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GAMBIER — Two of three new Gaskin Avenue retail storefronts that are nearly completed and part of a $21 million project will soon open, coinciding with the return of Kenyon College students to campus this weekend as they prepare to start their next semester.
The two new storefronts on Gaskin, at East Brooklyn Street, will join the Gambier Deli beside them, another new building which re-opened Jan. 3 after a one-year hiatus. It sits beside the Kenyon Bookstore, which re-opened in March of last year after a year’s worth of remodeling. The bookstore was part of the old Farr Hall. The Gambier Deli was also part of the old Farr Hall, and a door frame with Farr Hall’s street address is part of the new deli space in recognition of its former home there.
The three new retail spaces all contain student apartments on their upper floors — as well as uses on their lower levels, including a soon-to-open Chilitos Fresh Mex and Margaritas restaurant, a venture from Jose Avalos, owner of two Fiesta Mexicana restaurants in Mount Vernon. The other building at the corner of Gaskin Avenue and East Brooklyn Street will house student radio station WKCO. The already-open Gambier Deli has a lower level containing a small office suite with three offices that the college will use, as well as public restrooms.
All of the properties are owned by Kenyon, and the college’s chief business officer, Mark Kohlman, gave a brief report about their progress to the Gambier Village Council during their regular meeting Monday. He noted that new furniture was being placed in the buildings, and offered that the overall reaction to the storefronts, including the deli, has been positive. The Gaskin renovation project is being completed by Pepper Construction, a long-time Chicago-based building company with two Ohio locations, including Dublin.
However, not all pubic officials are pleased with all aspects of the $21 million Kenyon-owned project. Betsy Heer, the Gambier Village Council’s new president, said contractors’ vehicles have been parked “all over Gaskin (Avenue)” as well as north of Brooklyn Street, instead of a designated lot assigned them. Mayor Kachen Kimmell said the result has been obstructed views, a concern with students returning. Kohlman said he would talk to Pepper Construction about the issue.
Heer also stated her objection regarding the two newest street-level retail spaces on Gaskin. She said Kenyon College had agreed to have them be retail spaces — from the onset. Instead, both will provide student study spaces while the new Kenyon Commons Library, which is not set for completion until July 2020, is finished. One of those storefronts will have Chilito’s restaurant opening on its lower level, and the other the student radio station. Heer said that is not what the college told the village Planning and Zoning Commission.
Heer, who owns Gambier House Bed & Breakfast, addressed her concerns to Kohlman during the village council meeting.
“I will renew my objection to the use of two street-level spaces as study spaces because they were promised to us as retail spaces and now, for the foreseeable future, they will not be retail spaces. I feel that we were given a raw deal,” she said.
Kohlman did not respond to Heer’s comments directly. After the meeting, he said given the length of time needed to construct the library, it was necessary to “swing in” more study space for students in lieu of not having a library. Once the Kenyon Commons Library is completed, the two spaces will become retail spaces, he said.
Kenyon is also building a West Quad project near the library, expected for completion by December 2021, and an underground parking structure expected for completion around the same time.