Some workers in downtown Kent are looking for a new parking place today now that Portage County officials have closed the future courthouse site on East Main Street to cars.
Portage County Commissioner Chris Smeiles said the county sent an employee Wednesday to post fliers on cars parked at the empty lot, formerly home to Jimmy John's, advising drivers that the lot would be closed Thursday.
The sudden closure, Smeiles said, was due to the commissioners' recent awarding of the contract to demolish the former eatery and prep the site for construction of the new courthouse.
"The contractor wants to start next week, which includes fencing off the site for security reasons and the demolition of Jimmy John's," Smeiles said. "In anticipation of that happening we sent a staff person over there to start putting notes on cars to warn them that they can’t park there anymore."
Smeiles said that the commissioners learned Thursday morning that at least one downtown property owner reportedly had an arrangement with city officials to use the vacant lot for parking until construction started. He said county officials were previously unaware of any such formal arrangement.
Portage County Commissioner Maureen Frederick said the same thing in an email to Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith, who emailed county officials Thursday morning reflecting concerns of business owners about the new restriction.
"In all earnest, it was not our intention to inconvenience anyone, quite the contrary," Frederick said. "This is the first time we have even been made aware of it."
Smith could not be reached for comment.
The Kent Downtown Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation bought the property on behalf of the city in April for about $1.1 million. The property was then transferred to the city in August and then to the county.
In exchange, the county will hand over the existing Kent Municipal Courthouse and the adjacent parking lot, both of which have been appraised at $750,000, to the city for redevelopment or resale once the new court opens.
Smeiles said he's had no option but to apologize to people who called upset about the parking restriction on the East Main Street site.
"We're working with (city hall) to facilitate transfer of parking to somewhere else," he said.
The county received 14 bids for demolition of the old restaurant and preparation of the site for construction of the roughly 25,000 square feet new courthouse. DSV Contracting, of Youngstown, was awarded the contract for submitting a low bid of about $800,000.
The work was intially estimated to cost about $950,000, Smeiles said.
"They have to remove all of the existing buildings on the site, along with the infrastructure, water (and) sewer lines," he said. "There’s some old concrete parking infrastructure in the ground from the old motel parking lot. So that will all be removed. And then the contractor has to remove so many hundreds of yards of dirt to prepare the site for courthouse construction.
"I’m pleased to finally get this project under way," Smeiles said. "It’s two years over due.”