On Saturday, Feb. 15, the Port Clinton City Council took a fact-finding field trip to Wooster to see work that Washington Properties has done, to talk to people of Wooster and to talk with Main Street Wooster to see suggestions they have on what worked for their community. Washington Properties is discussing the renovation of select buildings in downtown Port Clinton and the development of Waterworks Park.
In attendance were Mike Snider (Council at Large), Nicole DeFreitas (Council at Large), Jerry Tarolli (Ward 2), Margaret Phillips (Ward 3), Gabe Below (Ward 4), and Lisa Sarty (Nominated Council). Ron Aukerman of Ward 1 was excused from the trip due to an illness.
Main Street Wooster
Upon arriving in Wooster, the council went to the Main Street Wooster office and met with Sandra Hull, Executive Director of Main Street Wooster, for a round table discussion. The Main Street Wooster organization was formed in June of 1985 because people were leaving downtown. Instead of working with big government, Wooster wanted to use local resources to try and bring people back downtown. At the time a full time executive director was appointed to Main Street Wooster in January of 1987, 50% of the store fronts were empty; now less than 5% are vacant.
“This hasn’t been an overnight success,” said Hull. “We have taken public and private donations and but it back into our downtown. Our city council has always supported our Main Street program.”
At the time Wooster was looking at revitalize their downtown, 60% of public and private business owners were in favor. It took 18 months to gather the money and resources to make it happen.
“The people in leadership in our town worked very hard to make this happen,” said Hull. “We started to have more and more events downtown, such as concerts, car shows and farmers markets. People think that these things just happen and they don’t. There’s a lot of administration that goes into it and that’s what Main Street does. In the end, it was our goal to make everything look like it was effortless.”
To date Wooster has had just under 170 buildings redone. 56 lofts that were built have waiting lists, and out of the 12 condos that were recently built, only 3 are vacant.
Hull explained their goal was to make their downtown a destination. Right now there are 22 restaurants and as of January they welcomed their first chain restaurant, Jimmy John’s. All other restaurants are small businesses and locally owned.
Main Street recruits the businesses and keeps the store fronts full. A survey in The Daily Record, the Wooster newspaper, asked what people of the community wanted to see in the downtown. The results were a mixture of living, services, entertainment and administrative services in a fully faceted and functioning downtown.
The four key ideas for success that Main Street focuses on are organization, design, development and promotion. They used this in conjunction with what the community wanted to make Wooster’s downtown a destination spot that has flourished.
“You can’t just think ‘build it and they will come’,” said Hull.
At the end of the session, Hull took questions from council members. Mike Snider asked Hull what she would do if she were the Main Street Port Clinton executive director.
“First, I would complete a building survey of downtown,” said Hull. (Port Clinton’s building survey is almost complete.)“Next, I would go to the property owners of the downtown and have them update, fix and inhabit any vacant property. I would go to the property owners and tell them I will help them fill their building. If they are not interested in filling the building I would tell them I will help them sell it. You have to be aggressive.”
Meeting Mike Rose
After the meeting with Hull at the Main Street Wooster office, Council went downtown to a loft condominium where they met Mike Rose of Washington Properties. Rose explained that the loft they were looking at used to be a department store that had closed and was empty. The city demolished the building and Washington Properties built a functional area.
“Having people constantly walking around inhabiting the downtown makes the city look alive,” said Rose.
Over 50 lofts have been built in downtown Wooster above businesses.
“There are a lot of cities that need help,” said Rose. “We liked the people in Port Clinton. We want to put time and money into a community that would appreciate the help.”
How Wooster was is how Port Clinton is now. In Wooster, Rubbermaid was sold and many manufacturing jobs were lost. A company that gave much back to the community was gone. Port Clinton has also lost manufacturing jobs over the years from the plant closings of Standard Products and Celotex.
“We can see that pride is starting to be restored in town and people want to watch the town succeed and regrow. That’s why we want to help the people of Port Clinton,” said Rose. “At first people roll their eyes at lofts, but now that they have seen the effect, they know it is a chain reaction. We want to leave a place better than when we found it and to create jobs for the people of the community; we want people to feel good.”
Rose said that he sees Port Clinton being a destination where people will come to stay instead of coming to pass through on their way to other places around the area. He said that he would like to capture some of the revenue from the Great Lakes region that we call home. The proposed conference center that is projected in Waterworks Park could house fishing tournaments, wedding receptions and work retreats.
When Council asked if there was one thing Rose could tell the people of Port Clinton that might be against development, he responded, “Less than 15% of the Waterworks Park is projected to be a structure. The park will remain a public space and Washington Properties is willing to do maintenance and upkeep on the grounds.”
“There are many positives that can come from Port Clinton being a hub of activity,” said Rose. “A lot of pieces and parts are in place already and that’s why we think we can succeed in Port Clinton.”
Taking a walk downtown
Rose wanted to take the council to see an addition to Wooster that Washington Properties developed, Liberty Street Commons. Liberty Street Commons is an indoor shopping center with three levels that houses many different shops that include a bakery, massage therapist, art gallery, salon and interior décor store. The space used to be completely vacant, but now has been turned into a useful space.
After talking with Rose, the council took a walk downtown to see some of the renovations and other developments that Washington Properties accomplished in Wooster. There were two little parks, one with a gazebo and one with an arbor with hand painted tiles. Every store front and building looked renovated. The buildings didn’t look completely redone, as they still had some of the original pieces (wooden door frames, vintage signs, etc.) that gave a historic look to the town.