By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — About 50 residents turned out Tuesday night to record their ideas and thoughts about what downtown Mount Vernon should look like in the next 10 to 20 years.
Calling the workshop the “first and long time coming” meeting to determine what the downtown area will look like, Jeff Harris, president of the Area Development Foundation of Knox County, said private investors have put $38 million into the downtown area since 2010. “That's private investment only, not city investment or county investment. That's colleges, businesses and philanthropic groups.
Jason Study talks about the need for a downtown plan at Wednesday's public focus group at the Memorial Building - KP Photo
“But right now we don't have much of a vision to say what should go in the downtown area, or what investment should be made in the downtown,” he said, noting, for example, that residents might not want to locate a tattoo parlor next to living space.
Jason Study and Conor Willis of OHM Advisors, a Columbus-based community advancement firm, led the interactive session. Study said the downtown is “an amazing connector between the past and present,” and that Mount Vernon's downtown is ahead of other communities with the presence of world-renowned learning institutions, Ariel-Foundation Park and an interesting, and unusual, well-blended mix of industrial, agricultural and commercial.
OHM was hired by the Mount Vernon Development Company, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, with a grant from the Ariel Foundation.
Willis reviewed four trends that are shaping Mount Vernon and other communities nationwide:
*Walkability – desire for
*Change in household structure – 72 percent of households in 2015 had no children
*Growth in senior households
*Stability of area employment
Dividing the downtown into five areas, Study told participants to “think about businesses that could be here, places you could shop and places you could live.” The five areas are:
*West High Street, the “front door” to the city from I-71
*The old middle/high school site on Mulberry Street
*Surrounding neighborhoods, south of High Street to Ariel-Foundation Park
*Ariel-Foundation Park, difficult to get there from downtown
“Think of things you want, things you don't want to damage, things you want to change or alter to make the downtown a better place,” he said.
Participants wrote down ideas and suggestions on panels labeled with the five areas. They used red, yellow and green dots to mark areas or buildings they feel need to be severely repurposed or razed, improved or left alone. The also were asked to prioritize themes for the downtown. The top two were economic development through a mix of uses (repurposing) and implement a coordinated traffic strategy.
Following are a few ideas and suggestions the group made:
*Small grocery for walkable errands on the west side
*Embrace agricultural history with the feed mill
*Demo old school
*Turn old school into affordable housing
*Turn old school into an indoor market/mall
*Connect Ariel-Foundation Park to the west end via a walk/bike trail
*Bathroom access on Public Square
*Walking bridge over the Kokosing River
*Safer walking and parking
*Welcome center on West High Street
*Tear down former Mazza's Restaurant
*More retail shops, restaurants, outside seating
*More street furniture – trash cans, benches
“Big” ideas include:
*Bike and kayak rental business
*Close South Main Street to traffic and improve with unique shops, cafes and outside seating
*Mix of businesses that open at different times; most don't open early or stay open late and aren't open on Sunday
Study and Willis will be at October's First Friday event on Oct. 6 seeking further input. Residents are encouraged to visit them at their booth outside of Central Ohio Technical College.
Residents can also leave comments and suggestions at https://www.mountvernondowntownplan.com. Results of Wednesday's workshop should be available on the website after noon on Thursday.
When the downtown study period is over, OHM will create outcomes which note different scenarios of what the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods could look like and policy goals which show how to achieve those scenarios.