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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 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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