Downtown planning process continues

Enrich graphic courtesy of Marietta Main Street This drawing of possible upgrades for downtown shows ideas for improvement on the block of Butler Street between Front Street and Post Street, near the Marietta Harbor and Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge.

While fundraising for the final $2,400 of a $44,000 planning process, Marietta Main Street is seeking feedback from city government officials by the end of next week.

Marietta Main Street Director Cristie Thomas led the Enrich Marietta check-in this week with city council, the mayor and representatives from both business and property interests of downtown and the city school system–but the conversations aren’t stopping there.

“I’m meeting again with the mayor to talk more about goals in the coming days,” noted Thomas on Wednesday.

Enrich Marietta was launched last year with the initial investment of $10,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Marietta allocation.

Then city council authorized an additional $10,000 in professional services to the planning process which includes stakeholders from private sector employers, educators and nonprofits in Marietta for the central business district and the lower west side–a CDBG eligible area as denoted by HUD.

That $20,000 city investment has since been added to by donations from the Marietta Community Foundation ($5,450), Peoples Bank Foundation ($5,000), Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce ($5,000), Marietta College ($2,500), Marietta Main Street ($1,500) and IncSwell ($500).

“And we have another $1,650 in pledges from private donors and local nonprofits we’re anticipating,” noted Thomas, citing donations anticipated from Marietta City Schools Curriculum Director Jona Hall, Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Change and the First Unitarian Universalist Society. “We still have some folks considering a pledge for that final $2,400.”

But next steps on the planning process while fundraising continues include gathering notes and thoughts from the government officials to be submitted to OHM Advisors next week on the draft presented.

Then with that input, the Enrich Marietta team will work with OHM to realign priorities of the development plan for short-term, mid-term and long-term planning for downtown development while addressing first those potential projects which have the most governmental support.

The Enrich team, including three members of city council, the city engineer and mayor participating in subcommittees, would next be invited again to attend focus group meetings in September and October to tease out those ideas into action plans with downtown business and property owners.

Thomas said by early 2020, drafted plans will then have more targets to share with private citizens and those who frequent or have a vested interest in downtown and west side vitality.

The last public engagement portion of this planning effort ran through last winter, gathering 828 online and in-person responses to surveys disseminated to local service groups, at neighborhood meetings, during Marietta College basketball games and during First Fridays shopping nights downtown.

Out of those survey results, nine draft priorities surfaced.

“There’s not an order of importance yet,” explained Thomas. “These are the results from the data, and now with the help of working with the city, we want to identify the low-hanging fruit, the actions we can accomplish to keep the planning conversation going and keep it inclusive… I care about this plan, but I care more that we do it together.”

Priorities included:

• Riverfront development along the levee of the Ohio River and bank-side access on both sides of the Muskingum River.

Mayor Joe Matthews nodded along to this priority, noting past development plans for the levee and current work he is entertaining with an undisclosed architect for levee development.

• The Butler Street through Maple Street corridor connecting east and west sides of Marietta.

While not a focus on closing Butler through Marietta College’s campus, this emphasis would focus on walkability and development between Fourth Street and Gilman Avenue, including the private nonprofit-owned Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge.

• Post Street redevelopment for mixed-use.

Councilwoman Cindy Oxender latched onto this portion of the discussion, encouraging the utilization of local private business input to enhance the street behind Front Street businesses and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ property at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.

• Greene Street redevelopment and strategic site changes.

“While by zoning, entry into our historic downtown region begins at Seventh Street, or Fourth Street, you don’t really know you’ve arrived until you hit the Lafayette Hotel,” explained Thomas. “So we have a huge opportunity with long-term planning to really give a giant, hearty welcome to Marietta. Coming down Greene Street we have streetscapes, and development opportunities we’d want to plan for with the college and with businesses along that route.”

• Parking access and delineation.

This was a priority voiced by multiple business owners not only when the surveys were disseminated in February, but also following public Community Development Block Grant hearings in July.

Some business owners have asked for trial runs of diagonal parking on Front and Second Street along with a temporary roundabout provided by regional partners like Ohio Department of Transportation and Buckeye Hills Regional Council.

Oxender also asked that in parking and way-finding signs that electronic charging stations be marked for those passing through town with hybrid and electric cars.

• Co-planning ADA access between city assets and private development.

This is a priority previously voiced by outgoing Development Director Andy Coleman who will conclude his employment with the city is next week and head to work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Columbus. Coleman will be followed in position on Sept. 4 by Mike Gulliver.

ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, is a hot topic across the nation when communities go after federal funding.

“But when we talk about ADA, it’s a broad topic,” said City Engineer Joe Tucker Wednesday. “The city is working on an evaluation city-wide of our facilities, streets, sidewalks and parks and we’re working with a consultant to amass an inventory of those assets and assess where we are with compliance.”

Compliance, specifically with city assets, does not, however, complete the picture of ADA accessibility.

“I’ve brought that up to Enrich Marietta in committee before, that I can make sure over time that we have compliant curb ramps and sidewalks, but if someone is in a wheelchair on (city) sidewalk that’s complaint that still doesn’t mean they’re able to access downtown shops, stores and businesses” he said.

Similar to the issue discussed Tuesday night again about private property responsibility with drainage concerns in the Rathbone neighborhood, Tucker said Wednesday that collaboration is needed with property owners and businesses downtown and in Harmar to complete the flow of accessibility between city assets and private structures.

“Right now (city engineering) is focusing our efforts on the 954 curb ramps as our first phase of the compliance review,” said Tucker. “Then we’re going to evaluate what needs to be done and the short-term, lower-cost projects we can accomplish first, then mid-level, then high cost.”

• Business and asset combined communication and marketing strategies for tourism year-round.

• Developing downtown residential living above first-floor storefronts and offices.

Council and city administration have until Aug. 30 to provide their feedback to the Enrich Marietta team.

“We want to know with the (more than 80 page draft in the hands of government officials) what more details or renderings they want to see, what would they like more focus to be put on by OHM as they submit to us a final plan from all of our feedback and the community surveys,” said Thomas.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

What’s next:

• City government feedback due by Aug. 30.

• Enrich Marietta team to realign priorities with OHM Advisors.

• Check-in presentations with local civic and service organizations on the Enrich Marietta draft plan.

• Focus groups with downtown property owners in September.

• Focus groups with downtown business owners in October.

• Public engagement round two in early 2020.

Source: Marietta Main Street.

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