Members of the Kent State University Board of Trustees signed off on a $3.28 million project that will extend The Esplanade from campus to downtown Kent today.
The project has been in the works for several years as the university bought properties in the neighborhood west of campus so its on-campus leg of The Portage Hike and Bike Trail can continue its meandering ways into downtown Kent.
Physically, the Esplanade will leave the campus and weave a wide pedestrian path lined with open landscaping and artwork through the neighborhood. The Esplanade will terminate at Haymaker Parkway near the .
Kent State University President Lester Lefton said the project cements a physical link between the campus and the downtown business district, which is expected to become more popular after are completed, including the new hotel.
"And by linking the campus to downtown physically, this really allows parents and students and people coming out of restaurants to be able to walk through the neighborhood right onto campus without having to park or take a car," Lefton said. "And it really says downtown Kent and the university are really in a public private partnership, which we think is a very good thing. And the community feels the same."
Construction on the Esplanade extension is expected to start next spring and wrap up in late 2012 in time for the opening of the new hotel and the transit center.
The $3.28 million project total excludes the more than $3.8 million the university has spent buying land since 2007 to make the extension possible.
And Wednesday, the university trustees approved buying another piece of land in the neighborhood — the 26th purchase to date — at 205 S. Willow St. from Barbara Hartz for $210,000 for the project. That land buy brings the university's total spent buying land for the project above $4 million.
The project received a $700,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the remaining $2.58 million will come out of the President's Campus Enhancements fund, which has been used for other similar projects such as improvements to Satterfield and Bowman halls and to help establish the College of Public Health.
The city helped secure the grant thanks to the pathway's connection with The Portage and other area hike and bike paths. The Esplanade extension has been part of the city's master planning regarding the downtown redevelopment for several years.
According to the university, it has secured all the key properties necessary along the proposed path, but Kent State officials are still working on buying additional properties necessary to provide landscape buffer areas for the Esplanade extension.
The project will include the demolition of the homes bought aligning Erie Street and the parcels along the direct path between Lincoln Street and Willow Street and the removal of the existing Erie Street surface, which will be replaced with brick pavers and concrete with a prominent archway, according to the university.
The path will extend from Lincoln Street and pass through the properties within the Lincoln and Willow streets block and then follow Erie Street's current right-of-way, culminating in a large oval green along the eastern side of Haymaker Parkway. The path will include lighting, benches and emergency phones.
Eventually, Kent State will extend its along the pathway by installing more artwork in the area between campus and downtown.
"We intend to extend this sculpture walk all the way to downtown as the downtown project continues to be developed," Lefton said Wednesday.