How would you improve downtown?

City commissioner hopefuls explain how they would lure businesses, tourists to the area
Andy Ouriel
Oct 19, 2013
Just like vinyl records or Justin Timberlake’s music career, downtown Sandusky is all about an impressive comeback.

About 30 new businesses — everything from restaurants to clothing shops — have joined the makeup of downtown over the past few years.

There’s also a growing list of festivals and regular events, including the Sandusky Art Walk, Cruisin’ by the Bay and Ohio Bike Week, the latter drawing a record 160,000 motorcyclists and tourists this past summer.

City commission candidates view downtown as the seed to continue growing interest in Sandusky. At a recent Register political forum at Sandusky High School, a student asked how candidates would improve downtown in hopes of luring businesses and enticing people to visit.

Here are the responses from the seven candidates vying for three open seats on Nov. 5:

• “It’s the government’s responsibility to stay out of the way and we make it easy for private investment, building departments and building officials to accomplish what they need to do.” — Dick Brady

• “We’ve got to support the Sandusky State Theatre and the arts in this community. That is so critical in the community. We need to stay out of the way of business and let them do what they do best.” — Diedre Cole, city commissioner    

• “Reinforce survival and safety. I believe the city of Sandusky, because of the high winds and rains that we’ve had within downtown, we should have a disaster center.” — Patricia Ferguson

• “We need to focus on the housing stock. People come to a city first. Once you have residents, they will support businesses that are here. We got some really cool old houses in Sandusky. A lot of it is really affordable and easy to heat and cool.” — Dennis Murray Jr.

• “We need people with ideas to implement them. We’re sitting on revolving loan fund money available for entrepreneurs. It’s up to government to create an environment for these businesses to flourish in.” — John Hamilton, ex officio mayor

• “We need to continue what we are doing. Downtown has experienced a great rebirth, and that’s mostly been through private investment. The city has money it can loan for aspiring or existing businesses. We obviously have to keep that going. We have to do whatever we can to encourage local entrepreneurs and people with ideas.” — Scott Schell

• “I think we should be continuing on the path we are on.” — Naomi Twine



Get undesirables off the streets.


You have three to four months of good weather to make it work. That's it! Sandusky is a seasonal town, barely, unless you can give me a reason to go down there in the winter. Do I want to go stay in a hotel in downtown Sandusky in the middle of the winter? No.

Stop It

I would like anyone that lives in Sandtown or has a business downtown how to get there from any direction.

Well, other than on a boat from the bay? How does one get there without seeing what is *still* hurting what could be a thriving community?

Julie R.

"How would you improve downtown Sandusky?"

"Bulldozer ..... tornado ..... sell it to Donald Trump for $1.00 Or Best Offer ..... a place for the cops to sleep in their cars ...."

Those were tooooo funny.

That said, I think it's sad what downtown Sandusky looks like now compared to what it used to be.

T. A. Schwanger

The answer to this question can be found by doing a little research.

There are many examples of revitalized downtowns found by conducting a simple Google search.

The repeated common denominator is a mix of commercial retail and RESIDENTIAL.

When in downtown Sandusky, look skyward at the upper floors of most of the downtown buildings. You'll see shuttered windows and empty space. A revitalized downtown is dependent on downtown living and that includes what is now happening at the former Reiger Hotel. One blogger claims "those folks don't spend money". Well they do. In fact, it's my understanding, the lower age limit for this new development is 55 years of age.

At this time, forget about a hotel. There are a number of hotels inside Sandusky limits that close in the winter because of lack of business. Sandusky needs a destination attraction first. It must be something different that what is already in the area. Sawmill Creek and Kalahari have the market on the convention hall theme.

I get a kick out of "The Answer Person" when he comments about the "naysayers" when he's at the top of the list.


Agree, but commercial retail will not leave the Rt. 250 strip.

No hotel/convention center will survive downtown unless it has a 12 month support system in place, i.e. Kalahari. Sadly, the only thing I can come up with is a casino, but even that hasn't helped cities like Cleveland and Detroit. Not another indoor waterpark, either.

Another great example is Tower City in Cleveland. People in the suburbs will not drive downtown just to simply shop at another Foot Locker or watch a jumping fountain. Plus, there is that "risk" factor that steers people clear. They'll go to Crocker Park in the suburbs or a mall, instead. The Flats couldn't even survive based on a two day week customer base...Friday and Saturday nights. Dead by bulldozer!

The current residents near or in downtown Sandusky drive to Perkins Township for the mall and surrounding shopping and restaurants. Unless it's a quick need, the people in Perkins drive to Crocker Park to get away from the crowds coming from Norwalk, Fremont and Sandusky. It's a vicious circle.

Also, retailers will not all of a sudden pull up shop and decide to move Dicks, Macys, Outback, etc. to downtown Sandusky. Not a chance.

Sadly, I'm afraid if it could be done, it would have already have happened. Sandusky will always be a haven for small, start up businesses and restaurants due to the cheaper rent....which is a good thing. The catch is, how long can they survive without a strong customer base even with the lower overhead?

T. A. Schwanger


@ fifteenthgreen

I couldn't agree more.

In fact, there has been talk recently about luring Gander Mountain, Cabalas or Bass Pro Shop to downtown Sandusky. Taking a look at "store locator" directions for these outdoor stores reveals the vast majority are located at major highway interchanges.

Even discount stores such a Dollar General in Sandusky and Huron go where the most traffic is generated--it's all about the foot traffic numbers and rightfully so.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the folks recommending parking meters downtown, etc. are most often not lifelong Sandusky residents and do not remember how parking meters chased shoppers out of downtown with the advent of commercial development on Rt. 250.

They don't remember Sandusky spent millions in Federal and local match dollars on the "Downtown Streetscape Program" of new sidewalks, decorative lighting, curbs and gutters. Somehow, the downtown lighting was change to one of the most inefficient type lighting imaginable--it's dark and constantly needs maintenance attention. I counted 15 light burnt out this week.

I can remember when elected Sandusky officials laughed at the idea of a mega-mall on Route 250 saying it will never work.

I've heard the stories from "Old-timers" of how Ford and GM wanted to build in the Sandusky city limits but were chased out by locally owned "ma and pa" industry out of fear they would have to pay the wages Ford and GM offered.


In fact, there has been talk recently about luring Gander Mountain, Cabalas or Bass Pro Shop to downtown Sandusky.

Would those be good fits as anchor stores? During the summer, the tourists would be drawn to those stores. Hunting and fishing appeal to a small segment of the general population. I see three sporting goods stores just south of Sandusky. Would these three stores take potential business away from the stores like Gander Mountain, Cabalas or Bass Pro Shop? I see a lot of used boats for sale in Ohio cheap. Is boating down on Lake Erie?


They all would be a good draw, but the tourists come to this area for one thing, Cedar Point and in the winter months, the indoor water parks. If any of these stores were located off of the Rt. 250 corridor and away from Rt. 2 and 80, they would struggle, if not fail. Plus, their corporations do their due diligence on geographics and understand where it is all happening. You would have to see the highways and current infrastructure to understand why it is the way it is.

We had an outlet mall here several years ago located a few miles south of the existing retail hub of our area and it failed miserably and is now a ghost town. Also, it failed due to our weather and the poor design of the mall itself.

The one thing Sandusky may have going for itself is Perkins is running out of property between Rt. 2 and Perkins Avenue. Businesses could decide to go south of Bogart Rd. and build around the Kalahari facility but again, why did the outlet fail just south of that area? I personally feel a well designed outlet or outdoor shopping center could thrive in our area, but design and location are crucial. The waterfront of Sandusky would be an incredible location for a Crocker Park type common area but I still feel there is not enough of a highway structure to get the people there quickly. In fact, there currently is none. Plus, current buildings would have to be destroyed.

Lots of boating potential, Centauri. Many marinas exist and are used.

T. A. Schwanger



My point exactly. The outdoor stores mentioned only build at major interstate exchanges. The days of "big box" anchor stores downtown has passed.


T.A. Schwanger -

Remember when Rt. 250 was simply a two lane highway. Oh, the good old days. I wish it was like The Christmas Story where things seemed to be a lot slower, more family based, window shopping, conversations on the front porch, dinners at the table, slick cars driving up and down Columbus Ave., but time seems to have caught up to us. We're in a different society now built around speed, lower costs and instant information and I for one wish everything would slow down.


Many ideas that would work for warmer states such as Florida and Arizona will not work for Ohio. I see that there is a Sam's Club near Sandusky, Ohio. I feel that a large "anchor store" might work if Sandusky has about 15 acres of land and tax incentives.

A large anchor store will operate year round. Perhaps a Costco or BJ's Wholesale Club could bring the people into Sandusky. It's one idea. Stay away from ideas that failed in Ohio.
"Portside probably had about 80 speacialty shops, but no major anchor stores. Given Portside's location, there was no room to even connect an anchor store. The specialty shops were more upscale and overpriced, in most cases. There also was a lack of recognizable "chain" stores that often draws mall shoppers. Portside became more of a novelty than a necessity."

Too bad that Sandusky didn't get Cedar Point's space spiral. That would have been a draw for people.

T. A. Schwanger



Actually, the idea of bringing the Space Spiral to Sandusky (Paper District Marina) was suggested by our group but was turned down because of the alleged "condition of the ride". We suggested it be relocated as a scaled down version as 1/2 its original size.


There's nothing alleged about it. They constantly had to fabricate replacement parts to keep it running, and it wasn't designed to be movable. Now, if you wanted the Wildcat - it was designed to be dismantled with the tools most people have in their garage and packed on a couple of flatbed semi's.

looking around

A few people here have referred to Sandusky as well as Port Clinton as parking lots for Put-In-Bay. I can tell you from first hand experience that the ridership on the Jet Express out of Sandusky is not as robust as one might expect. That goes for the Good Time vessel as well. Many of the passengers this year I recognized as those who worked on either Kellys or Put-In-Bay, many of the boats rarely reached capacity.

There are many ways to reach the islands, private boat, ferry services, airplane, that come from various points of origin. While the Bay and Kelly's at times seem overwhelmed with tourists there are many slow days as well. The businesses on the islands make their money in a rather short period of time by charging outlandish prices for drink, food, lodging and associated sales and rentals.

The ferry services themselves were developed out of need for people and services to reach the island. The potential for increased ridership due to tourism allowed them to expand and grow as well as on island transportation service.

Once there tourists are a captive audience, for the price of the boat ride your not going to spend just an hour or two, your in it for the day or possibly the weekend.

While it would be nice to divert some of that cash flow to Sandusky, it is rare that we have anything of interest going on to attract these folks. A few summer activity's such as Bike Week provide some interest. During these festivity's we have various entertainment on a continuous schedule to attract crowds. There is a lot of business ventures participating and to some extent political support by monetary partnership.

Sandusky businesses do benefit from this transient traffic and it does bring in patrons at times that otherwise might be slow. Perhaps accommodations downtown that would cater to those coming from some distance and returning on "the Last Boat" often earlier than many would like. Many may enjoy the ability to continue the party upon returning if they knew they could walk to their accommodations and entertainment was varied and available. I'm sure that staying on the mainland at more reasonable prices would be of interest to many. Tie that in with breakfast and lunch business the next day a lot of business could be generated.

The Islands get the business to come to them by providing a wide variety of entertainment to appeal to many pallets. It's a social collage that they have mastered even designing parody's of off season holidays such as Christmas in July, New Years on the Bay with Monte Carlo night, Half way to St. Patty's Day etc. etc. It takes imagination and good PR.

If you want to capitalize on the transient traffic headed for the islands you have to be as good as them at the game. If you peak interest you also will get the folks who are not going to the islands but looking for entertainment as well on a local level.

If you go to Put-In-Bay you will note a wide variety of entertainment venues appealing to different clientele. Large ones with Vegas style show bands, smaller ones with more intimate inter reaction with the patrons. Varied food menus and themed entertainment such as TJ's Saloon offering the only BBQ on the Island and Country and Western / Rock live entertainment some direct from Nashville, complete with mechanical bull riding by participating patrons. Mojito's offering a tiki hut, toes in the sand type of experience you would expect from a tropical island.

There are outside and inside venues often of the same establishment. As an example the new roof top bar at Mr. Ed's.

I might note here that the problem areas on the Islands center around venues that cater to the hip hop style music and gangsta/ jersey shores type clientele. While they spend money they also account for most of the problems encountered on the islands and are a constant source of needed service by law enforcement and emergency services.

This years reenactment of the war of 1812 battle of Lake Erie attracted thousands to the islands.

I made mention of Mr. Ed's who's owner Ed Fitzgerald has many operations both on and off the Island, he watches intently and is willing to invest where he see's potential. So far that has been Port Clinton on the mainland. Give him and others like him a reason to be interested in Sandusky downtown and you might be surprised.

Personally , I'd like to see a venue downtown offering BBQ and maybe throw your own steaks on the grill type of atmosphere with good country/classical rock. The type of crowds I see on the Island drawn to TJ's and Mojito is exactly the type of crowd we need downtown. Hard working upstanding fun loving folk who enjoy a day/night out and love good food and entertainment.


Good points, Looking Around. Are you suggesting duplicating the island experience on the shores of Sandusky? Would it be more of a Flats experience? It could possibly work in the winter months, as well but would the city residents support such an environment. It works well on the islands because they are on an island. :) I like the idea of it and could be worth exploring. I wonder if investors have considered it already?

looking around

@fifteenth green,

I'm suggesting using imagination as the island entrepreneurs have demonstrated. Yes not so much a duplication but a continuance of the experience. Although much smaller than the "Flat's" as we really would never draw that big of a crowd. I'm imagining just catching the interest of a percentage that would take note of what is available.

Believe me residents of the Islands are not always thrilled with the tourism either. You would get a fair share of dissent from many Sandusky residents as well but that comes with any vibrant area.

It is interesting to watch how various businesses feed off a nucleolus of well thought out and managed entertainment venues.

The Islands basically shut down in the winter and transportation to them is cut to the bare essentials of need. I think Sandusky would be a year around draw due to the ease of access, however it would most likely drop of to low points in the winter months due to the weather and lack of the summer tourist trade that so much of our locale is all ready reliant upon.

Have investors considered it already? I can't imagine an investor/entrepreneur that would walk through our downtown/water front area, look at the beautiful architecture and not see potential. It's tough for any investor to be on the fore front, blazing a trail for others to join and follow. These days they take calculated risks based on the assessment of potential business. We have already designated downtown as an entertainment district.

Had not Cedar Point established business years ago when we actually had a larger population and then expanded over the years, would they look at this area as a potential for virgin development in this day and age?

It takes imagination, determination, financial ability, and fortitude to weather the storm before success.

Stop It

Rt. 101, Rt. 6. and Rt. 4 all used to be great corridors to downtown. Then due to Cedar Point in the summer, and from now till February for frippin' christmas I'd rather go to Norwalk, Fremont, Findlay, B.G., Toledo or even the armpit of Ohio called Lima.

Ya really gotta get rid of the thug stuff on those older routes.

RT. 250 sux because it's Road Rage Alley.

Stop It


The Bizness

“Reinforce survival and safety. I believe the city of Sandusky, because of the high winds and rains that we’ve had within downtown, we should have a disaster center.” — Patricia Ferguso


Stop It

That is a definite WTF?


Read her campaign flyers (that were ILLEGALLY placed on windshields of cars parked on private property on Sunday.) The choice of items on it don't exactly paint a picture of brilliance, if you know what I mean.

pigeon farmer

Turn to Dan Sharp for downtown improvement advice.

tdluvpit's picture

Disaster Center?? Are you kidding me??? Wind & rain? This is not typhoon territory. Laughable! Downtown is a joke. Crappy flea market type junk stores, which are never open, by the way, proprietors who keep odd hours, don't know how to run a business. If you want business try opening the doors everyday at 9 a.m. til at least 5 p.m. I don't even know how these places pay the high dollar rent being open a few hours a day maybe a couple days of the week. I've been here over 20 years & this has always been the case for downtown businesses. Elected officials don't care about business downtown or it would already be thriving. Thank everyone for their typical political canned remarks on ideas for downtown.


You can't run a business and have the mentality of being open 9am to 5pm as you suggest. Those are bankers hours. It needs to be an all day, full time commitment from the businesses down there. Agree on the stores. The restaurants have the most potential but their hours are terrible and inconsistent due to lack of consistent people traffic. It's a losing proposition all the way around. Times have changed.


Find a way to put it under a dome or roof of some sort. It has to have a hotel or two.


Go directly to the Traverse City, Michigan playbook and do that...No need for any new studies, just send a junket of all the key players within the City of Sandusky and do exactly what they're doing up north. This is easy...just copy what someone else is successfully doing...


bring in Trader Joes, its an experience all its own.


Being a lifelong citizen of the Sandusky area for 60 years, I can honestly say I still love downtown Sandusky. Do I wish it was as it was before the Mall?? Yes, of course!! All the independently owned stores, shoppes and restaurants were wonderful. But, I still feel fortunate that we are able to share in the natural and man-made beauty of this charming, unique town. Our parks are so amazing, one would be hard pressed to find any park that could surpass the beauty of ours. And our State Theater with its beauty and preservation, and they even have free shows, and the Firelands Symphony even performs there... And the great restaurants such as Crush and J Bistro. After experiencing their high quality cusine, there is no way I could ever return to dine again at the Milan Rd. chains. If only Markleys was back at Markleys.... I must mention our most amazing library for its history and architecture. Ever since I was a child, its presence has instilled in me a grateful awe and wonder. A beacon of light in a hard place, it offers to our community (adults and children alike) the freedom to dream and hope, the building blocks to create a different reality. I say, Keep up the good work Sandusky!! I, for one, am proud of everything Sandusky stands for! I believe that if the city continues to retain its memory of a vibrant, colorful past while evolving its local economy, then Sandusky will continue to attract a more diverse and eclectic population to its waterfront with time.