A local historic downtown needs some help, and this new group is making plans


A new committee formed in Urbana will work with investors and small businesses in an effort to redevelop vacant spaces in the city’s historic downtown.

The group, Moving Downtown Forward, hosted its first meeting downtown in the Mike Major Studio on Miami Street. Using Bellefontaine as a partner and model, the organization’s goal is to streamline the process to redevelop vacant properties downtown and draw more apartments, restaurants and other businesses to the city.

MORE: Logan County auditor resigns, cites Ohio high court tax ruling

Several of the first-floor office spaces in downtown Urbana are occupied with businesses and restaurants, said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the Champaign Economic Partnership. But like many cities, it’s been a challenge finding investors willing to take risks and rehab other spaces on the second and third floors of many of the city’s historic buildings.

DETAILS: Unemployment rates tick up in Clark, Champaign Counties

“We don’t market what we have,” Bailey said. “We’re slow appreciating what we have and telling people about it.”

The new committee includes representatives from local government, small business owners, an architect and property owners, Bailey said.

RELATED: New sub chain opens first and only Ohio restaurant in Springfield

The group’s first meeting included a panel discussion with Jamon Sellman, a local business owner who talked about his experiences rehabbing a loft apartment downtown. Sarah Mackert, a Champaign County native who works in Columbus, discussed some of Urbana’s advantages, including affordable property and the reasonable driving distance to Columbus and Dayton.

“We have a lot of the fundamental elements already in place,” Mackert said about Urbana’s potential to attract new businesses.

READ MORE: Business leader: Springfield, other small cities need state help

Jason Duff, CEO and founder of Community Storage and Properties, Ltd., clicked through a slideshow of once-vacant properties throughout downtown Bellefontaine, in Logan County, that have been redeveloped in recent years for new restaurants, retail stores and apartments. He said restaurants like 600 Downtown and businesses like Brewfontaine, a local brewery, quickly developed a base of loyal customers in properties that had long been vacant.

MORE BUSINESS NEWS: Navistar’s UAW president resigns

He said smaller cities like Urbana and Bellefontaine can’t compete directly with the state’s metro areas, so they need to be creative and make it easier for small businesses to move in. It’s hard to attract popular chain restaurants to smaller cities like Bellefontaine, so that often means finding a small business owner who’s willing to take a risk instead, he said.

“There aren’t people standing in line to buy our buildings here in town,” Duff said.

Bellefontaine has made big strides in finding new uses for vacant properties and the communities will likely begin working together more closely to learn what strategies work best to spur investment downtown, Bailey said. That can also include some simple improvements, like installing signs downtown that point out the location of existing local businesses.

Bringing new business to both cities will benefit both counties and make the region more attractive, Duff said.

“We’re far enough we’re not going to compete with each other,” he said. “We need to work together and learn from each other.”

The challenge, he said, is finding the right investors and business owners and working with them to remove barriers to starting a new business.

“If we sit back and do the status quo, we’re going to die a slow death,” Duff said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community News

UD reports 6 cases of viral infection on campus
UD reports 6 cases of viral infection on campus

The University of Dayton’s health center has found six cases of hand, foot and mouth disease on campus. The disease is still active in at least one person, according to an email from the university sent to campus. Hand, foot and mouth disease can cause a sore throat, a low fever, diarrhea and blisters on the hands and feet. “The University...
Meijer will now deliver alcohol straight to your door
Meijer will now deliver alcohol straight to your door

Meijer is adding alcohol to its delivery service. Starting today, Ohio shoppers can have beer and wine, along with 70,000 grocery and daily items delivered from local Meijer stores through Shipt. The retailer first launched the delivery option in Ohio last year. Many retailers are partnering with third parties in a race to provide the best grocery...
Aberdeen shooting: Woman, 26, kills self, 3 others in 'horrific' Rite Aid center incident
Aberdeen shooting: Woman, 26, kills self, 3 others in 'horrific' Rite Aid center incident

Four people died Thursday after a temporary employee opened fire at a Rite Aid distribution center in Maryland, according to Harford County sheriff’s deputies. The suspected shooter was among the deceased, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said. Deputies in Harford County said they responded just after 9 a.m. to reports of a shooting with “multiple...
Texas bride paralyzed in boogie board accident in Hawaii
Texas bride paralyzed in boogie board accident in Hawaii

A Texas woman’s dream honeymoon in Hawaii earlier this month turned nightmarish when she was paralyzed in a freak boogie boarding accident, KXAS reported. >> Read more trending news  Nikki Lewis and Will Lewis were married Sept. 8 in a destination wedding on Maui. Days later, the couple and some friends were at the beach. While...
88-year-old victim of carjacking: ‘I’d kill the SOB’
88-year-old victim of carjacking: ‘I’d kill the SOB’

An elderly Michigan woman left battered and bruised when a man stole her car and purse outside a Walmart store Tuesday did not mince words when asked what she would like to do if she saw the man again. “I’d kill the son of a (expletive),” Gloria Kevelighan told Fox 2 in Detroit. “The way he pushed me, he didn’t care...
More Stories