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Buckeye Lake discusses “downtown”

BUCKEYE LAKE- – So, where is downtown Buckeye Lake, anyway?

Some say it’s the Hebron Road boulevard area from the North Shore Boat Ramp, north to the village limits, while others believe downtown is further south between the Post Office and the new Petplex Animal Hospital.. With uncertainty about where the downtown is, it’s not surprising that there are even more questions about its future, particularly now that Buckeye Lake Village has public water.

Interested residents and village officials met Monday evening at the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club to listen to Frank Quinn, associate director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio, the Statewide Main Street Coordinating Program in Ohio. Statewide Main Street coordinating programs assist cities and towns within Ohio with downtown and neighborhood business district revitalization. “This isn’t the traditional downtown we’re used to working with,” he said. “You’re starting from scratch (with public water access).”

Quinn said Main Street encourages villages to create four committees of four to five members each to explore four major development aspects:

*Organization, which is the building of consensus and cooperation between the groups that play a role in the downtown.

*Design involves improving the downtown’s image by improving its physical appearance – not just the appearance of buildings, but also of street lights, window displays, parking areas, signs, sidewalks, streetscapes, landscaping, promotional materials and all other elements that convey a visual message about what the downtown is and what it has to offer.

*Promotion involves marketing the downtown’s unique characteristics to shoppers, investors, new businesses, tourists, and others. Effective promotion creates a positive image of the downtown through retail promotional activity and special events utilizing the downtown as a stage area of community activities.

*Economic Restructuring involves strengthening the existing economic base of the downtown while diversifying it. Economic Restructuring activities include helping existing downtown businesses expand, recruiting new businesses, providing a balanced mix, converting unused space into productive property, and sharpening the competitiveness of downtown merchants.

“Main Street also involves changing attitudes,” said Quinn. When people become accustomed to seeing a village in decline, they become convinced it will never improve. He said community members need to see groups who are taking action. “Part of what this organizations is, is a cheerleader,” said Quinn. The process of improving the downtown and peoples’ opinions of it will take several years. “You have to keep other people’s attitudes up,” he said.

Quinn said Main Street’s approach is incremental in nature, whereby the committees “start small,” maybe coordinating some events for Buckeye Lake. Once those are successful, the committees can begin tackling bigger issues.

People attending Monday night’s meeting explained to Quinn that Buckeye Lake Village was basically a collection of summer cottages for Buckeye Lake Amusement Park visitors. The amusement park folded many years ago and the cottages became permanent homes.

“Not being typical makes us unique,” said former Buckeye Lake mayor Frank Foster. “We should strive to promote its uniqueness.” He said the village is in a good time to begin promoting itself as public water is available, the streets are being repaired following the water distribution system installation and, which the help of a Licking County grant, the village is demolishing uninhabitable properties.

Buckeye Lake Village Council member Kaye Hartman asked meeting attendees what types of businesses they want to see in Buckeye Lake.

“Buckeye Lake was all about entertainment,” said Buckeye Lake Planning Commission chair Karen Cookston. Does the village want to rebuild as a recreational community, she asked. Is the village looking to attract visitors from elsewhere or serve its residents?

“You need a balance,” said Quinn.

“A hotel would be nice,” said Buckeye Lake Museum Director J-Me Braig. She said the Super 8 hotel near I-70 can’t house all the tourists she believes the village is capable of attracting. Other suggestions included a bed and breakfast, fishing supply store, a deli, and entertainment facilities.

“We don’t want people to pack up and leave when it rains,” said Hartman.

“It’s a start,” said Mayor Rick Baker Tuesday. He said the four committees will meet individually and create strategies. “We’ve done a lot to attract business,” he said, referring to public water access. “Now we need to do some marketing.” Baker said he wants to promote the village through media outlets like newspapers and magazines. “It’s time to get us noticed,” he said.

In a related issue, the Ohio Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) organization recently recognized Buckeye Lake when it presented its Progress Through Persistence award to the community. This award honors communities that overcome barriers in their effort to complete a project successfully.

“It is such an honor to be recognized,” said Susan Spiker, Licking County grants coordinator in an press release. “This doesn’t happen to us often.”

According to the release, Buckeye Lake was honored at the first statewide conference of RCAP and was one of seven communities honored for their efforts to improve the lives of their residents through improving community water and sewer services.

John Rauch, field agent with RCAP, said Buckeye Lake community leaders encountered many barriers in their efforts to complete their Buckeye Lake Water System project but persisted and were eventually successful. The project was completed last spring.

“They are to be commended for their tenacity and faith in the process,” Rauch said.

Ohio RCAP is part of a nationwide network that has been providing training and technical assistance to solve water and wastewater problems in small, rural communities since 1972.

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