Charles L. Brown doesn't want hindsight to be 20-20 when it comes to the lumberyard project.

Charles L. Brown doesn't want hindsight to be 20-20 when it comes to the lumberyard project.

He doesn't want to see reluctance on the part of city officials to invest money now turn out to have been unwise when that decision is reviewed many years from now.

He doesn't want to see another Stringtown Road.

At last week's "Town Hall" meeting on the subject of the proposed lumberyard project to redevelop the land behind City Hall, Brown invoked a debate that took place three and a half decades ago.

The issue at that time was placing service roads along either side of Stringtown Road to remove strictly local traffic and in general alleviate congestion.

No one wanted to spend the money then for acquiring the right of way and putting in the service streets, Brown pointed out.

"Now it's a nightmare to travel," he said of Stringtown Road.

When it comes to the current proposal for the former lumberyard site, which would encompass a 290-space city-owned parking garage, a city-owned public plaza and two buildings owned by a private developer to be rented out for offices, retail uses and classroom space for colleges, as well as an atrium connecting the parking garage with City Hall via the larger of the two structures, Brown counseled against cutting corners.

"Let's start thinking 35 years down the road," he said.

Mayor Richard L. "Ike" Stage went Brown 65 years better.

"I consider this a hundred-year decision," he told the approximately 25 people who gathered in City Council Chambers on April 23 to hear and be heard on the redevelopment project.

Those who attended the session, the first of four meetings Stage has proposed to hear from citizens on the potentially $29-million public-private initiative, sat through a presentation from developer Mo Dioun of the Gahanna-based Stonehenge Co., as well as Don Walters, the city's community and business relations officer, and retired Columbus State Community College Provost Mike Snider, who now serves as a consultant. They discussed the "Center of Learning" aspects of the proposed development.

Then it was an opportunity for the people to speak, and they offered up a mix of skepticism, outright opposition and unqualified support.

Dioun gave essentially the same multimedia presentation he presented at a special City Council session on April 14, outlining how his Gahanna development firm has been working on the details of the project since the spring of 2006.

"These things do not come easily," he said. "They take a lot of discussion."

The public plaza, with various possible water features, Dioun said, would be the main focal point of the overall project, a sort of "urban park" that would become a destination for not only Grove City residents but also people from throughout central Ohio.

The city's investment could be as much as $17-million, Dioun said, while his company would be putting up $12-million for the two buildings, one currently proposed at 66,000 square feet and facing Park Street and the other 8,000 square feet located in the plaza next to the parking structure.

Work on the parking garage could begin as early as June, with an estimated completion date this December, according to Dioun's timeline. Construction of the larger structure could commence in October and be finished by December 2010. The 8,000-square-foot building would take from April 2010 to that December to be completed, while the plaza and public space would require the longest to complete, with a start date this coming September and completion estimated for April 2011.

Dioun concluded by saying that he hopes one day to "have goose bumps" as he watches people enjoying themselves in the plaza, just as he does when he sees people gathered at the Creekside development his firm created in conjunction with the city of Gahanna.

The "Center of Learning" aspects of the lumberyard project came about "almost as a fluke," according to Mayor Stage. He said officials from Ashland University visited Grove City two and a half years ago to express interest in a branch campus. They were not interested, however, in investing in a building of their own but rather wanted to hold classes in rented space, Stage said. When he brought up the possibility of the lumberyard's office space, the mayor said that Ashland officials were pleased with the prospect.

Since that time, according to Walters, CSCC and Ohio State University Extension have signed letters of intent to hold classes in the 66,000-square-foot Park Street building, which until recently was also a candidate to house a relocated and expanded Grove City Library. A majority of council members shot that idea down at the April 6 meeting.

Three other colleges, which Walters did not name, are also close to signing similar letters of intent, he said. When all are up and running, the business and community relations officers estimated that the "Center of Learning" could draw as many as 3,000 students.

Snider, who worked at Columbus State for 33 years, said CSCC President Valeriana Moeller asked him to serve as a consultant following his retirement. The possibility of CSCC offering classes in the lumberyard project is important enough, Snider said, that he's been assigned to serve as the liaison between community college officials and the city.

As CSCC is doing in a Westerville program, Snider said the Grove City program would include not only classrooms but also computer and science labs.

"We're excited," Snider said. "We know that this is the right thing for Grove City."

During the public participation portion of the evening, resident Chuck Engelman expressed some incredulity that for a total investment of $17-million, all the city would be getting is a parking garage and public plaza.

Mayor Stage and City Administrator Philip D. Honsey responded that the city would also be getting "a lot of infrastructure," as well as improvements to City Hall and the atrium for use as public space.

Sandy Engelman expressed opposition to the parking garage. She said it simply would not look right in downtown Grove City. She also said that a 290-space structure would be inadequate for as many students as Walters said would be attending classes at the various colleges.

Resident John Matera suggested that a two-story main structure on Park Street might not be large enough to meet potential demand. Dioun replied that if the demand appears to exist, that building could be made larger, with the approval of the Planning Commission.

The second of Mayor Stage's lumberyard Town Halls was to have taken place Tuesday evening. The dates and time for the other two have not yet been set.