The Downtown Sylvania Partnership, credited by many with a major roll in steadily improving the city's business district, has nailed down funding for the next 10 years.
The City Council recently passed a measure that charges an annually increasing per-front-foot cost on downtown property owners to pay for programs and the expenses of the group that was established five years ago.
Assessments to owners and the city's additional share will bring in almost $100,000 for this year, and by 2012, the assessments are expected to total about $118,000.
Mayor Craig Stough said over the last five years, “there has been an increase in activity and organization in the downtown and I attribute it to the work of the partnership.”
Mr. Stough said he often compares Sylvania's downtown to a shopping mall with anchors at each end.
He pointed out that the southern end has an office building and a hotel under construction and that the northern end is usually considered to be the Sylvania Historical Village. Between those points is a mixture of retail stores and professional offices.
If it's compared to a mall, then Candy Baker, executive secretary of the partnership, is the ``mall manager'', with day-to-day responsibility for a variety of tasks.
In addition to hands-on help for businesses, the partnership maintains a Web site, produces and distributes brochures, produces special events, and places advertising promoting the downtown.
The partnership, through Ms. Baker, also is involved in keeping the business area clean and in tending to its landscaping.
A total of 65 percent of property owners in the district, including the city, signed petitions resulting in the new fees and an expansion of the district.
It had primarily been the business strip of Main Street, but now includes Summit Street, from Monroe to Maplewood streets, and Maplewood, from Summit to just west of the police station.
Colleen Pilcher, whose studio, Body Defined, is in the city-owned Maplewood Marketplace, hasn't had a lot of contact with the partnership, but is pleased with her decision to move in December from Cricket West in the Westgate area. Ms. Pilcher said she likes the feel of an older building and that the area allows easy access for her clients.
Both are points the partnership pushes in presenting the image of downtown Sylvania.
Street lights and sidewalks are designed to evoke an old-fashioned atmosphere and the sidewalks are dotted with hitching posts topped by black horses' heads.
Ms. Pilcher said that one thing that has surprised her has been the number of people who have contacted her after noticing her studio while walking past it.
She said she's had much more contact with people in that manner than she had in the five years she was at Cricket West.
Across Maplewood, Ruth Liaros waits for customers as she has for the seven years she and her husband have owned Kosta's, a gift and coffee shop at the rear of the building that faces Main.
Mrs. Liaros said she thinks the partnership has done a good job in making sure the business district stays spruced up.
It's difficult for her to complain, she said, because the business at Kosta's has gone up each of the seven years it's been open.
“It's leveled off a little in the last couple of months because of the economy, but going up seven years in a row is pretty good,'' she smiled.
She said she credits the partnership and the city with getting most property owners over the years to either install or clean the brick facades and to keep up appearances.
Mrs. Liaros' interest in the downtown goes back further than the opening of the store. She and her husband have owned the building since 1976.
She said the area is attractive to businesses, and that all the properties are full. She said that kind of stability adds to the overall desirability of the downtown for businesses and customers.
Becky Roshong, a partner in The Apple Tree, 5648 North Main, said she and her partner aren't convinced of the value of the partnership for their business.
Mrs. Roshong said most of her customers are drawn specifically to the gift shop and not because it is located in Sylvania's downtown. She and her partner decided against signing the petition for increased fees, she said.
Boyd Montgomery, new chairman of the partnership, said he thinks the downtown is more attractive today than it was five years ago, “and we're going to keep improving the visual aspect.”
He said Ms. Baker's job is often difficult to measure. Two years ago, he pointed out, she ushered a group of potential investors around the downtown and it helped bring about the construction of the hotel.
Now that funding is assured for the next 10 years, the partnership will not only continue what it has been doing, but become more active in a study of how to better direct people to available parking and develop more parking in the downtown area, Mr. Montgomery said.