City starts planning process for downtown

Before 1998, what was Marietta’s Front Street?

It was not necessarily a place where “families walk through with their strollers” as happily as they do today, said some local officials. That shift was highlighted as the next vision of Marietta development began to take shape on Tuesday.

“What that planning and development did was change Front Street in my adult life from something objectively dirty, to what we see now,” explained Councilman Geoff Schenkel during a meeting with stakeholders and the newly hired OHM Advisors Tuesday. “But the last major plan is 20 years old, it’s time to look to the next 20 years.”

OHM is an engineering, community planning and architecture firm based in Columbus.

OHM’s contract was signed Tuesday by City Development Director Andy Coleman, who oversees the federal Community Development Block Grant funds. Some of those federal dollars, a $10,000 fee for OHM, are going into kicking off a study of the city’s economy Tuesday prior to the stakeholder meeting.

Then stakeholders present, namely, Marietta Main Street, Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, Marietta College, Marietta Development Advisory Board, Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Washington State Community College, Washington County Health Department, Washington County Public Library, Buckeye Hills Regional Council, Peoples Bank Theatre, Southeastern Ohio Port Authority and Sixmo provided context in terms of city assets, challenges and goals.

“I don’t drive to any of the 30 restaurants downtown because I don’t have to,” described Marietta College President Bill Ruud as he highlighted assets the city has–in this case, a healthy food service industry and walkability.

Aaron Domini and Conor Willis, with OHM, asked those in the room what they want out of a downtown plan and what pieces are most important.

Some said they want to see renderings with the visual of current cityscapes overlayed by street and building upgrades. Others said a more focused roadmap to achieve physical projects like a handicap-accessible Ohio River levy is desired.

And many asked for the tools to collaborate and solidify community buy-in, rather than an “ad-hoc or shotgun approach” which is reactionary to inconsistent funding opportunities.

“Having weighted priorities to know what to tackle first and the financial stability to see us through the whole plan is key,” noted Carrie Ankrom, president of MACC.

“And we’ve got to figure out what’s going to bring the 1,250 students downtown and bridge Fourth Street with Front,” added Ruud. “The college is in the beginnings of our own capital investment campaign… It’s not about a land grab, it’s a strategic plan to integrate better with the community.”

So what’s next?

The group identified some key players, namely banks and the medical community that need to also be at the table alongside private investors as the current state of Marietta is quantified and a plan for future development takes shape with OHM.

Then in approximately one month the stakeholders will meet again, followed by a public display of the goals of development, an online survey, a drafted implementation plan and a public open house.

“I really think we have the assets to break into something spectacular,” concluded Peoples Bank Theatre Executive Director Hunt Brawley before leaving the meeting.

At a glance:

• Public and private stakeholders have partnered with the Marietta City Administration to employ OHM Advisors in drafting a development plan for the city.

• The plan could include specific infrastructure projects, targeted land use, streetscape visioning and handicap-accessible downtown navigation.

• The plan could also identify the types of businesses to be recruited to set up shop in Marietta.

Source: Marietta Main Street.