Brown said. "This is a great picture for Kent. You’re finally seeing, I think, the university and city coming together in more productive ways than in the past."
The Democratic senator supported the effort that helped PARTA receive a $20 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant that is paying for the bulk of the transit center, which will include 10 bus bays and more than 300 public parking spaces.
The Kent State hotel also benefitted from $8 million in New Markets Tax Credits, a federal program enacted by Congress in 2000 and intended to create jobs in low-income communities. Brown voted to extend the tax credit program into 2013 this month as part of the Fiscal Cliff deal.
Both the transit center and hotel are viewed as critical elements of downtown Kent's redevelopment that are spurring new business and job growth.
Brown said Kent stands as an example of how federal stimulus dollars can work to create jobs and boost local economies.
"It’s always part of a larger picture, just like the TIGER Grant that we got back in 2009 for PARTA," he said. "The department of transportation never would have approved it if it was just about transportation."
During the visit, Brown quizzed local leaders and business executives on everything from the number of Kent State grads who work at AMETEK to the room rate at the new hotel, which will average about $105 per night.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said he viewed the visit as a chance to both thank Brown for supporting Kent and to encourage the senator to continue that support in the future.
"It’s taking the time to actually show him the results of kind of the paper work that he hears about and he votes for," Ruller said. "He actually gets to see the bricks and mortar."
Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said he is hopeful Brown will return to Washington, D.C., with a greater sense of the importance of federal programs that help boost local economies.
"He needs to know when he goes back to Washington some of the programs that are in jeopardy that we depend on here to make development like this happen have to stay in place, and we have to find a way to keep funding them," Fiala said. "The bottom line is jobs. If we don’t have jobs paying income taxes there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to go away."