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Buckeye Lake envisions a downtown

BUCKEYE LAKE – A successful town center is based on strong businesses, Jeff Siegler, director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio, told Buckeye Lake Mayor Rick Baker and several village officials Monday night.

Heritage Ohio is the statewide Main Street coordinating program that helps Ohio cities and towns strengthen their downtown and neighborhood business districts. Siegler came to Buckeye Lake to discuss ways of improving Buckeye Lake Village’s downtown area, especially since public water is now available. Baker would like Buckeye Lake to participate in the Main Street program.

Monday night’s meeting was just a preliminary one to discuss ideas. The group plans a larger, more comprehensive meeting on Monday, Aug. 30 with as many business people and residents attending as possible.

Siegler said Heritage Ohio recommends creating a public/private partnership with four volunteer committees addressing specific aspects of revitalization – economic restructuring, design, promotions, and organization – with four to 10 volunteers each to lead the Main Street program.

“Is it good or bad to have property owners involved?” asked Baker.

“You really need a bit of everybody,” said Siegler.

“Our greatest challenge is going to be funding,” said Buckeye Lake Village Council member A. Kaye Hartman.

Siegler said communities that participate in the Heritage Ohio revitalization process usually pay for it through private donations, county grant money, and earned income from fundraisers and events.

Baker asked if the village would need to hire someone to create an expensive land use plan for the downtown area. “What if it’s shelved?” he asked, and the village would lose its investment. Siegler said he doesn’t like to commission big plans and studies for downtown areas because the city will constantly change from year to year, and that big, complicated master plan would quickly become obsolete.

“We don’t need a study,” said Hartman.

Baker said the village already has its zoning in place.

“We’re not going to attract a chain (business),” said Hartman.

“I don’t know if we want to,” said Baker.

Siegler said most successful village downtown districts have strong businesses in historic buildings, as opposed to building lines of strip malls. He recommended that Buckeye Lake use as many existing downtown structures as possible, assuming they’re able to accommodate new businesses.

“We need businesses to sustain Buckeye Lake during the winter,” said Hartman.

Former Mayor Frank Foster, who was present at the meeting, suggested someone at least create a basic plan to illustrate how Buckeye Lake’s downtown could appear with proper planning. “Then people can get an idea of what people are doing,” he said.

“You have to have a vision and a roadmap,” said Siegler. “What do you want your downtown to be?”

Foster said there wouldn’t be enough money to make major changes to the downtown all at once. Any plan’s goal at this point would be to start moving the village in the right direction.

“There’s no silver bullet cure, start small,” said Siegler, who said the cities of Lancaster, Canal Winchester, and Nelsonville locally have all participated in the Main Street program. More than 30 communities participate statewide.

Foster said the mayor and village council should only invite people to join the process. Buckeye Lake business owners and residents should drive the changes.

Siegler said he’d be willing to return to Buckeye Lake to help organize a large meeting with business owners and residents.

“The worst thing we can do is copy another village,” said council member Donna Thompson. “We want something unique. There are a lot of ideas out there. Listen to them.”

Siegler said it’s not a matter of copying other villages. He said most successful communities have similar organization, even though they don’t resemble each other in appearance.

“I’m looking for quaintness in the downtown businesses,” said Baker. He said there’s room for larger retail stores near the interstate.

Siegler said most communities want to be unique; the successful communities concentrate on bringing in businesses. He was clear, however, that Heritage Ohio only helps communities plan their downtowns. The organization is not a funding source.

“We need a lakefront hotel so people stay the weekend,” said Hartman. “We need to get people here who aren’t just pulling a boat behind them.”

Foster said it was obvious people at the meeting had plenty of ideas, but suggested the village schedule the Aug. 30 community meeting.

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