The building in question as it currently is. Submitted photo
Editor’s note: Mike Beder is a member of The Portager board of advisers. Beyond giving an interview to our reporter, Beder had no input whatsoever over how we covered this story.
Longtime Kent businessman Mike Beder has recently opened Kent Sportswear on South Water Street, selling university-themed apparel to the student market returning this fall.
The location, at 125 S. Water St., between City Bank Antiques and the alley next to Woodsy’s, has a brick facade and large windows, with wooden frames he painted in Kent State’s trademark blue and gold.
And those colors, according to the city’s Architectural Review Board, are a problem.
During the ARB’s Aug. 3 meeting, Beder requested permission to move his business’s signage, pointing out that a tree in front of the building obscures it. Instead of the sign’s placement over the door or windows, Beder petitioned for placement on the brick wall beside those features, high enough so passers by could not damage it while at the same time providing an attractive spot for selfies he said students take all over town.
Beder, who also owns Kent’s Water Street Tavern and the Venice Cafe, told the board he has over 20 years of dealing with the many ways passersby can disturb and vandalize signage if it is within their reach.
The ARB ultimately granted Beder’s proposal, but it remains unhappy with his blue and gold paint job.
Board member Howard Boyle called the colors “additional and unapproved advertising,” and said the ARB must maintain the integrity of the building and the surrounding area.
Blue and gold, the board agreed, does not provide the required visual aesthetic. Board members suggested other color schemes and even offered painting advice for the upper story windows. Beder reminded the board that he rents the storefront from Bill Arthur, who owns the building, and that he has no control over the upper floors.
“Does this board want to go on record that KSU blue and yellow is not welcome in downtown Kent?” Beder asked.
“We have responsibility to the integrity of the building and those nearby. The blue and yellow would not fit in,” he was told.
Noting that the surrounding businesses are not painted in Kent State colors, board members maintained that having one building different from its neighbors is a big issue.
Accusing the board of acting subjectively, Beder said, “There wasn’t a big line in front of me or behind me to set up retail downtown so if this is how retail is greeted, I don’t think that’s a great message, either.”
“There are some norms that we’ve dealt with for years, and some of us would like to maintain that,” Boyle replied.
According to Kent’s recently updated zoning code, the ARB is tasked with reviewing “all new construction, structural or cosmetic modifications to a building’s exterior, and all permanent signs not in the public right-of-way that are located within an Architectural Design Review Overly District.”
Where zoning or building permits are required for a given project, the ARB must issue a Certificate of Appropriateness before the city may issue the permit. The ARB must review all proposed projects, building modifications, modifications to existing signage and all new signage.
Additionally, the ARB “must advise the city of any efforts which should be considered directed at the protection of local historic or architecturally significant resources.” It may also provide non-binding advisory comments to any project.
Beder told the ARB that the downtown area is better termed “eclectic” than historic, and he stated his intent to appeal his case and the ARB’s scope to city council.
“I think the board suffers from a lack of guidance as to what they’re allowed to have opinions on, and what they should be just rubber stamping. The whole process is extremely subjective, and I think this is a great example of it to the point where they don’t feel Kent State blue and yellow is appropriate in the downtown area,” Beder said in an interview.
Neither Boyle nor Development Planner Heather Heckman, who also serves as ARB coordinator, could be reached for comment.