Hilliard's Station Park at Center and Main streets in Old Hilliard was a focal point for entertainment in its first year of operation and is important for establishing a new Old Hilliard culture, according to city leaders.

Hilliard's Station Park at Center and Main streets in Old Hilliard was a focal point for entertainment in its first year of operation and is important for establishing a new Old Hilliard culture, according to city leaders.

"Economic development in Old Hilliard is thriving because of Hilliard's Station Park," Mayor Don Schonhardt said.

The opening of Hilliard's Station Park in December 2015 followed the opening of First Responders Park in 2010 and a $3.2 million project in 2008 that added on-street parking and other improvements on Main Street.

Although most popular in the summer because of its splash pad, live music and such events as Food Truck Thursdays, Hilliard's Station Park appears to be attracting visitors year-round.

Business owners have noticed, and some said they are making significant investments to capitalize on the growing number of people who are visiting Old Hilliard.

Jim Velio, owner of Otie's Tavern and Grill, 5344 Center St., is in the midst of building a second-floor bar, dining room and outdoor patio at the landmark restaurant that opened in 1965. Across the street, Sports on Tap, 4030 Main St., has a pending application before the city's planning and zoning commission to renovate the building and provide an outdoor seating area.

"Old Hilliard is the place to be right now in Hilliard," said Libby Gierach, president and CEO of the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, 4081 Main St. "The programming by the (city's) recreation and parks (department) at Hilliard's Station Park has revitalized the area. Businesses are moving in. Others are improving their property, bringing value to Old Hilliard."

The chamber put its own money behind the sentiment by completing a renovation of its Old Hilliard office in August. It invested $45,000 in exterior improvements and $28,000 in interior improvements to remodel the century-old house in which it is based, Gierach said.

Siding was falling off the house and asbestos removal was required, she said. The siding was removed and replaced with fiber-cement siding manufactured by James Hardie.

"The city was pleased we chose to use James Hardie (for) its aesthetic value," Gierach said.

Molly Mahoney, owner of the Starliner Diner, 4121 Main St., relocated to Old Hilliard in June from her original restaurant at 5240 Cemetery Road, which Starliner had occupied since 1994.

Mahoney moved to make way for Landmark Lofts, a mixed-use development under construction at Cemetery Road and Franklin Street, and she has embraced the city's historic district.

Not only did her customers move with her, she said, but new patrons also are discovering the restaurant for the first time.

"We've picked up a lot of new customers and the number is still growing. There is so much foot traffic," Mahoney said.

She estimated she and the property owner invested $300,000 to upgrade the brick building that once was the city's post office and most recently a dance studio.

Mahoney said she is looking forward to the opening of a Whit's Frozen Custard later this year across the street at a storefront that once was a barber shop.

Whit's is relocating from 6352 Scioto Darby Road, just west of Cosgray Road.

A few blocks south, Local Cantina, 3975 Main St., opened in Old Hilliard in 2016, as did the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center at 5425 Center St. and Coffee Connections at 4004 Main St.

Nate Grenier, 31, co-owner of Coffee Connections, said he wanted to be in Old Hilliard when he first saw the district four years ago.

Grenier and his wife, Sharon, recently had moved to central Ohio from northeast Ohio. On the advice of a friend, they explored Old Hilliard as a site for a potential business.

The son of a clergyman, Grenier resolved to establish a business that would serve the community. He first obtained a license to operate a portable coffee cart at food-truck events, but a meeting with the owner of Solar Cafe to discuss business practices led him on a different path.

The Greniers purchased the business interest of Solar Cafe, rebranding it Coffee Connections to reflect its focus. It does not have the Solar Cafe's extensive menu or wine selections.

They opened Coffee Connections in September.

"I guess we were supposed to be here all along," Grenier said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo