Downtown Lancaster Ohio is a walkable neighborhood that is home to dozens of shops, restaurants, museums and parks. And civic leaders want to see more.
A new long-term revitalization plan was unveiled earlier this month that calls for new retail tenants, cultural amenities and other infill development. We recently spoke with David Uhl, Executive Director of Destination Downtown Lancaster and President of the Downtown Lancaster Special Improvement District, to find out more:
Q: Can you tell us a bit about what spurred the development of this new Downtown plan?
A: This plan was developed by City Economic Development Director Mike Pettit and a local real estate professional as a way to get the community talking about “what could be” in Downtown Lancaster. It is not meant to be comprehensive in nature, or even a final product. It is a “jumping off point” that has helped initiate discussion and spur movement forward toward a 10-year strategic plan for Downtown Lancaster. Destination Downtown Lancaster is currently working with community leaders and Downtown stakeholders on updating the plan and moving toward a 10-year plan which everyone can operate from.
Q: So what are the biggest challenges facing Downtown Lancaster today, and what hurdles need to be overcome to attract new private development?
A: One of the biggest issues we have in our Downtown today is perception. There is a perception that there is no parking Downtown, which is not true. There is a perception that we have many vacant storefronts, which is also not true. Our rent-ready inventory is minimal in Downtown. We have a couple of large buildings that lend to the perception that there are many vacancies, but in reality, there are not. Destination Downtown Lancaster is working hard everyday to counter these perceptions and help people understand that Downtown Lancaster has great museums, great public space, great retail and restaurants, and a great service-based industry.
Q: So what are some of the goals for this new 10-year development plan?
A: Long term goals include filling rent-ready space with the right tenants, dealing with vacant buildings, working toward adding more nightlife and entertainment options, and to make progress on infill and the development of new buildings where needed. New amenities like a food hub, performing arts center, and more residential options are being discussed.
Q: How much public infrastructure work needs to be done to accommodate new development?
A: The core Downtown District infrastructure was upgraded about 10 years ago, so we are in good shape in the center of Downtown. As we move south toward some potential development, there are infrastructure items that would need addressed in that area, including sidewalks, lights and planters.
Q: How have existing Downtown businesses reacted to the redevelopment plans?
A: From the feedback we have heard, the overall plan has been well received from people. There was a mis-characterization that the “Starter Plan” Mike put together was trying to move Downtown south. That is not accurate. The Downtown City Center has been and will continue to be corners of Main and Broad Street, and the surrounding blocks. However, the new development south is simply an expansion of the idea of Downtown and what its boundaries should be.
Q: Anything else that we should know about the announcement of the new plans?
A: As I mentioned previously, this plan is just a start. We have an Economic Restructuring committee meeting next week, where we will discuss the plan and begin the process of updating and editing it. In the next few months, our goal is to have a 10 year plan that will guide our development work over the next decade.
More information can be found online at www.DestinationDowntownLancaster.com.