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Group Wants to Move Sherman House to North Water Street

Proposal puts house in hands of non-profit Transportage; could serve as either visitor's center or neighborhood preservation center

A plan is forming to save the from the wrecking ball and transform it into a beacon for restoring Kent's nieghborhoods.

A group of Kent residents working to save the house, known as the Friends of the Kent-Wells Sherman House, will submit plans to city officials today on a proposal to relocate the house from 250 E. Erie St. to a small plot of land on North Water Street.

Kent architect Rick Hawksley, a leading member of the friends group, said their plan is for the non-profit organization TransPortage to take ownership of the house from .

"We would like to turn it into a neighborhood preservation center that will work on historic preservation, oriented toward sustainability based on the fact that the greenest way to build is to restore, renovate (and) preserve historic buildings," he said.

Hawksley said the supporters of the house, which has and predates the Civil War, have arranged for a purchase agreement for the land on North Water Street to serve as a permanent location for the house. The small plot of land is located between the building and the .

Hawksley said today's submission of the plans to the city for eventual review by the Kent Planning Commission is the first step in a series of submissions to city boards, including the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals and the Kent Architectural Review Board.

"We are going to be submitting to the planning commission (today), and we’ll be going to city council next Wednesday night," Hawksley said. "I can’t tell you at this date exactly what we’ll be asking for ... but we will be asking for the city’s help."

That request for help from the city could vary from either a loan or a grant to offset expenses for buying the land, building a crawl space foundation and setting the house onto it.

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said the city administration worked daily with the friends group offering feedback on potential sites and then consultation on planning, zoning, utility and other potential issues with the North Water Street site.

"We've tried to offer guidance and facilitate the development of a proposal by the friends so that council would have enough information to make an informed decision, and I feel like we've been able to do that," Ruller said in an email. "As you might imagine the friends have tried to address the issues in a way that would win council's support, and I know that the friends are hoping for a supportive recommendation from the staff as well to help bolster their request to ask for a contribution in city funds."

Ruller stopped short of saying whether or not the city can afford a financial contribution towards the restoration. He pointed to recent redevelopment projects, including for restoration of the old Kent hotel, , contributing $75,000 annually to Main Street Kent, passing architectural guidelines and becoming as evidence of the city's commitment to preservation.

"I think philosophically we think it's a good project, and we are supportive (of) the friend's effort to lead the restoration of the house," Ruller said. "I'm just not sure how much, if any, financial contribution we can afford. Ultimately, city council will make that decision at their meeting next week."

The house must be moved this summer to make way for Kent State's , which will extend west of campus from the to Haymaker Parkway.

Kent State spokesperson Emily Vincent said the university remains committed to its promise to sell the house for $1 for its restoration.

"And pay the cost of moving expenses up to $40,000 if those who want to preserve the house find a permanent location for it," she said.

Hawksley said it became clear the friends group would have to take ownership of the house after the university, city and several other groups made it clear they were uninterested in owning and maintaining the house. The ultimate end use of the house, he said, would be to serve as either a visitor's center, a hub with information on restoring and preserving Kent's neighborhoods or some combination of both.

The first floor would be semi-public with space available on a rental basis for community groups. A first-floor rear conference room would serve as a preservation center with permanent displays about the history of the house and the pre-civil war period of Kent, along with information regarding sustainability and preservation of buildings.

On the second floor, office space would be available for lease with TransPortage maintaining a small office for management of the house and other activities.

"So it would become a resource center," Hawksley said. "We hope, over time, assuming everything works out all right, it would be a visitor’s center. One of the things we found out in our research is there really is no place for someone coming into Kent to stop and get information and use a restroom if they don’t come during normal operating hours."

Whether the visitor's center concept comes to fruition depends on future potential partnerships to pay the cost of maintaining such an operation.

For now, the group is focused on getting the land in order to set the house on a foundation. Then the group will partner with the to raise money for restoration of the house, Hawksley said.

"I’m very optimistic," he said. "We will know within the next couple of weeks whether all the pieces and parts come together. We’re going on the energy that there is some good will towards what we’re doing."

Hawksley said they envision the house as a catalyst for restoring Kent's neighborhoods.

"Between the visitor’s center and a neighborhood preservation center, both of those things are needed," he said. "We really believe that the next big step after the downtown project is our neighborhoods. And it’s going to be about reinvestment, getting families to buy houses, converting rooming houses into at least nice apartment buildings if not single-family."

Tina Puckett May 31, 2012 at 08:55 PM
As President of Standing Rock Cultural Arts, I am saddened to hear of this. While I support the efforts of restoring the historic Sherman House, it seems there are better spaces that could be utilized for the move that would enhance the goals for this future property, rather than squeezing it into some of the last green space left downtown. Additionally, through programs at the North Water Street Gallery, which is the base home for SRCA, the community has benefitted by use of this space for outdoor activities. City youth have participated in art classes and outdoor rehearsals for the annual New World Children's Theater on nice spring days, as well as summer acting and writing workshops. Hula hoop workshops, the annual Jawbone Poetry Potluck, and other events have taken place in this yard and in line with our sustainability focus, community gardens thrive here. Visitors often relax and witness the beauty of Cherokee native Edwin George's beautiful mural on the wall of Scribbles Coffee. This public artwork would be nearly buried to all but a parking lot with this move. I truly hope that another space (underutilized and on a larger plot that could benefit, as well as one that is more suitable for showcasing this historic home) will become available and that the green space that we and the community have appreciated, made good use of, and cared for during our lease over these past decades can continue to be available for enjoyment, cultural arts, and arts education.
Maureen Drinkard May 31, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Of course we want to protect our valuable historic sites - especially one that has so much potential and could be a great addition a neighborhood. But, of course we want to preserve a functional and beloved green space. As the poet A. DiFranco sings -"but then what kind of scale compares the weight of two beauties"? Surely, there must be somewhere else? Of all unused vacant lots why this one? I live in that neighborhood. I appreciate the color and beautiful noises that pour out of that lot under Mr. Ingram's and his friends supervision. I and my family would be sad to see that lost. However, I know that those involved in making these decisions have Kent's best interest in mind. Is there a reason why this lot would be the best choice? For whatever it's worth - I hope they find another lot that isn't such an integral part of the culture of the makes Kent - well..... so very Kent.
Lisa Regula Meyer June 01, 2012 at 12:10 AM
There has to be another option for preserving this house. I'd hate to see such a vital part of the community and such a beautiful green space be lost.
Beth Goran June 01, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I agree!! Garden, children, swing, stage, potlucks, strawberries, flowers. I moved here last year and this valuable green space should stay as such. I really don't want to be looking right into a house from my bedroom window AND not have a garden at home :/ Maybe clsoer to the bike path somewhere? ANYwhere else?
Scout Bitterman June 01, 2012 at 04:57 PM
This stinks. Funny that Rick Hawksley would choose that small green space downtown to move the Sherman House since he lives right next to it. I remember a certain large empty parking lot between Jimmy John's and Cutting Loose that would be a very good location for the Sherman House. P.S. I hate esplanades- what a pretentious name for a sidewalk.
Chris (Kit) Myers June 02, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Why not leave it where it is?
Amber Nicole Myers June 02, 2012 at 05:00 AM
The greenspace next to Standing Rock. This kind of “unused” is clearly beautiful. Now if the project goes on, the setting is going to *get used* and abused. There are so many people in Kent trying to fill their hearts with something big; some project, some business, some mark on the world. And really, just a little peace of mind, a little emptiness and simplicity, a pause……, would take away the pain, bit by bit. And I can’t stand it. So please don’t cram it in there. History is sweet, and bitter.
Amber Nicole Myers June 02, 2012 at 05:20 AM
I have seen kids playing around there. My friends' kids! No where else like that spot. Downtown has limited space, and these people promoting this location of the project would reduce the diversity of downtown. Diversity is stability. That's what the best teachers at Kent State taught me. Lefton said the esplanade project "cements a physical link between the campus and the downtown business district." One cannot make their life like a business. Business is not life. There cannot be two healthy separate sections of life, where one is business and one is home. Anybody look at that man and tell me he is happy? Business can be an invasion of the heart, especially when it is surrounded by so much money. The case of the university is such: There is greed of money, and greed of prestige. Pressure from the University's expansion is unnacceptable. There are other ways to preserve a historical home than stressing out people and taking land they care about. Keep it a truly quality space.
Jim VandenBoom June 03, 2012 at 09:02 PM
This makes absolutely no sense on many levels. How is it this group so unaware that this space is central to this community and neighborhood? For 20 + years Standing Rock Cultural Arts has provided our children with workshops and performances on this lot. And you want to squash that with a house? What about about aesthetics, squeezing and altering the lot? And would your solution for covering up the colorful mural be, to relocate the work of native American, Edwin George? "They envision the house as a catalyst for restoring Kent's neighborhoods." Putting this house here would destroy the creative spirit that has served our children and neighborhood for decades. What are the alternatives? What about the arboretum across from the high school, with the old historic cabin?
Chris (Kit) Myers June 04, 2012 at 01:01 PM
I still think it should be left near its present location, perhaps in the large green area where the Esplanade meets Haymaker Parkway. It will have visibility for people driving on Haymaker and will be readily available to all the people staying at the Kent State Hotel and Conference Center who are walking to the university for whatever reason they are going there. I would think that the university would welcome a historic building on the esplanade as a gateway from downtown to the campus.
Chris (Kit) Myers June 04, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Yeah, Lefton & Company's vision of the esplanade was to plunk the Mae Prentiss house down at 220 South Willow, crooked on the back of the lot, where it is going to sit in it's present configuration, right next to my beautiful home for Kent State students. Lefton can't even manage to cut the grass and weeds. Ah, yes, "Excellence in Action!" There are things that are legal but that a person of good conscience would never do to someone else. You know, Ms. Burnell, nobody cares until something like this happens to them. I do not believe the City of Kent should put a penny into the Kent-Wells Sherman house. I saved a century home on Dodge Street that was ready for the wrecking-ball. I went to the bank, borrowed money, and labored for three years. If Mr. Hawksley and people like yourself want it restored, get private donations, borrow money from the bank, get your hammers, saws, and nails, and go to work. Don't grub for money from the City of Kent. Work for what you want. A little sweat won't melt you. It used to be the American way. I don't know; perhaps you aren't old enough to remember.
Chris (Kit) Myers June 04, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Not permanent? Guess again, Ms. Burnell! I have taken it up with the university and have been told by Mr. Tom Euclide that that configuration is EXACTLY, except for being lowered onto a foundation, how it is going to remain. I asked Mr. Euclide how he would like that next to him. He responded, "I wouldn't." Excellence in Action. I ask, how would you like it next to you? Some people may consider, and I'm sure you are not one of them, to consider my tenants to be "just students," but they are hard-working young people who are busting their butts to get an education. Who cares about them? Me, that's who! Re: The Kent Wells Sherman house. You are going to rent and lease parts of it? You are going to bring in money from it? Then why can't it pay for itself?
Chris (Kit) Myers June 04, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I assumed from the outset that since you are so well able to use the English language, you are a person of intelligence. I don't think that most people with that capability are student bashers. Note that I said "most." I still believe that you should go to the bank and borrow the money that you need. If the university will give you forty grand to move it, then all you need is the money to plant it, run utility lines, and renovate it. Fifty grand should be adequate with volunteers doing all the renovation work, unless you have visions of making it some sort of a palace. Twenty grand should be more than adequate for a foundation and utility work. If you can't do the interior work and put on a roof (if necessary) with volunteer labor for thirty grand, there is something wrong. I assume that it being a restoration, you are not going to make a bunch of changes to the interior other than perhaps adding bathrooms. There are licensed plumbers who won't charge you an arm and a leg or make you sign away your first-born child. There are even reasonable electricians. Check to see what part of the work you can do yourselves with their supervision. Explore for good deals. Talk to Howard Boyle at Hometown Bank about loans. Does your organization have a legal status to apply for a loan? Do not despair. Do your homework! If your offer to purchase the property is not finalized, the unhappy present users can always make a better offer. I wonder why they don't.
Tina Puckett June 05, 2012 at 04:57 AM
To answer Mr. Myers's question, Standing Rock Cultural Arts has never inquired about purchasing the land because it was permitted for use with the gallery's lease the past 20 years and we have subsequently handled care of it. Also as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we, like many other nonprofits, generally limit expenses to put more funding toward our goal of cultural arts programming for the community, often at free events so that art will be available to the entire community regardless of income or economic need. These are some of the reasons we've never even thought to seek purchase in the past. It's unfortunate that a better location with more space and a better solution for the community cannot be found, particularly due to apparent refusals in unused vacant lots. I find it incredibly disappointing and know others who value green space downtown do as well. It may well go the route of the beautiful historic sycamores that were removed in the name of progress as North Water is left with less and less beauty. Truly saddening.
Amber Nicole Myers June 11, 2012 at 06:00 AM
I just don't know why a civil war era house, that was built on that site for a reason, is more important than the present going ons next to Standing Rock. Civil war this, civil war that, has anyone ever seen a plantation re-enactment? How 'bout one of Kent State or of a Tree getting napalmed? Why are we so civil war heavy in this country. I know it was recent. I know it was a physical clash, an animosity and psychological erruption so intense that it does warrant a deep hole in our americna consciousness. World knows this particular town loooves war. Maybe this house wasn't having anything to do with battle, maybe the underground rr. But the underground railroad is about freedom. Our university is not about freedom. Freedom to our university is, here you move this there and that. Let the university show its true colors. Let them demolish the thing and have the rubble on their hands. They might, why take responsibility for their actions and wishes? Such a steep cost to normals. And such an easy cost to them? It costs something like..... 4 - 5 grand for a student to go to school per semester... and 2000 or 3000 for a fancy room on campus somewhere... for a semester. The numbers are just not adding up. The numbers are not adding up for this house.
Amber Nicole Myers June 11, 2012 at 06:00 AM
The underground railroad is important... but I didn't even know that this house existed before this posting. I wasn't educated on it in orientation or anything during college? I mean what is my education going to be anyway? That houses for business are better than open spaces for relief from them? I would implore you all not to take resposibilty for the university's actions, however important and relic like this house is to the area. Save what you should and be done with it.
Fred Pierre June 17, 2012 at 02:50 AM
I'm wondering why TransPortage is involved in destroying greenspace. I didn't know that the mission of TransPortage was to save historic houses at the expense of open space. Seems like the priorities are out of balance. I understand that private property owners can sell to anyone and that is a private transaction, but when public money is involved we should all have a say. I just enjoyed a wonderful picnic in the open space in question - everyone that passed by was welcomed and shared watermelon with us. Kids were playing on the hill next to the blueberry bushes and community garden plantings. The solar panels were collecting sunshine to power the art space. Why is it so important for some people to destroy this?
Lisa Regula Meyer June 17, 2012 at 10:47 AM
Because "there's no other option." Some people fail to recognize that failure to find a suitable alternative does not mean settle for an unsuitable alternative, but instead means realize that sometimes you don't get your way. That, and the fact that the people who want to save this house have money and power in this city means they get their way, and no one gets to stop them. Oddly, even though this keeps being touted as a TransPortage project, it's not listed on their website, and only once on their Facebook page. Instead, discussion about plans for the house go on in a closed Facebook group, private emails, and out of the public eye, even while they're requesting public support and resources.

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