By Rick Palsgrove
The city of Groveport is continuing its efforts to develop the open green space located in the historic downtown at the northeast corner of Main and Front streets.
The grassy lot, which measures a little more than a third of acre, is located between Ace Hardware and Front Street. The site was used this summer as the home of the Groveport Farmers Market on Tuesday nights.
According to Groveport Finance Director/Assistant Administrator Jeff Green, the lot is owned by the city, but is leased to Rick Foreman of Ace Hardware.
Green said the city’s preferred uses for the lot are for a restaurant and/or retail space.
Though the lot has sat vacant for several years, Green said, “We have had several discussions with various people interested in the site for a restaurant, but there’s been nothing concrete yet. One of the groups was Sunny Street Café, a breakfast/lunch restaurant. They have approved the site, but we need a franchisee.”
Green said the city has no plans to permanently keep the site as open space as a sort of “village green” for things like the Farmers Market, etc., nor to expand the nearby parking lot.
He said it is important to develop the site because it will benefit the community.
“It would create more mass in the downtown and provide new space for new businesses,” said Green.
When asked why it is taking so long to commercially develop the site, Green said it’s a combination of two things.
“One is demographics,” said Green. “Large restaurant chains typically count rooftops as a measure of market viability. Obviously, with a little over 1,500 rooftops, we might not be as appealing to many large chains. This ignores the huge jump in daytime population the city experiences every day and the number of people who commute here for work and are often leaving the community to find places to eat lunch. That’s why we¹re more suited to a smaller, more regional chain that understands the entire central Ohio market.”
He said the second factor is the cost of the space.
“Since it is new construction and will be finished to the tenant’s specifications, it will be more expensive than an older existing space elsewhere in the downtown area,” said Green.
When the site is finally developed, the city plans to retain a small bit of green space at the immediate corner of Front and Main streets, according to Green.
“There are still plans to develop the property at the corner of Front and Main for a pocket park,” said Green. “That site is part of a larger parcel so I don’t have the exact acreage of just that piece, but if I had to estimate, I’d say maybe .15 acre.”
Mayor and council viewpoints
Mayor Lance Westcamp and Groveport City Council members were asked what type of business they would like to see on the downtown site, whether or not they preferred to leave the site as green space, and what concerns they have about how long it is taking to develop the site. (Councilman Shawn Cleary was unavailable for comment as his job took him to Houston, Texas, to help with flood relief efforts.) Here are their responses:
Mayor Lance Westcamp: “From day one I’ve wanted a nice, family style restaurant there, not a sports bar, but something the whole community can enjoy. I’d like to see a building with two stories so it could have some office space upstairs. I want to see the site developed and not remain green space. We want to bring in something new. We can find another good location for the farmers market. I’m not concerned about how long it is taking to develop the site. We want it done right so it will be a long term success story for the community.”
Council President Ed Dildine: “I want to see a restaurant as an anchor for the site. Anything that goes in there should be inviting, unique and increase foot traffic which is a plus for all our businesses. It has to be a benefit to the whole community. I would not like to keep it green space. We need strong secure development to enhance our community for the residents and visitors. We don’t want to rush it. I’d rather wait to get the right fit and not something that keeps changing. Small town development of small spaces is difficult due to only having a little over 5,000 residents. Companies want to see sustainably in our market. We need to market the space as having reaching power to our entire community with both residents and corporate residents and sell it as a busy town that will support small businesses.”
Councilman Jim Beidler: “The development must sustainable for the long-term and reflect positively on our community. One idea is a casual, family style diner in that location. The green space is nice and the success of the farmers market indicates that smaller town square activities can be successful there. Those activities need a fairly central place with good visibility. The space does have that great visibility and easy parking, but lacks convenient logistical amenities such as power, water and bathrooms. A similar but better equipped town square space would be nice to have. Doing the right thing is always better than rushing into the wrong thing.”
Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert: “Finance and interest seems to be the driving force. Breakfast/lunch would fit well with our community. Franchises don¹t see the rooftops to invest. They don’t take into consideration our daytime numbers. People drive to Canal Winchester for breakfast. It would be great to have them stay in Groveport.”
Councilwoman Becky Hutson: “My vision is to develop the space into a small diner or restaurant. The future of a thriving downtown depends on that site to be developed. I am concerned the time it has taken to get there. We just need that special person who wants to invest in Groveport. For small businesses sometimes that is a financial challenge. I think leaving it as green space would not be in the city¹s best interest. I think patience will bring just the right person in to help our hometown grow.”
Councilman Scott Lockett: “The type of business is not as important as the stability of the business and what it adds to the community. There may be space for more than one business. Ideally the business is compatible with businesses already established in town. I don¹t think green space is the best use for that site. I hope we can bring in a business that will be frequented by locals on a regular basis and help create some synergy with respect to development. Development takes time. Costs associated with the development and the rent needed to make the development economically viable are factors. Our peer communities report similar experiences in terms of time lags associated with development efforts. We want to see a vibrant, active downtown with many shops, mom and pop businesses, and service providers.”