Kent -- The last time U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood visited Kent was July 9, 2010.
Back then, all that existed of the redevelopment of the downtown area was the first phase of developer Ron Burbick's Acorn Alley.
On March8, LaHood again set foot in Kent, this time to tour the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority's Kent Central Gateway project, a multimodal transit center at the corner of Erie and DePeyster streets.
The cavernous $26 million brick and concrete facility is one local officials hope will be a tie that binds the Kent community and Kent State University to destinations such as Akron, Cleveland and Youngstown.
It will provide a transfer point for bus riders, home for new retail businesses, more downtown parking for Kent residents and visitors, and is expected to bring approximately 700 jobs to the city.
Starting on the parking deck of the Central Gateway's third floor, Kent, KSU and PARTA officials and local media joined LaHood on a 15-minute tour of the facility. LaHood briefly passed through a room full of workers in hard hats taking a lunch break and thanked them for their work.
In brief remarks inside the bus bay on the ground floor, LaHood praised Kent, PARTA and the construction workers for their commitment to the project.
According to PARTA, the construction project -- scheduled to be completed this summer -- already has created more than 260 jobs.
"This project is proof that the stimulus worked," LaHood said, referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. "It is also proof the stimulus helped put a lot of people to work, not only here in Kent but across Ohio."
LaHood also thanked U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, Kent's congressman, for making a "courageous" vote on the stimulus during hard economic times, a vote he said was "not popular" with everyone. However, he said the stimulus has put thousands of people to work.
He said Ryan, with whom he served on the House Appropriations Committee prior to becoming Secretary of Transportation, called him to inquire about getting economic stimulus money for his district.
A former GOP congressman, LaHood joked he was "delighted to have played a small part, in taking Tim Ryan's phone call," and also joked after neglecting to introduce Ryan that he "couldn't think of anything else good to say about him."
Ryan said working with LaHood was a pleasure and praised him as a "visionary leader."Ryan also said the Kent Central Gateway "should not be a one-time, 'look-what-we-did' project."
"For 30 years in Ohio, people have been leaving their communities. We've given them a reason to come back," he said.
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