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Land Swap May Keep Kent Courthouse Downtown

City manager proposed buying property on East Main Street and trading it for the current courthouse

A potential land swap between the city and Portage County could keep the in downtown Kent.

City officials talked with county leaders this week about a proposed land swap. The proposal calls for the city to buy about 2 acres on East Main Street — the property most heavily favored for the new courthouse location — and trade that land for the existing courthouse and adjacent parking lot on South Water Street.

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller, Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala and other city leaders first mentioned the idea Monday in a meeting with the county's site selection committee. Then Thursday morning, Ruller pitched the idea to the full board of commissioners.

Portage County Commissioner Chris Smeiles said the existing courthouse has been appraised at $750,000, and the site on East Main Street has been appraised at $980,000. Smeiles said city officials proposed absorbing the $230,000 difference to make the exchange happen.

"That’s really exciting news to me, because it removes the cost of land obstacle that we’ve been wrestling with for five months," Smeiles said.

Ruller could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Kent City Councilman Erik Valenta, who attended the meeting Monday when the idea was first broached, said the East Main Street site seems to be the best fit for both the county and the city.

"There’s a variety of things it does for the city, and also for the county," Valenta said. "It provides the county with a construction-ready site, it gives the city more parking downtown, it keeps the courthouse in Kent ... It also saves the old (courthouse) as well."

Such an exchange would require the approval of the full board of commissioners for the exchange. Smeiles said he's talked about it with the Portage County Prosecutor's office, and there is a provision in Ohio Revised Code that would permit the exchange between both government entities. Commissioners Maureen Frederick and Tommie Jo Marsilio could not be reached for comment today.

The commissioners took no action on the proposal Thursday.

The move would also need approval from members, who would need to sign off on buying the East Main Street site.

Kent City Councilman said he was unaware of Ruller's proposal until Thursday evening after the city manager sent out a brief email on the idea.

"I would hope that we could keep the courthouse in Kent, and I’m willing to listen to Mr. Ruller’s proposal," Amrhein said. "I would have to look at it more closely, but I’m certainly willing to look at it.

"Everything in the budget is tight," Amrhein said. "But you don’t want to lose the courthouse either. It’s one of those tough decisions we’ll have to make."

County officials have been talking about to replace the Kent branch for more than two years. About two years ago, city officials first discussed the idea of a land swap with the county to put the new courthouse in the downtown redevelopment district.

Since then, county judges, commissioners and other administrators have already considered at least . The site most heavily favored by consulting architects, municipal judges and city officials is the land on East Main Street.

Construction of the new courthouse will be paid for through a special projects fund created by the county judges in July 2006. , which bolsters the fund and can only be used for construction of the new building. The fund has about $2.52 million in it.

Smeiles said he favors the East Main Street site because the existing courthouse property is limited and may not have room for future expansion.

"I told the board of commissioners, when we build the new courthouse we should build it on a site large enough for the future," Smeiles said. "Because this is a 50-year decision, we need a site suitable for the growth of Kent. We should not shoehorn this into a tight site. The 303 (E.) Main St. site does accomplish that, according to the architect."

Valenta said that's a big reason why he supports the land swap idea.

"I just want to make sure that no matter what site we decide on it’s the best overall fit, not only for the citizens of Kent but for the citizens of Portage County,” Valenta said.

But gaining support among the other members of Kent council may prove tough — particularly because of the cost.

Kent City Councilman John Kuhar, a well-known budget hawk on council, said he would oppose buying the land for the county.

"Definitely I’d be opposed to it," Kuhar said. "Why should we buy the courthouse? We don’t need the other land and the other old courthouse. The city’s spending borrowed money now. I don’t think we should be responsible for buying it."

Michelle Sahr May 13, 2011 at 10:39 AM
The East Main Street site is a wonderful location for the courthouse. I am very excited about this idea. This site will keep the courthouse downtown which will help all of our downtown shops and restaurants. Plus it will add 130 (I believe) available parking spots on evenings and weekends. The parking spots alone seem worth the extra money.
Pat May 13, 2011 at 11:02 AM
No to buying 303 property. The city better check into the serious sewage problem there, it would be costly to replace and the electric pole at the end of the driveway must be moved and wires must be put under E Main. 303 East Main is not worth what the owner is asking anyway--not enough space for a court house and I don't want to see my tax dollars being wasted!
Becky Thatcher May 13, 2011 at 11:35 AM
How can the property be worth nearly $1,000,000 when the county auditor has it appraised at $117,000 for fair market value for real estate tax purposes? More than one parcel here? I'm aware that the tax FMV is often less than market value, but that's some big difference. What am I missing here?
Dave May 13, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Politics at Play. It'd be great to investigate the actual value of these properties. I don't believe for a second that the existing courthouse and the tiny lot on college street is worth 3/4 of a million dollars any more than I believe the East Main St. property is worth nearly 1 million dollars. It would be great if the Kent Patch or the record courier could run a big story on this. Don't get me wrong, I really like the idea of the East Main St. site for the new courthouse but not if the taxpayers are getting hoodwinked by hugely inflated property values!
Becky Thatcher May 13, 2011 at 01:43 PM
I too like the site/courthouse in downtown - and I see from the county auditor's website (not really deep digging here) that taxes in 2007 on 303 were much higher than recent years. Thinking the owner asked for a reduction in taxes and wondering how that worked out. Hoping our leaders are fearless (as I think they are - they're a good group of citizens) and ask. The answer may not be what we want to hear - the property may be worth $1,000,000 - but the question should be asked.
Tax Payer Defender May 13, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Let the City of Kent give the Portage County $230,000 to keep the Courthouse. The $230,000 can go to the BIG debt coming next years budget.
Tax Payer Defender May 13, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Don't take this offer and Build on the OLD DOME site and blow up the current courthouse for more parking. Don't pay the $750,000 for that High Price Land. The people of Kent would be taking over the mortage of the owner and some one is going to pocket some big time money on this project. KILL the Main Street Site NOW!
Michelle Sahr May 13, 2011 at 02:47 PM
I think we have to keep things in perspective here. First of all, I don't think our city council gets to decide where the courthouse will be built. They would have to approve the $230,000 though if we want to swap the land. If they do not do that then either the new courthouse will be located outside of the downtown area, will be built behind the current location, or not built at all. I don't think not building at all is a consideration (but who knows). If they build in the current location and keep the old courthouse standing then there will be an issue with parking. The parking burden may become a problem for all the shop and businesses in that area as the overflow of parking takes up their spaces. As for the $230,000, that is not very much when put into perspective. $80 million dollars is being spent on downtown redevelopment. In order to make these influx of retail and restaurants even stronger we want as much foot traffic on a regular basis as possible. $20 million is being spent on a multi modal which will include roughly 350 parking spots. for a mere $230,000 more we can have another 130 spots available evenings and weekends. I don't think the city would recommend this route if the money wasn't available. And I do not see any of our taxes rising. I don't think they intend to fund this or any of the other redevelopment by raising any taxes. That seems to me a non-issue. I really think this is a great move.
Tom Simpson May 13, 2011 at 03:35 PM
I have an idea, why not allow the citizens (taxpayers) of Kent to vote on it. But, unlike the last election, tell the taxpayers what's up. After all, who will be paying for this project?
Dave May 13, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Is it unreasonable for the citizens to be presented with property valutation from an unbiased appraiser? Matt, could you please seek out this information? We live in Kent, OH not New York or Chicago! A tract of land less than 2 acres in size with no buildings on it does not cost 1 million dollars! I love everything going on in downtown but at the prices being discussed this is a rotten deal.
Jon Ridinger May 13, 2011 at 08:39 PM
While a vote sounds novel and democratic, after being one of less than 600 people in the entire city of Kent to vote on the west side fire station levy 2 weeks ago, holding an election for such a vote would be a huge waste of money. We already saw the $10,000 that was spent on the special recall election a little while back that was soundly defeated. This is not a big enough deal to warrant a vote in the bigger picture. I'm not excited about the city dropping over $200,000 though, but this site is the one I have liked the best and the parking could be valuable for downtown. I just hope if Jimmy Johns has to move it doesn't go far!! :) And as far as I know, the city *can* tell the county where to put the courthouse if they so choose. Kent has elected, however, to let the county make the final decision.
F. Allen May 16, 2011 at 02:17 AM
The subject parcel DOES include a building! Jimmy John's pays rent so "cash flow" analysis is a part of the appraisal. The appraiser was independant and qualified. An MAI appraiser is comparable to a CPA in the accounting industry. Other land sales to establish value were downtown Kent Acorn Alley sales along with the new Sheetz on Fairshild. The old site has size and parking issues. If the County doesn't trade with Kent, the old courthouse is auctioned off eventually. What guarantee do taxpayers have that the old site would sell for this $750,000 value. It could sell to anyone for less and then become another bar or tattoo parlor. Trade with the city and let them control it's destiny in the Entertainment District. This is a Win/Win. The county get a great site at no additional cost. The city gets more parking for downtown and the eventual old courthouse to add to their list of accomplishments.

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