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Urbana association working with agency to improve downtown

Urbana’s Monument Square District is working with a state preservation association to find new ways to market downtown businesses and tackle issues like vacant buildings and parking.

The Monument Square District, which promotes events and businesses downtown, recently began working with Heritage Ohio. The statewide organization provides assistance to cities on issues such as historic preservation and tourism. The agreement can help provide advice to downtown retailers and offer suggestions to help preserve Urbana’s historic district, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for Urbana.

The Monument Square District is working on several projects this year to clean up and decorate the city’s downtown square, Bailey said. Board members are also being asked to serve on committees for events the Monument Square District provides each year.

“The more we can do downtown, the more we can serve the retailers downtown,” Bailey said.

Heritage Ohio, based in Columbus, can provide free workshops and other services to downtown retailers to help preserve historic buildings and encourage residents to shop downtown, said Jeff Siegler, director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio.

“As a field, it’s somewhat obscure,” Siegler said. “There’s not a whole lot of help in any one community when it comes to urban revitalization.”

For example, the organization recently hosted a workshop in Wooster, Ohio, to provide information on building codes for historic buildings. Often business owners believe those sites are expensive to renovate, but Siegler said there are codes that are designed for older buildings that are more flexible and can make the process more affordable.

In Urbana, he said some issues that have been discussed include finding ways to fill vacant spaces downtown and parking. One of the biggest challenges is to set priorities for which issues are most important for a city.

The organization charges about $950 a year for services that will be provided in Urbana, as compared to $4,000 for the organization’s Ohio Main Street Program. The Ohio Main Street program, however, requires entities to devote a full-time staff member to take part.

“There are a million things to do,” Siegler said. “A community has to decide what it is they want to take on.”

The agreement will provide a better blueprint as local businesses try to attract more visitors downtown, said Pam Bowshier, a member of the Monument Square District.

“This gives us a cohesive structure to follow so we can offer more to the business owners downtown,” Bowshier said.

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