Downtown Delaware's historic business district dates to the 19th century and is on the National Register of Historic Places -- yet its current use is a 21st-century example of an outstanding physical space, says the Ohio chapter of the American Planning Association.

Downtown Delaware was one of four community areas in Ohio to receive an award to that effect this month from the association.

The award "really is a big deal," city Planning Director Dave Efland told City Council after the announcement.

The awards are the first in what's planned to be a biennial competition, he said.

The Ohio APA said the program "honors outstanding physical spaces throughout the state that planners have created and nurtured through careful planning and unbridled imagination."

The goal of the program, said APA Ohio President Kimberly Lieber, is "not only to recognize and celebrate the important work of Ohio planners, but also to raise awareness among residents, community stakeholders and state and local officials regarding the transformative power of planning."

Delaware was one of 13 communities nominated for the award, Efland said.

Today's downtown, he told council, is the result of the efforts over many years by city planners, property owners, business owners, city staff, Main Street Delaware and the community itself.

"We look at (the award) as an affirmation of what we've done," Efland said, adding that when he accepted the award at a presentation in Cincinnati, he said, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

He later said the renaissance of downtown began years ago.

"It's our building owners. It's our property owners. It's us and the city and its staff. It's really having a vision and a plan for our downtown and everyone executing on that vision and plan, which is what's making it great.

"And that's what APA Ohio really recognizes: how great a place it's become in the state of Ohio."

"The three-block, Sandusky Street corridor boasts a variety of niche shopping, dining and brew pubs," city spokesman Lee Yoakum said in a press release.

"Delaware's commitment to its bustling downtown is reflected in the Historic Preservation Commission, tasked with preserving the character of the downtown's historic structures and ensuring compatible new construction within the district," Yoakum said. "City Hall also supports planning efforts to update historic facades, implement streetscape improvements, install wayfinding signage and preserve century-old buildings. In addition, the city of Delaware provides financial support each year to Main Street Delaware."

Downtown Delaware and Bridge Street in Ashtabula received awards as commercial districts, the Ohio APA said. Public-space awards went to Wade Oval on University Circle in Cleveland, and Wildwood Metropark in Toledo.