This post is part of a series concerning the Mansfield Rising revitalization plan recently unveiled by the Richland County Foundation. Our previous posts can be read here, and the entire plan can be accessed here.
As Mansfield begins a comprehensive effort to bring renewed economic and social vitality to its center, we have already looked revitalization in another mid-sized Ohio downtown, and also at the remarkable successful of a retail center which is only two decades old.
Today we’ll stick a bit closer to home. We’re looking at Richland and surrounding counties to identity what communities have taken or are now taking steps to generate economic activity in their respective downtowns.
In might come as a surprise, but two communities taking very recent strides in that area are right here in Richland County.
Downtown management and Main Street programs. The most comprehensive revitalization initiatives are typically those which, like Mansfield, have downtown management organizations in place. Such organizations, often formed under the Main Street USA Program, are engaged in activities ranging from marketing their respective downtowns to engaging in business recruitment, design assistance, and other activities which bear a strong similarity to many points in the Mansfield Rising Plan.
The Main Street USA Program was in fact part of the early history of Downtown Mansfield, Inc.. Galion in Crawford County was one of the three charter official Main Street programs in the state (together with Salem and Chagrin Falls) when Ohio joined the program in 1998, but its program ended in the early 2000s. Today, the only official Main Street programs in the area are those in Mount Vernon and Delaware. Ashland has a Main Street program affiliate organization, Ashland Main Street.
Promoting investment by making buildings eligible for financial incentives. Another core revitalization strategy is to create an environment that promotes investment in downtown buildings. These structures are unique to each community and, as such, full of dramatic potential. Most available financial incentives for renovation and rehabilitation of period commercial buildings in Ohio are tied to two distinct but interlocking programs – the National Register of Historic Places and local historic preservation or design review ordinances.
National Register listing. Recently, the Village of Plymouth has joined the City of Mansfield in having some or all of its downtown (all of Plymouth’s and a section of Mansfield’s) nominated for listing on the National Register. As noted above, this unlocks potential for renovation-based financial assistance including both federal and state tax credits. Other area cities with downtown National Register Districts include Bucyrus, Ashland, and Mount Vernon.
Local preservation and design review ordinances. An even more powerful tool for generating financial incentives is a local design review or historic preservation ordinance and inclusion in the state Certified Local Government (CLG) program. Such a combination provides all the benefits of National Register listing plus additional tools.
Becoming a Certified Local Government entitles a community to apply for Certified Local Government matching grants. Ten percent of the historic preservation funds that Ohio receives from the federal government each year is set aside for these grants, which can be used to identify historic, architectural, and archaeological resources, nominate eligible properties and districts to the National Register of Historic Places, further community education on historic preservation; and preserve and rehabilitate historic properties.
North Central Ohio CLGs include Mansfield, Galion, and the most recent addition to the state program, Shelby. Shelby’s new historic preservation ordinance was adopted in an effort to combat empty downtown storefronts. Cities or villages with such ordinances include Mansfield, Shelby, Plymouth, Ashland, Galion, Mount Gilead, Mount Vernon, and Norwalk.
Additional revitalization efforts and tools. Across the area, cities and organizations have taken additional steps to bolster downtowns. Both Ashland and Galion have recently received CDBG downtown revitalization grants; the latter has also continued investment in the historic Big Four Depot. Galion also already has a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) in place for its downtown, such as referenced in the Mansfield Rising Plan. Mount Vernon’s Woodward Opera House has recently opened after a multi-million dollar investment from several sources.
There are other revitalization techniques and tools which have not been used in north central Ohio and are not in the current plan, including the new Downtown Redevelopment District (DRD) program, the Innovation District program, and the use of historic conservation easements.
This week we will conclude this series with some general observations about the Mansfield Rising Plan.