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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2005

Waterville: Analyze, unify for downtown, village told

BY RACHAEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Waterville residents working on forming a Main Street program for the village now have recommendations from Main Street experts on how to revitalize the downtown business district.

A group of residents, including members of the village council and Chamber of Commerce and several downtown business and property owners, took the first step in joining Main Street in January by inviting a panel of experts to visit Waterville. The three-person panel of experts delivered their report last week.

"The report provided what I think we were looking for, which was a basic structure with which to build our organization," said Paul Croy, a Waterville attorney leading the village's fledgling Main Street group. "The Main Street approach can help keep us focused."

Main Street, a nationwide program of the federal National Historic Trust, uses organization, design, promotion, and economic restructuring to improve aging business districts. Members of the program get help with grant applications and strategies for revitalization.

Waterville hosted a two-day visit in January by Adam Levengood, program manager of one of Toledo's Main Street programs, Kate Reagan, executive director of the Main Street program in Elyria, Ohio, and Joyce Barrett, program associate with Heritage Ohio/Downtown Ohio Inc., the agency that oversees Main Street programs around the state.

"I thought the people were very knowledgeable," Councilman Lori Brodie said. "They could see tons of possibilities in the whole downtown concept."

The panel's report says Waterville's downtown businesses are doing well, but there need to be better connections between them and a unified campaign promoting the downtown. The report suggested creating a Web site featuring all the businesses and coupons to draw people to the stores.

The village should do an analysis of what goods and services are provided and what are still needed downtown, the report says.

It recommends surveying business owners and customers to help guide management of the business district.

The report also states that the village should establish stricter design guidelines for downtown buildings to make sure that future development captures the historic feel of the area. For buildings that need improvements, a local organization could create a revolving loan fund to assist owners in funding renovations.

Mr. Croy said a good idea from the report was contacting some of the village's largest employers for support with downtown projects.

"There's a couple of large employers on the periphery of the village that we hope would be interested in helping us," he said. "I'm not sure we would have thought of that."

To take the next step and join Main Street, the village would need to hire a staff person to manage the local program and pay membership fees to the national organization.

The residents' group is working on registering as a nonprofit organization and figuring out how much it would cost to establish and operate a Main Street program in Waterville.

"We would need to charge downtown businesses membership fees and do fund-raising to get the money for Main Street," Ms. Brodie said.



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