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Group focuses on future of square
Group focuses on future of square
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
CHARDON – City leaders outlined their vision Saturday for an improved Chardon Square that includes more residential opportunities, restaurants, niche businesses and a vibrant night life.
The group participated in a design charrette, which is a design and planning exercise that is conducted over a compressed time period. Headed by Kent State University’s Sagree Sharma, an urban designer with the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the session was intended to create a vision for the future, identifying key features the group would like to see for the square and identifying features that need to go.
It included representatives from the business community, City Council, the Chardon Chamber of Commerce, the Chardon Square Association, Chardon Tomorrow and Chardon High School.
“We are here to establish a vision of what we think is possible,” said Ted Theofrastus of Chardon Tomorrow.
The participants broke out into three sessions to brainstorm about various aspects of development, to look at what is possible, how it might be attained and how to ensure easy accessibility around the community.
Keep small-town feel
A polling of residents showed they enjoyed the small-town atmosphere the city provides, as well as its affordability, safety and family-friendly feeling, Ms. Sharma said. Those same residents wanted more restaurants, niche retail and a walkable town square.
While communities, such as historic downtown Willoughby, rely on taverns to promote a vibrant nightlife, Chardon would not seek that type of environment, Councilwoman Leslie Bednar said. Instead, thriving small businesses, residential opportunities on the square and more restaurants can provide the atmosphere sought.
Susan Swartzwelder, president of the OPS Network, a consulting firm for small businesses, said the city has to look toward opening its doors to all types of businesses and possibly the creation of an incubator space for start-up businesses. Incubators provide resources, which can be as simple as a short-term use of office space, to aid fledgling businesses that may not be able to rent space. Adding a fiber-optic network also would work to foster businesses on the square, she added.
Attract youth to square
The group stressed the importance of attracting the community’s youth to the town center.
Allie Diehl, a Chardon High senior, told the group that while the city provides a series of concerts through the summer, most bands are oriented toward families, not youth. She said the younger crowd would come if it could relate to the bands.
Andrew Blackley, who heads the design committee for Chardon Tomorrow, said his son and friends want to go anywhere but Chardon when they are looking for a night out. A Coventry-type atmosphere like in Cleveland Heights is more appealing to them.
Thomas Bryant, president of the square association, said attracting youth is vital to the survival of the community. “If you don’t get young people to stay, the town grows old and dies.”
In many cases, the city and community will have to work with what it has because tearing down will be cost-prohibitive, Mr. Bryant said.
The city may be able to provide a more “artsy, funky” approach to cover up its shortcomings, Mrs. Bednar suggested. An example may be to make the alley behind the west side block of stores and offices more inviting with lights and murals. Redoing a patchwork of electrical lines there would be too expensive, she said, and a cosmetic approach may be more realistic.
Time to reshape square
John Park, a former Chardon mayor and businessman, said there has been talk in the past of redoing the east side of the park with Geauga County offices in a new complex. The problem has always been economics. He asked whether there is a model the city can follow to accomplish its vision.
The community has to buy in to the idea of reshaping the square, Ms. Sharma said. There is the challenge of convincing those who don’t like change.
“No matter how forward thinking we are in this room, there’s resistance to change,” Mrs. Bednar said.
Many of the organizations involved in the square, such as the chamber and square association, have worked separately, Mr. Bryant said, but are starting to show more collaboration.
The various sessions Saturday showed the group is open to closing Short Court Street for pedestrian use and adding a play fountain for children. A small boutique hotel or a bed-and-breakfast would serve the community if the southwest corner of the square was open to development.
A more ambitious plan involves the redevelopment of the southeast corner of the square to allow for a “destination retail” store, one that serves the demographics of the area, such as a high-end hunting and fishing store.
A more successful farmers’ market, now hosted by the city, will be dependent on upgrades to electricity and water at Short Court, Mr. Bryant said.
A “grog shop”-type venue would provide an attraction for youth, he said, and creating connections between the theater and art center at the south end could provide a more vibrant area.
The three-story building at the northwest end of the square, which houses a bank and offices, is in the group’s sights as needing some type of makeover.
Developer Jerry Petersen said his investment group considered buying the building, but the only viable use would be residential. Even then, the design of the interior space limited that concept.
Alex T. Jelepis, with the commercial real estate firm of Grubb & Ellis, said the building is the “worst on the square,” but a buyer is expected to close soon on the building, which will offer a chance to make it a hub for small businesses or add to residential units on the square.
The group also expressed a wish to rework the parking lot of the county courthouse by moving it to the rear of the building and hiding it with landscaping.
Expanding the space along Main Street (routes 6 and 44) to accommodate more outdoor dining was identified as important, as was opening the upper floors of buildings on the west side to residential use.
Deal with traffic flow
Several ideas concerned vehicle traffic, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.
Mr. Blackley talked about the need to redirect truck traffic from Route 44 off the square, possibly moving truck traffic along Cherry Street to Wilson Mills Road or Park Avenue.
Creating accommodating spaces for motorcyclists could bring added revenues to city businesses as many bikers enjoy touring and stopping in small towns for eating and shopping, Mrs. Swartzwelder said.
Mr. Theofrastus said he would like to direct bicycle traffic from a planned path west of the square to the square.
More prominent pedestrian crossings were identified as needed to promote a vibrant square and make connections easier.
The city government can be more accommodating to businesses by working on the business’ schedule to expedite projects, Mr. Petersen said. “Everything doesn’t happen in 30-day increments.”
The group will make a presentation to council and host future public forums to discuss ideas brought forward, Mr. Theofrastus said. Ms. Sharma will have a completed charrette document in four to five weeks, which would provide who, what, when and why for a redevelopment plan for the square.
The city’s future is tied to its schools, where the community must show its, Mr. Petersen said. “All that we’ve talked about doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t support our local schools.”
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