Now that Kent State University owns much of the land surrounding it city and university officials are considering permanently closing a portion of South Willow Street.
Since 2007 Kent State has spent more than $9 million to either outright buy properties or property options in the neighborhood west of campus for the Esplanade extension.
In total, including the house sale approved Wednesday, the university will have acquired 43 properties in that neighborhood — including every property but one lining both sides of South Willow Street between College Avenue and Main Street.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said university officials haven't yet formally asked the city to consider closing the street, but both sides are reviewing the idea.
"They've mentioned that, if in evaluating the designs of the new architecture building they receive some concepts that extend into Willow Street, is there a process to ask the city to consider that option, and we said 'yes there is,'" Ruller said. "We explained the kind of traffic analysis we would want to see, utility considerations and the public review process that we would use to vet the idea with city council."
A new leg of the Esplanade, the on-campus section of The Portage Bike and Hike Trail, is under construction in the neighborhood and will link campus to downtown. This new section will cut directly across South Willow Street.
Kent City Engineer Jim Bowling said the university is leading the analysis of the possible street closure.
"They have hired the consultants and the consultants report to Kent State," Bowling said. "The city has been working with Kent State to scope the study (i.e. determine what we want to see studied) and we are updated on the progress of the studies."
Permanently closing a street is much more complicated than ripping up the pavement.
Bowling said the analysis includes studying the effects to traffic flow and emergency vehicle access over a broad area that could potentially be effected by the closure. The analysis also includes studying existing public and private utilities that are located in the right-of-way, and that means coordinating with agencies such as FirstEnergy, Dominion, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and others.
"If Kent State then decides it wants to pursue the closure, then the results and proposed recommendations will need to be presented to numerous departments ... in the city and eventually city council," he said.
The city has already agreed to permanently close the portion of East Erie Street between South Willow Street and Haymaker Parkway. The Esplanade will replace it as a pedestrian-only pathway between campus and downtown.
University officials were careful to say this week that while closing part of South Willow Street is a possibility it would be up to the city to make the final decision.
Gregg Floyd, vice president for finance and administration at Kent State, said whether or not the university asks the city to close that portion of the street depends on the traffic study of the road and its intersections.
If the street is closed, it would allow the university greater flexibility in determining the exact location of the new College of Architecture and Environmental Design, which will be built somewhere on the Esplanade, Floyd said.
"It’s simply not our decision to make," Floyd said. "The property holdings of the university are on both sides of Willow, so it would allow us the opportunity to essentially take that divider as one piece of ground and think about how we want to place the building.
"The city has been a tremendous partner, and the city council has been an incredible partner in the work that we’ve been doing," he said. "Ultimately the city would have the choice to entertain the request to close it or keep it open."
Ruller echoed Floyd's remarks about the development partnership between the city and university and said city officials would continue that air of cooperation.
"I think the university is hoping to leave their options open and we're happy to work with them to find the best option for the university and the community," Ruller said.