Kent Station has brought shoppers back to the city, but some downtown merchants feel left out of the business boom. Can two new projects revitalize historic downtown? City planners and developers think so.

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Kent Station, the $100 million movie-restaurant-and-retail complex is the first act in a downtown revitalization that has jump-started the city’s once languishing business center.

But some downtown merchants feel like they are missing out as customers flock to Kent Station and stay there.

Few venture to the old downtown two blocks away, and many business owners are asking whether they are in the midst of a one-sided revitalization.

Now city planners and developers have begun work on two projects to link Kent Station and the old downtown whose “good bones” helped draw developers in the first place.

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The 5.5-acre site between Smith and Harrison streets and Second and Fourth avenues will be developed by a private company and the city to encourage pedestrians to go back and forth between the divided shopping districts.

“We want to continue to stitch together the old downtown with Kent Station so they become self-supportive of each other,” Economic Development Director Ben Wolters said.

Project Springboard, the private piece of the development, will include a hotel-condo building and a 350-stall parking garage estimated to cost a total of $40 million, the developer says. The garage, under construction by Plan B Development of Bellevue, will include at least 70 public spaces. It is to be completed in July.

Bridging the gap

City leaders and developers have a new vision for the area that divides Kent Station and historic downtown: a place where out-of-towners will spend weekends, locals will call home and community members will gather. Project Springboard and Town Square Plaza, between Second and Fourth avenues and Harrison and Smith streets, are the building blocks for this vision.

Here’s a look at what is planned:

Project Springboard: The first phase of this private development is a four-and-a-half-story parking garage, under construction on the west end of the site. It is to include 350 parking spaces and street-level shops, said Ben Errez, CEO of Plan B Development, the developer of the site. A five-story building with 80 condos, a 64-room Wyndham Hotel and retail space could start construction in July.

Cost: $40 million

Expected completion: The parking garage should be done in July, Errez said, and the hotel-condo project could be completed in late 2008.

Town Square Plaza: A 35,000-square-foot plaza on the east end of the 5.5-acre site. The City Council accepted a $3.4 million bid from J.V. Constructors last week. The plaza is to include a concert venue, an interactive water fountain and seating.

Cost: $3.4 million

Expected completion: Construction will begin in May and will be completed in fall.

So much is riding on the success of Project Springboard, but some are concerned about delays on the project. The parking garage is months behind schedule, and Wolters said construction on the hotel and condos is taking “more time than Plan B originally suggested.”

Plan B, which recently changed the project design, said it should begin building the hotel and condos after the garage is done.

The city’s piece of the project, Town Square Plaza, is a 35,000-square-foot park that will include a fountain on the east end of the block. Construction is to begin next month.

The city has budgeted $70,000 to create more pedestrian-friendly space, such as kiosk directories, additional landscaping and places to sit.

Joe Blattner, president of Kent Station developer Tarragon, said he supports plans to improve the shopping center’s connection to old downtown.

Like many old cities, Blattner said, Kent has “good bones” — a structured downtown, easy to navigate streets and a sense of character and identity.

“Kent Station was created as a district of downtown,” Blattner said. “We wanted people to wander in without seeing an obvious distinction.”

Kent’s 85,000 residents once skipped downtown on their way to shop in Tukwila or Seattle. Since Kent Station opened, they have returned.

But the shopping center’s success has created mixed feelings among business owners in the old downtown. Some feel they are cut off from shoppers flocking to Kent Station, but others see the shopping center as a much-needed boost.

“It’s like a whole new world over there,” said Jim Krier, owner of Bittersweet restaurant on First Avenue South.

Krier and other downtown business owners are paying close attention to Project Springboard and Town Square Plaza. The completion of these projects, Krier said, will determine how well the city’s future is connected to its past.

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