The 19th annual Kent Heritage Festival is poised to set another record for attendance this season as the city’s revitalized downtown continues to draw more and more visitors to its largest party of the year.
Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce that helps put on the family-friendly event each summer, said last year’s event was the largest and best attended “in recent history” with more than an estimated 25,000 visitors despite particularly hot weather.
Originally launched in the ’70s simply as Kent Fest, the event has become exceptionally popular, and the downtown landscape has been revamped with new shops, bars and restaurants — all of which will be ready for the wave of visitors this weekend.
The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday with various activities and 130 vendors setting up along Main, Water, Erie and Franklin streets.
This year’s event will feature about 30 bands and entertainers performing throughout the day at three outdoor stages.
Coinciding with the festival is a 5K race in the morning. A variety of games and activities for kids will be offered, including a 20-foot high rock-climbing wall (new this year) that will be located outside the Star of the West Milling Co. on North Water Street; a car cruise-in (there will be judging); and a rubber-duck race in the nearby Cuyahoga River benefitting the Kent Jaycees and featuring a cash prize.
The day’s activities will wind down with a fireworks display that goes off at 9:45 p.m.
“This is the biggest community, family-oriented event we put on here in Kent,” Wemhoff said. “With so much going on, there’s something for everybody. We encourage people to come early and stay for the fireworks.”
Parking options vary.
The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority’s Kent Central Gateway, a pay parking deck located downtown on DePeyster Street, has more than 300 open spaces.
A small parking lot on Locke Lane located behind the building housing Davey Resource Group/Panini’s Bar and Grill will be open to the public.
Meanwhile, the parking lot outside the Kent State University Fashion Museum (Rockwell Hall) on Lincoln Street will also be open. Anyone parking there can follow the Lester A. Lefton Esplanade walkway from there to downtown.