Headway made in Town Center Plan

Though officials and planners could not pin down a timeline or costs of the Grove City Town Center Plan at a meeting on July 14, they assured the public that plans are moving ahead.

About 60 residents, business owners and public officials attended the meeting at Evans Senior Center to hear more about a proposed downtown renovation plan that had been publicly launched Feb. 21. The meeting addressed critical pieces to the plan, including renovating the core of Grove City, developing the lumberyard site and the future plans of the Grove City Library, a branch of Southwest Public Libraries.

"This is exciting," said Mayor Ike Stage. "Any time we talk about things to keep the community healthy, it’s got to be exciting."

Public officials and project planners hesitated to nail down costs of renovating downtown Grove City and development of the lumberyard as well as a timeline when residents could expect to see changes. According to Stage, the early phase of renovation has already begun, with small aesthetic changes. Monday’s meeting, Stage said, was based on concepts and nothing is set in stone.

Frank Elmer of Lincoln Street Studio, a design and planning firm based in Columbus, presented findings based on surveys and assessments done since the beginning of the year. According to Elmer, Grove City’s town center is not competing well with other retail and business locations, and it "lacks critical mass."

The city’s downtown isn’t the only downtown suffering. In Ohio, Elmer said, research shows there is between an 11 and 12 percent vacancy rate in shopping centers compared to 8 percent nationally. Internet retail shopping has increased by between 20 and 25 percent per year, but women’s apparel shopping is down 5 percent. Job growth that has increased in the past 10 years has been seen mainly in the service industries.

According to local merchants surveyed, Elmer said, retail development is not the answer for the future of the town center. Instead, local merchants look at the existing offer of the downtown’s stores, which are lacking market and lacking a mix of businesses that would draw in customers.

Surprisingly, Elmer said, shoppers have a more positive outlook than merchants.

"They believe the town center to be clean and safe," he said. "They are proud of the historical heritage; they appreciate town center entertainment options, believe eating and drinking establishments are the largest draw, with the library coming in second, and they do not perceive parking to be a problem."

Assessments Lincoln Street uncovered during the research included land use, building and property value and conditions, under-performing real estate, zoning and non-conforming uses and buildings. The company also broke the area down into districts, to better identify strengths and weaknesses.

According to Elmer, areas of improvement would include new or improved streets and pathways, new and improved parks, improved pedestrian circulations, new and improved public parking as well as new housing.

"We are doing this plan to facilitate and embrace redevelopment," Elmer said. "There is a lot of land area that is suited for redevelopment and should be redeveloped."

Lincoln Street determined that the vision of the project is that Grove City can be "an old town center, the heart of the community, and could be one of the great urban neighborhoods in central Ohio."

The vision also entails Grove City being "a vibrant place with civic flavor, where people live, work, shop and play," according to Elmer.

He reiterated the goals of the plan include maintaining the historical downtown character, enhancing economical vitality and addressing the change in context in how residents live, work, shop, play and learn.

No numbers or timeline have been determined, according to Elmer. But, he cited the renovation project would take less than $8 million, including buying property, and may take between five and six years to complete.

Several planners of the lumberyard site project presented ideas to audience members and public officials.

"We believe the project is for citizens of Grove City but has to be designed and built to be an attractive venue for not only Grove City residents to enjoy but for others as well," said Mo Dioun of Stonehenge Company, a developer based out of Gahanna. Stonehenge developed the Creekside Project in Gahanna and according to Dioun, Grove City could benefit from a similar project.

To be successful, the project must include the creation of white collar jobs in the Broadway corridor, as well as upscale housing near the lumberyard site. Dioun also said that by moving the Grove City Library the lumberyard site could see much growth.

Dioun estimated 126,000 square feet would be developed at the lumberyard site, with about 26,000 square feet used for retail space.

Tony Slanec, associate and urban redevelopment market leader with Bird-Houk Collaborative of Columbus, said about 2.5 acres are available for development at the lumberyard site. According to Gary Sebach, managing partner of Bird-Houk and director of architectural services, about 14,000 square feet could house office space or conference room space, and the library could take up about 39,000 square feet. Another 43,000 square feet could hold business incubators or more office space.

"The architecture is really about framing space but also about connectivity," Sebach said.

The open space around the proposed facilities at the lumberyard site could hold endless possibilities, said Slanec. He listed off streetscapes on Park Street and Grove City Road, which would include trees, benches, decorative lights and pavement, as well as a stage area or amphitheater which could provide a venue for all types of events.

Officials and project planners addressed questions on funding and budgets raised by audience members. The lumberyard project would have to include public and private investment, according to Elmer.

"Public investment will be crucial in getting private money," Elmer added.

As far as private development, Dioun added that once the city believes the lumberyard project is advantageous, officials will begin crunching numbers.

According to Stage, the city has given attorneys until Oct. 16 to come up with agreements, which are needed before the project officially begins. City officials will give the State of the City at the lumberyard site Oct. 16.

After hearing a presentation on the necessity of the public library by Kyle Rauch, city’s planning and development officer, Stage further addressed the issue of a financial plan.

"You’ve got to have a budget," he said. "Part of it has to be done by the end of October."

The next step, Stage said, is to have more public meetings and input on both the town center renovation plan and lumberyard site development project.

"I am very confident that we will do something major to develop the lumberyard and town center," Stage said.

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