By Lori Smith
A vision for downtown Pickerington, including a mix of commercial, residential and public space, could soon come to fruition.
At the May 15 Pickerington City Council meeting, Aaron Domini with OHM Advisors presented an update on the Pickerington Downtown Plan, which was initiated by the city in 2017.
“This is an exercise that many communities are going through,” Domini said. “At the end of the day, the downtown really functions as your heart, no matter what community you live in.”
He said the company set a goal of creating something actionable with vision and direction, or “a blueprint for the next 10-20 years. It’s important to have that blueprint in place so you know where you’re going.”
Over the last year, planners hosted five steering committee and two public meetings, as well as small group meetings and a community survey. All told, Domini said, more than 1,000 participated in sharing their vision for downtown Pickerington.
“We listened, we learned, and those things formed the plan,” Domini said.
According to the plan, the official vision is that, “Downtown Pickerington will be the civic, cultural and historic heart of the Pickerington community, offering a vibrant, fun, attractive, inviting and walkable atmosphere that serves as a place for people to gather and for local businesses to prosper.”
The first phase of the program includes organization, branding and communication, Domini explained.
“You have a lot of people trying to work toward the same thing,” he said, noting business owners, village associations and city staff may be duplicating their efforts. He suggested that the city re-evaluates how they are working together with those groups and unite with a core focus.
He recommended hiring a paid director who can dedicate efforts to the revitalization project full-time.
“Volunteers are great, but you have to find somebody who is invested,” Domini urged.
He said the first phase also includes building the image, brand and identity of downtown, and spreading the word about what is going on in Pickerington.
While the first phase gets underway, Domini noted, initiatives from the second phase should be taken into consideration as the next steps for the project.
“The key is to get a series of small successes moving forward,” he explained.
The second phase of the plan focuses more on reactivating and investing in the community, and steps will including creating and enhancing public and private gathering spaces; identifying and promoting higher and better uses for under-utilized properties; betting connecting downtown to surrounding neighborhoods and amenities; promoting new development and infill development; protecting the characteristics central to downtown’s identity; and better utilizing parking areas, or developing more in key areas.
The plan is divided into three focus areas, including the historic core, the gateway into downtown from Hill Road, and the vacant land north of the railroad. The nearby parks are also a key part of the plan, Domini said, and are a great asset to the downtown area.
The plan recommends the first focus area, in the historic core, should highlight the historical society and the Carnegie Library with new green space at the corner of Columbus and North Center streets, creating a central hub for community gathering. Buildings should be oriented toward the street with parking in the rear, and pedestrian connections should be prioritized.
They recommend this project begin with the relocation of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, as well as facilitating property acquisition along Columbus Street, either by a community investment corporation or private developer.
The second focus area, north of the railroad, is already owned by the city. For now, according to the plan, it should continue as the site of the farmer’s market and serve the downtown businesses as overflow parking. Eventually, the site could be considered for new residential town homes and other mixed-use development, while maintaining civic spaces such as a pavilion for a covered farmer’s market to create a natural draw of residents and visitors to the area and the downtown core.
The third focus area, the gateway into downtown from Hill Road, sets the tone for the downtown area, Domini said. Positioning buildings close to the street, creating an enhanced streetscape and adding directional signage will add a sense of arrival to the intersection. Carefully regulating new development with minimum setbacks, parking located in the rear, appropriate signage and pedestrian amenities will be key, he said.
“A healthy downtown means a healthy community,” Domini concluded. “You have the plan, now is the time to start making investments in this area.”
Pickerington resident Lonnie Rush, a former downtown business owner, told council, “I think all these plans are great.” However, he cautioned council that expanding the alleys to allow for deliveries is a must, because there is not enough road space in the downtown area for trucks to stop.
“Bottom line is you can’t get any freight or deliveries to those businesses,” he said. “The city of Pickerington has to fix that problem.”
Council Vice President Mike Sabatino agreed, and said, “These are a lot of great ideas but now come the what-ifs.”
Council President Jeff Fix asked Domini how much of an investment the city will be looking at funding.
“I think it depends on how big you want to dream,” Domini responded, and suggested that setting aside $500,000 for the project would be a good place to start.
Mayor Lee Gray said there is a lot of public interest in this topic, and the meeting to consider the next steps should include more than an hour to devote to the plans. The topic will be revisited at the June 12 Planning and Zoning meeting, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Pickerington City Hall, 100 Lockville Road.