Dublin is looking to Heritage Ohio to help shape the future and revitalization of the city's Historic District.

The city will execute a $5,000, one-year contract with the organization following the assembly of a task force, said Donna Goss, Dublin's director of development.

As part of the initiative, Heritage Ohio would visit Dublin's Historic District using its downtown assessment resource team and provide the city resources about best practices in the state and country, Goss said.

Dublin officials would put together a group that will have a broad representation from the community, including Historic District business owners, residents and other stakeholders, Goss said, to get input from the community regarding the future of the district.

Heritage Ohio would lend expertise to help inform the task force and provide structure and direction.

Dublin typically has focused its Historic District studies on design and historical character, Goss said, but city leaders want this initiative to be comprehensive, including not only physical character but economic vitality, services and amenities and the area's role as a community hub.

The initiative would focus on the district's business climate, housing, parking and cultural amenities. The district is bordered by the Scioto River to the east, Indian Run to the north, Cosgray Ditch to the south and Corbins Mill Drive to the west.

City officials said they do not have a definitive figure for the number of businesses in the district because that figure is fluid.

Heritage Ohio's downtown assessment resource team visit occurs over two days, said Frances Jo Hamilton, director of revitalization with Heritage Ohio. The organization brings in four preservation and revitalization specialists to work with the stakeholder group and the larger community, she said.

"We get a visitors' view and then begin to work it out for each community to put together a one-year plan that is attainable, immediately implementable and that will bring the community together around downtown revitalization," Hamilton said.

"Each community is unique and has its own personality."

Dublin City Councilwoman Jane Fox said it's time for a community conversation about the Historic District, especially as the city's Bridge Street District develops and the pedestrian bridge connecting Bridge Street to the Historic District nears completion.

A plan for the city core, Fox said, "has to have the voice of the people who are living in it."

Scott Dring, executive director of the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau, said getting people on the same page regarding how the Historic District should look in the future is "extremely positive."

The bureau has continued to promote the Historic District and the Bridge Street District as a travel destination, Dring said.

The Historic District always will be the city's core, he said.

"It's a gem," Dring said. "It's something that is an important part of what we promote every day to sell the city."

Rick Gerber, president of the Historic Dublin Business Association, said the organization welcomes the opportunity to work with Heritage Ohio, which he said has an "exceptional" track record. Gerber said he looks forward to a collaborative effort to make the district more than it already is.

For Bob Benson, who has owned Shamrock Barber Shop for 27 years, a lack of parking is an issue in the Historic District.

The parking garage adjacent to the Dublin branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library isn't close enough to his shop, 86 S. High St., to be of use by his customers. A gravel lot behind his shop serves customers in warmer months but is unsafe during icy winters, he said.

Benson said his clientele includes those of all ages, but many of his customers are older, he said, and want to park close. He said he wishes the city would enforce its off-street parking and change the three-hour time limit to two hours.

Not far from Benson's shop is Knitting Temptations at 35 S. High St. Like Benson. Owner Karen Wilkins said the library parking garage is too far away from her store to help.

Some of her customers in the evening coming for classes would not park in the garage and walk along High Street to her store, Wilkins said. Carrying materials necessary for knitting also makes walking from the garage difficult, she said.

"It's frankly the reason I don't park over there," she said.

Aside from additional parking, Wilkins said she'd like to see more specialty shops in the Historic District.

The Historic District has a number of businesses in the beauty, legal and real estate industries, but those customers typically do not stay to browse other shops after receiving services, Wilkins said.

"There aren't enough shops down here to pull people," she said.

When her customers ask what shops are nearby, she said, she often sends them to Boho 72 Boutique at 72 N. High St.

Boho owner Jamie Mollwitz said she thinks an Historic District initiative is coming a bit too late.

She said she believes the Historic District has lost some of its character through changing architectural styles, new development and the loss of existing small businesses as buildings change ownership.

Development in the area has resulted in increased rent for many small business owners -- increases they cannot afford, Mollwitz said.

"I think that makes it really difficult," she said.

Mollwitz said she appreciates the support city staff members have given her so far. She said she wishes the city could somehow make it easier for small businesses to open in the Historic District.

Her customers tell her they want more stores like Boho 72, she said, because when they visit the area for retail now they do not find much.

Boho 72 manager Cindy Herold agreed.

"They want it; it's just not here," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah