The Buckeye Candy building will have new life as an extension of Kenyon in downtown Mount Vernon, spurred by grants from the Ariel Foundation and pending final approval by the Kenyon College Board of Trustees in April.
Kenyon will invest in the purchase and renovation of the three-story building at 400 S. Main St. The Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County also is supporting the project. The 18,000-square-foot building is now owned by Mark Ramser, a Knox County businessman and community leader.
Kenyon will establish a community engagement office on the first floor and will use the upper floors for academic programs. A new name for the building will be discussed.
The landmark building also will serve as the new home of the Science Play-Space Initiative – the children’s science-based attraction also known as SPI Spot. SPI Spot will occupy most of the first floor.
President Sean Decatur has made community engagement a priority of his administration, and he praised the team approach that is making the renovation and reuse of the building a reality. “Kenyon very much appreciates the guiding hand and generosity of the Ariel Foundation, the support of the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County, and the foresight and community commitment of Mark Ramser.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for Kenyon that also bolsters downtown Mount Vernon,” Decatur said. “We are a good neighbor. And we know that a thriving local community helps make Kenyon an attractive destination for students arriving here from around the country and around the world. As a scientist, I’m pleased that Kenyon will have an ongoing relationship with SPI Spot.”
Jan Reynolds, Ariel Foundation director, said the project represents a meaningful convergence of educational institutions downtown, where Kenyon joins the Central Ohio Technical College and Mount Vernon Nazarene University with an academic presence accented by a lasting home for SPI Spot.
“We’re excited that the building, which is a downtown gateway, is going to be restored and utilized in this way with Kenyon College,” Reynolds said. A “driving force” for the foundation was arriving at a permanent home for SPI Spot. “Kenyon is the perfect partner for them,” she said. “We see SPI Spot as an important part of the downtown and its continued growth. They’ve always had big dreams and big ideas, and we have been right there with them from the beginning.”
SPI Spot will move from 225-227 S. Main St. and will have room for its Discovery Space as well as additional programming including exhibits, camps and after-school opportunities, said Lori Beach, president of the nonprofit organization’s board of directors. “This gives us a permanent location, which we’re thrilled to have,” Beach said. “It’s going to be a space that’s designed to meet our needs and the needs of the community.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be partnering with Kenyon and its science departments,” Beach said. “We’re excited to be able to bring Kenyon into our focus of providing science, technology, engineering and math concepts to the community.”
Sam Barone ’72, executive director of the community foundation, called the restoration plan “a bold initiative” that will create an important venue for interaction between Kenyon and the Knox County community. "The community foundation has been engaged since 2006 in the reshaping of South Main Street for educational purposes,” Barone said. “We are now pleased to partner with Kenyon College and other community funders by investing in the restoration of the Buckeye Candy building.”
The Kelser-Dowds Co. opened the brick, concrete and steel building for its wholesale grocery business in 1910. The building was sold to the Buckeye Candy and Tobacco Co. about 60 years later. Ramser bought the building about 10 years ago with an eye on preservation and eventual redevelopment. He has replaced the roof.
“I’m really pleased with what’s going to happen,” Ramser said. “It’s kind of an iconic building. I’ve been looking for just the right long-term use for it and to see it return it to its full potential. I’m very happy it will be renovated and done properly and will have a public purpose. This is a good way for Kenyon to become involved, in a physical sense, in downtown Mount Vernon.”
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis sees the development as a means to strengthen the community. He became familiar with the building as a child when his parents ran a grocery store in Danville and bought wholesale products there. “This building now has a future in our community,” he said. “This is a noticeable building on the main artery into downtown. I’m embracing this with a great deal of enthusiasm. With SPI Spot, this is a good thing.”
With the other institutions of higher learning, Kenyon now has “a face on Main Street,” he said. “Even though our relationship with Kenyon College has always been wonderful, the connection was never as good as this can make it. This is something that works.”