Pickerington officials, residents and Olde Village stakeholders gathered at an open house Dec. 7 to celebrate the unveiling of a new downtown plan that aims to transform the area.

Aaron Domini, senior planner for OHM Advisors, the firm hired by the city to develop the plan, said the biggest challenge is in making sure multiple entities all have a seat at the table and then bundle those resources into one voice.

"It's about getting organized," Domini said. "That's No. 1.

"We've learned from research that a lot of people doing a lot of work coming at it from different angles dilutes resources," he said.

Bringing together such entities as the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce, the Pickerington Village Association, the city of Pickerington, business owners and others to create a single vision for the landmark area is paramount to the success of downtown, Domini said.

"We're diluting resources so ultimately we want (decisions) to go to one organization that is in charge of downtown Pickerington," he said.

Attaining an identity means first finding out what the vested stakeholders want as far as a comprehensive vision for the area, he said.

"What is the essence of who you are (and) what is the story you're telling" are questions that need to be answered, Domini said.

The end result is a newly unveiled downtown plan that aims to both preserve and improve a valuable community asset.

Vibrant, more dense, walkable downtown community with diverse offerings and accessible gathering spaces are important goals of the plan.

Domini helped the city of Hilliard plan the revamping of its Old Hilliard downtown area in 2006 to transform that city's once sleepy main commercial business district into a vibrant destination center.

"They just created the vision and worked the plan," he said.

Liberty Schindel, Pickerington's economic development director, said utilizing existing tools to attract businesses to Olde Village is vital to carrying out the plan.

She said those tools include Community Development Block Grants, Economic Development Administration Revolving Loan programs and impact-fee waivers.

Schindel said tax abatements also could be granted through the Community Reinvestment Area that covers downtown Pickerington.

"Pickerington currently has three CRAs," she said.

"Within this zone, new investment is eligible for a tax abatement in the value of new improvements up to 15 years," she said.

The Downtown Pickerington Plan utilized community feedback in formulating its recommendations.

According to input from public meetings, the most commonly referenced strengths of downtown Pickerington were its "historic charm and hometown feel."

The public also identified a greater variety of dining, shopping options and outdoor events as amenities needed downtown.

The plan specifically recommends new green space at the corner of Columbus Street and North Center Street. That goal would require the relocation of the Fairfield County Sheriff's office. A second recommendation is for new residential town homes to eventually be constructed on the land that is currently home to the Pickerington Farmers' Market on Town Square Drive.

Thirdly, the plan's recommendation calls for mixed-use residential/retail development at the "gateway" to downtown, located at the intersection of Hill Road and West Columbus Streets.