Making a downtown work

Ruth Haag
Feb 25, 2014
The Register staff recently published a Viewpoint that “Downtown Sandusky [is] World Class.” http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...
 
Some of the commentators felt that gentrification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gen...) would be occurring and others felt that urban professionals would not want to live in downtown Sandusky because it would be too far to their jobs.
 
Most mid-western cities experienced a death of their downtowns between the 1970s and today. Various events have been blamed as the cause of the death of the downtowns: the move of people to live in the suburbs, the rise of the use of automobiles, the development of plazas and malls to replace downtown as the shopping destination and the move of lower income people to the downtown areas. 
 
Many mid-western cities have also experienced a re-birth of their downtowns. When my husband Bob and I left Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1979 their downtown had only one store remaining open. About ten years later, we went to visit and discovered that all of the buildings had viable, modern, stylish businesses in them.
 
In order for a city to have its downtown reborn, most of the people have to agree that it is a good idea, and agree to work together. Often the City itself has to be willing to invest money in the process. I observe that the way that most downtowns are reviving is not through money from big chain stores, like Penny’s, but rather with small independent businesses owned by people who are often referred to as urban pioneers. These small independent businesses cannot survive unless there is a population of 
people willing to patronize them.
 
The downtowns that I have seen revived have some things in common, as follows:
 
Friendly people
Interconnected park systems that include long walking and biking trails
Fun places to shop
Fun places to eat
Lack of litter and weeds
Well-maintained streets and sidewalks
A feeling of safety on the streets
Friendly signs that help you find your way – by friendly I mean that they tell you where TO go rather than were NOT to go
Easy access to stores or services that provide necessities, like food and clothing
Safe-looking areas in which to recreate
Enough housing for people of all ages
A sense of community: people talking to one another on the streets and in the coffee shops
 
What do you think is necessary to revive a downtown?
 
 
 
 
©2014 by Ruth Haag

Comments

The Bizness

A downtown needs to be the cultural centerpiece of a city. I think Sandusky does a great job in the summer time, but in the winter we struggle. We need more activities downtown all winter long to get people out and talking to each other. The ice festival is good but it is over by battery park. We should have ice sculptors maybe every other weekend come down and show off their skills right in front of Mylander plaza.

Another thing is the transit system needs to be completely overhauled when it comes to routes.

pntbutterandjelly

I applaud Mrs. Haag's article. It's possibly apparent though that few have read it and fewer still have commented on it. That's too bad as there is much to learn and contemplate from it. As an example, I logged onto Wikipedia to see what the definition of "gentrification" is. That in itself was extremely enlightening.

Thank you Mrs. Haag,

PB&J

pntbutterandjelly

"What do you think is necessary to revive a downtown?"

* "A Genuine Commitment by those who are (or will be)most impacted and those who have the most ability to enhance constructive change. These include but are not limited to; building owners, current shop renters, city government, construction professionals and marketing personnel." Without everyone on board and pulling in a unified direction...the endeavor's weakest link will cause failure.

KURTje

Good call Ruth. Is there a coffee shop & a Wi-Fi location in Sandusky? Heard Huron/Vermillion is being looked at for such an item.

pntbutterandjelly

Those involved must understand that continued perseverance is paramount to the ultimate success of revitalizing any downtown. Rome was not built in a day and neither did our downtowns succumb to social-economic impacts in 5 years. It will take dedicated people with vision, fortitude and efforts from everyone.

pntbutterandjelly

@ kURTje; Are you not a resident of Sandusky? I live "outside" of the city limits.

pb&j

slightthroat212

never mind

T. A. Schwanger

##

There has been discussion of building a hotel downtown.

With all the vacant upper floor buildings downtown, is there an opportunity to recycle these buildings as a hotel? Rather than build new?

slightthroat212

why would anyone scatter hotel rooms over several buildings, that makes no sense. building a small hotel downtown would be a nice touch. They should put it right by where that boat dock was for the boats that used to go to Cedar Point is.

Better yet, let the city of Sandusky sell the land where that pool not being used is and they can put it there and that is one less problem for the city to worry about. that is within walking distance of the downtown or they can run a shuttle to downtown.

T. A. Schwanger

##
@slightthroat

Between the words "recycle" and "these" insert "one of". There are a number of individual downtown buildings with numerous vacant upper floor rooms which could be renovated as hotel rooms.

slightthroat212

Why not use the "upper floors" as rentals for those who cannot afford to pay huge amounts of money for the condo's downtown? As for a "draw" downtown, what about a universal "theme" for the area? My brother made suggestions over a year ago to two of your sitting councilmen about specific plans for your downtown area. They were given in writing to them. Nothing was ever mentioned at a council meeting or to any other council members that he is aware of. I wonder why? And from what I read they were really great ideas.

It sounds like ideas arent wanted even when asked for or when unsolicited. Perhaps this writer is the only one who is asking. Why is that?

T. A. Schwanger

##

@slightthroat

Care to share those ideas here? Perhaps some of us would jump on board if we knew what the ideas were.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I have shared some as well, slight. I'll recap mine here for you and Mr. Schwanger.

1. As both a beautification project and possible fundraiser, would it be possible for the city to team up with a local business to decide on a style of "hitching post" that residents can purchase? We see many remnants of these on some properties and they are a great and beautiful historical throwback. But what if we could modernize them and help give Sandusky an organized look? These "posts" can have the rings, but more importantly they can also contain subtle, street-level lighting. While many horses may not be hitched we could see electric vehicles needing electric tethers. That could give homeowners or city grounds crew have more access to electrical outlets outside to use electric equipment instead of gas-powered.

The funds (if an arrangement could be made, not sure what the Charter or State law says) could come from the foundry/factory telling the city "we'll make these for you for $X per quantity. If you can deliver the customers we'll cut the break. The city can then sell them for $Y using the money for whatever was promised. It would be the same as "group buys" which are becoming very popular on the Internet these days. It also wouldn't preclude a homeowner from contracting for their own that meets spec, but the city can provide it inexpensively.

2. Public wi-fi access downtown.

3. A hotel and/or appropriately-sized convention center downtown. I enjoy using this place as comparison since Lake Monona is about the same size as the bay: http://www.mononaterrace.com/

4. Centerpieces like those could help set a design tone for the area. I would love to see the metallic arcs like those over North Street in Columbus. They look nice, provide lighting, and even space for ads or event banners. When combined with other "uniform/uniting" accents such as the electric hitching posts help frame the community even more.

http://www.shortnorth.org/popula...

5. Transition the city to LED lighting and not sodium-vapor. Brighter, safer, and should use far less electricity and manpower to maintain.

http://www.wxyz.com/news/state/l...

6. Increased signage (and greenage too). To continue to help the beauty and uniformity, more signs to direct eyes, bodies, and wallets could be very effective. Everything would be clear and well-known. All while playing into a design scheme for the city in general.

An example in Ohio: http://downtownlakewood.org/lake...

= = = = = = = = = =

Most of the examples above require a plan for downtown. One of aesthetics. One that through symbolism and uniform design help frame the individual jewels that will come and go downtown. It will make it known, thematic, and more of a destination. It would also be able to make the area more "worth it" should parking meters or the like ever be installed to continue beautification/development.

Like the trees they are something passive but everywhere. A lack of it isn't necessarily noticed until you go to an area abundant in such design. As such, the funding for it is difficult to pitch since it is all in one's imagination until it actually happens, the local and outside populace catch on, and it becomes the superior and expected standard by the residents.

A big part of making downtown a "revival tent" would be to increase programming and cultural festivals. Again though it would take funding to better supply that department with a planner and an assistant/small staff. Just having parks that are declared open for use won't nearly generate as much interest as those that have leadership in organization - in my opinion.

There's a few more ideas I had, but that's all I could tap out currently.

KURTje

No peanut, though I get around much. Any info on aforementioned business? (Non-Starbucks) thanxs

Darkhorse

I am not sure why anyone would invest in a hotel downtown. It would not be a wise investment choice unless there needs some kind of attraction to bring people downtown to stay overnight.

Babo

Shortly before the editorial ran, I posted that Sandusky had a world class Amusement Park and it needed to start thinking and planning like a world class city by raising the Admissions Tax to 8% like other world class tourist destinations. Moreover the city must find people who are not committed to the status quo through blood and or money. The city's leadership is very insular and as a result there is no vision.

As someone who used to come to Sandusky from the Cleveland area to patronize Cedar Point and then leave as quickly as possible via the Chausee and Rt 6 because it was so difficult to get around; the City has to have better traffic design and streets. It's the same story if one comes from the West. People take 4 or 101 to West Monroe and bypass the City and again leave as quickly as possible.

The City needs an Architectural Review Board with a Life Style Center theme for downtown but nothing will really flourish until the traffic flow, parking, and infrastructure is updated to world class through an Admissions Tax increase.

Fireside

Sandusky needs a downtown business owners group and director/chairman!

Jack518

I know Slightthroats brother. After he made an appoointment with City Manager Ard and several council persons, only two council persons came to the meeting and he was told Ms. Ard was too busy with a personal phone call. She did not even offer to reschedule. Its too bad, he has a degree with urban planning. Oh well, Sandusky's ever "looking to the past glory days" leadership once again makes sure nothing changes, except for more useless parks and vacant condos.