June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Medina officials look east for inspiration on economic development

MEDINA — City officials are hoping to learn new ways of spurring economic development from what has happened in Kent.

Dan Smith, Kent’s economic development director, told members of the Medina City Development Corp. on Tuesday that his city has encouraged $106 million worth of new construction projects within several years.

One of the many projects under way in downtown Kent is the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, scheduled to open in the spring, shown in this artist’s rendering. Medina officials are looking at Kent as an example of how to encourage more economic development. (COURTESY IMAGE)

“We’ve had 20 grand openings over the past 16 months,” Smith said.

The projects have created 950 jobs in two years, he said.

In downtown Kent, the projects include a 96-unit hotel and conference center, two corporate headquarters, new retail space and a central transit hub and parking deck. Kent received a $20 million federal grant to help fund the transit center.

Smith said the projects have had a domino effect, where one developer’s investment encourages others to renovate and expand.

As an example, he cited the Kent Hotel — a building that Smith called a “30-year monument to blight” — that is being turned into a restaurant, apartments, retail and office space.

Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell agreed that success breeds success.

“If we had the opportunity to start a couple small projects, I think that would promote future projects,” the mayor said.

Hanwell said it’s always useful to look at what other communities are doing.

Medina and Kent share many similarities.

Kent has a population of about 28,000 — only about 2,000 more than Medina.

Both cities also have historic downtowns with many shops and offices.

“I think it’s cool to walk around Medina; I think it’s cool to walk around Kent,” Smith said. “You have to sell what makes your community special.”

One big difference between the cities is Kent State University, which has an enrollment of about 28,000 students on its main campus.

Hanwell said that even though Medina doesn’t have a university, advantages to the city include longstanding businesses, the historic square and several hospitals.

“Obviously, it’s pretty helpful when you have Kent State University in your backyard,” said Kimberly Rice, Medina’s economic development director.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.