A Development Plan for Saint Paris
Some of you have heard from me before on the subject of town development, to which there are, in my estimation, six elements: home ownership, downtown development, 370 East Main, infrastructure, code enforcement and the nascent bike trail project. I offer a plan:
Job One is to create more of it. Simple as that. More homeowners means more residents with a financial stake in the town's success, a broader tax base and more customers for local businesses.
Not only do we need to enhance the town's visual and commercial attraction but we should also help aspiring homeowners secure financing. Which isn't as simple as it used to be, because after the 2008 housing-finance crisis, banks found other ways to make money. Nonetheless there are solutions out there. Problem is learning about them and navigating the paperwork morass.
The easiest (and perhaps the most effective) recourse would be to form a committee of experienced volunteers with knowledge of all things financial to guide applicants through the process.
It requires two necessary elements:
We need to a) recruit from the local banks a financing partner and b) form a Community Development Corporation to help downtown owners rehabilitate (or if necessary bulldoze and rebuild) all those old structures. For any financing eventually to materialize there must first be a plan. And that begins with ...
"Where's the parking?" is the first question after every presentation I've ever seen about "adaptive re-use" of downtown buildings. Even with the financing in place, developers won't start without a parking plan to attract retail traffic. The obvious parking location is the area around and behind the municipal building. So upgrade the unpaved space there.
One idea is to take the west side of the village lot and convert it into diagonal parking accessible from the alley. Make a wider turn lane for semi-truck deliveries to the growing businesses on South Springfield Street.
More good news: Plum Street is scheduled for a rebuild in 2024, when more diagonal parking spots can be marked and paved.
370 East Main
The gravel pit where the old school building once stood will someday be the town's jewel. Many ideas out there. Here's mine:
Two buildings there (a pole barn and the old cafeteria) are now used by the street department. First move the street department to a space on the north side of the sewage-plant property. Sure, it costs money but funding can be found in places other than the village's general fund. That leaves 8.4 acres for whatever comes next. Developing a plan and securing the funding will take time so in the meantime we can build something low-cost and low-impact like a soccer field and dog park.
Once heard an idea for a picnic area and facilities for food trucks. Ideas abound. (What's yours?)
Looking ahead, idea that seems to get people's attention is an indoor recreation facility that would include a basketball court, running track, workout area and community meeting space. Outside groups such as the YMCA and Urbana Youth Center already have expressed interest in managing such a facility ... once it is built. The good news there is the presence of many state and funding programs for health, recreation, senior citizens, the handicapped and children that can be bundled to finance the construction. Which of course would be done in phases. (How 'bout a pool in phase 3?)
Streets and sidewalks enhance the town's curb appeal. Along with water and sewer these are the responsibility of village government. There's little we civilians can do other than to (constructively) pester our local officials, who need to find ways to accelerate our infrastructure upgrade. After many years of under-investment it won't happen overnight but that shouldn't be used as an excuse; rather as motivation to innovate.
Everyone in town seems to have a complaint about the proverbial property next door: dwellings that have fallen into disrepair or are occupied by individuals who allow the weeds to grow, dogs to bark at all hours and trash to pile up, all in violation of existing village ordinances. And then we have downtown building owners who are satisfied to let their vacant structures decay until somehow a buyer offers the outrageous price they think they deserve. Or until the building collapses. "There isn't enough paper" to record the code violations in many of these buildings, according to one former inspector.
One of the main responsibilities of the village administration is to create, update, and enforce village building ordinances. This ensures that proper standards are in place to encourage stable property values and an appearance of stability and growth, which will attract more businesses and residents to our town. When these codes are not enforced, everyone feels the negative effects.
The solution is both simple and cheap: hire a part-time code inspector, and consistently pursue code enforcement, first with gentle reminders, then with deadlines, then with fines and ultimately, if necessary, seizures. The problem won't stop until the offenders know we're serious. This is the most cost-effective way to improve the town's curb appeal.
Piqua to Urbana on the old railroad bed. Already moving east from Piqua so we need to get on it here in Champaign county. Bike trails bring undeniable economic benefits, particularly if they're in high-traffic corridors, as this one will be because it joins the two major north-south bicycle byways. Homebuilders and restauranteurs will want to build near it. It's basically a government project and will end up as a joint county-state-federal effort. Fortunately our mayor has taken the lead on this. But it's a daunting task. Lots of meetings, phone calls, persuasion and persistence over a period of months and years. What can you do to help? Encourage her. Join the Simon Kenton Pathfinders. And volunteer to help with planning and research. Next meeting is Oct. 19.
Getting it done
There are many folks in town with either work experience, education or special skills that make them perfectly fit to volunteer and help us reach these goals. (As you might have noticed, three of the six stated goals are outside the scope of elected government.) A meeting will be announced in the next few weeks but you now know where to find me if you'd like to speak to me.
I don't have all the answers, and I'm not the only one thinking about all of this. But I've offered a plan. A place to start. So let's get on with the job!