With little public fanfare, the 365 public parking spaces in PARTA's Kent Central Gateway transit center opened downtown Tuesday.
The bus transfer and commercial spaces in the deck have yet to open, but many Kent residents and business owners cheered the opening of the parking spaces virtually with "likes" and positive feedback spreading like wildfire on social media.
Frank Hairston, director of marketing for PARTA, said drivers who pulled into the deck when it opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday flashed the thumbs up to transit authority administrators gathered for the early opening.
"If you go online, everybody’s saying that ‘Hey I get a parking space downtown!'" Hairston said. "And they’re all happy right now. There’s still work going on the transit side of it, but the parking is done."
Drivers will have free access to the deck's five parking levels through May and possibly into early June, as PARTA is awaiting delivery and then installation of the pay collection machines that will manage the deck.
Rates for parking have not yet been determined, Hairston said.
"We’re in the final stage of doing that," he said. "We should have the rates in two to three weeks."
The bus transit operation in the deck is not expected to open until July in order to give PARTA time to train its drivers and staff on the deck operations.
As for commercial tenants, PARTA will put a contract out to bid in May for a management firm to operate the commercial spaces on the ground floor of the deck that face Erie Street.
Along with the new parking comes a new traffic signal that will be installed at the intersection of Erie Street and Haymaker Parkway.
Kent City Engineer Jim Bowling said the new stoplight is under construction now and should be running in June.
For now, Erie Street between Haymaker Parkway and South DePeyster Street remains closed.
"We don’t plan on opening Erie Street until the light is up and functioning," Bowling said.
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