SIDNEY — Adding curbs and repaving streets in neighborhoods surrounding downtown Sidney, creating incentives to attract landlords and business owners to the smaller spaces available around the courtsquare and constructing an amphitheater along the Great Miami River were some of the ideas voiced by a small group of interested citizens and city officials, Thursday, during a community forum at the Senior Center.
The public meeting was the second in a process led by Glenn T. Grisdale, of Reveille, a Bowling Green-based consulting firm. Information gathered Thursday will inform an updated comprehensive plan for the city. The city council revisits the plan every five years.
Grisdale and Reveille Principal Amanda Hernandez invited the forum’s 14 attendees to consider several questions that had been prepared in advance, based on responses to an online public survey which has indicated so far that downtown Sidney is the “the most valuable thing in town that needed improvement,” Grisdale said.
The survey, at www.sidneyoh.com, will be available through October. To date, 580 people have completed it.
“You’ve got the bones of greatness here in Sidney. But it’s going to take a lot from caring people like yourselves,” Grisdale said.
He noted that responses have indicated that downtown Sidney suffers from a lack of entertainment and eating and drinking facilities; lack of uniform store hours; insufficient retail diversity; insufficient promotion of downtown; parking, and issue comprising location, signage, aesthetics and excessive walking distances for shoppers; lack of cooperation among merchants; poor image and poor store facades; lack of patronage by county residents, and to some extent, city residents; and poor pedestrian systems, like wayfinding and use of alleys.
“What’s interesting,” he added, “is that those are the same problems that were identified (in a planning process) 40 years ago. Now they’re just more expensive to address.”
Thursday’s attendees divided into two groups to discuss how to fix some of those issues. In addition to the ideas listed above was a suggestion to make the alley from the public parking lot along Ohio Avenue, north of North Street, attractive and to add lighting, so people would feel comfortable in using the parking lot when visiting downtown. Another was to establish boating activities and to develop social events near the river. Someone suggested making Ohio and Main avenues two-way for auto traffic.
Currently, “downtown” is defined as a nine-block area with the courtsquare in the center. One group thought that the area should be enlarged not necessarily in a symmetrical way but so that the library, the Ross Center, the Senior Center and some existing retail stores would be included.
Both groups noted that if tax or grant incentives were available to owners of properties in a wider area than the current nine-block section, entrpreneurs might open restaurants or boutiques in some of the historic houses that rim the downtown.
“Sometimes, the empty storefronts on the courtsquare are not what business owners are looking for,” one attendee said.
To open the forum, Grisdale repeated statistics he had presented at the first forum, in March, that project that Sidney will be affected by diminishing population and a decline in per capita income in the future.
“It will be more expensive for rural communities to maintain infrastructure,” he said. “Manufacturing has been a primary source of good-paying jobs. That has dwindled and will continue as technology takes over.”
Through the use of electronic response cards, Grisdale compiled statistics about the demographics of the attendees. Small town charm was why 39 percent (about five people) said they live in Sidney. Four people said it was for a job. Four others said it was for family.
Twelve respondents said that Sidney’s quality of life is good. One each thought it is excellent or needs improvement. Three people identified themselves as downtown business owners; one as a downtown property owner; four as other downtown stakeholders; five as Sidney residents and one as a nonresident.
When asked what one thing there should be more of in downtown, excluding “more businesses” as a choice, five people selected “more social activities and festivals.” Eight chose an undefined “Other.” Five attendees think a lack of move-in-ready properties is the biggest threat to downtown. Three think the threat comes from a lack of patronage by residents. Nine people think the Troy/Tipp City area is Sidney’s biggest trade competition. Two listed Dayton. One each named Piqua, other county locations and the Internet.
The group was evenly split in ranking property maintenance areas that need attention. A third thought commercial properties should come first; another third thought rental residential properties should head the list; and yet another third thought that maintenance plans should target specific neighborhoods based on need.
Three quarters of the attendees think that the riverfront adjacent to downtown and that downtown alleys are underutilized. Downtown parking does not seem to be an issue at all. There are just certain times of the day and certain specific locations, like around the courtsquare, when it’s hard to find a parking place, the group said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.