Grove City's Town Center framework focus shifts, but core goals remain

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grove City's updated Town Center framework includes a map showing the proposed civic spaces in the downtown district (light green); existing and planned civic spaces (dark green) and infill-development opportunity areas (orange.) The proposed civic spaces include the former Grove City Library site at 3359 Park St., represented by the light-green square labeled "D" in the middle of the map.

A lot has changed since a preliminary draft of Grove City's Town Center framework was presented to the public in August 2019.

Putting the COVID-19 topic aside for a moment, the change referenced here is the focus of the proposed planning document for the Town Center.

Kim Shields, the city's community-development manager, presented an overview of the updated framework during a special City Council meeting Jan. 25.

Council members indicated their general approval of the document, with the expectation that a resolution certifying their support of the framework would be adopted in the near future.

The creation of the framework was put in motion after the city had issued a request for proposals for the former Grove City LIbrary site at 3359 Park St. in 2017, Shields said.

The city received two responses, and a committee was formed to review the responses.

A desire to see how redevelopment of the old library site might fit in with other development opportunities in the Town Center led to the start of the framework process, Shields said.

As it turned out, neither development proposal for the library site was accepted, and in November 2019, council approved legislation calling for the old library site and surrounding city-owned property to be redeveloped as public recreation space.

When the draft framework was presented, the document "was structured around an illustrative vision plan that showed potential building placements on land identified for redevelopment," Shields said.

The input received at the 2019 public meeting led to the illustrative vision plan being removed and a shift in focus to "the public realm and how we can connect those potential redevelopment sites through a nice walkable and robust public realm," she said. The update presented Jan. 25 reflected that shift.

The three core goals of the framework, however, haven't changed, Shields said.

Those goals are:

• To preserve and strengthen the unique character of the Town Center

• To enhance the economic vitality of the Town Center

• To improve the pedestrian and vehicular circulation, connectivity and wayfinding to and within the Town Center

Each goal includes a set of objectives, Shields said.

A new objective has been added to the economic goal, she said.

That objective is to provide attraction efforts to businesses that will generate foot traffic and activity.

"The public survey we did showed there is a desire for more restaurants and activity" in Grove City's downtown district, Shields said.

Forty-six percent of the respondents said restaurants were the amenity they wanted to see more of in the Town Center, she said.

The next three most popular responses were public parking, open/community space and retail, Shields said.

In total, 203 people participated in the survey, either at the 2019 public meeting or online, she said.

About half said they would be willing to walk more than two blocks to their Town Center destination, Shields said.

Passive green space was mentioned most often by respondents as the community space or feature they most want to see in the Town Center, she said. The next two choices were a public plaza with water feature and an outdoor amphitheater.

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The framework recommendations for how properties in the district should be redeveloped include placing buildings closer to the road, putting parking in behind buildings and establishing service courts to ensure utilities and parking are screened from view, Shields said.

Among the most prominent potential sites that could be redeveloped as public space include a First Street promenade that would be similar to the pedestrian promenade on the west side of Broadway that connects the Broadway Station apartments behind City Hall to the new Grove City Library and the Columbus Street plaza that would create a connection to the park planned at the Beulah Park development site, she said.

Council member Randy Holt asked if the city could consider limiting semitruck traffic on Broadway in the Town Center.

Truck traffic that turns right onto Broadway from Southwest Boulevard "is really disruptive," he said.

Those types of vehicles have long been considered "a No. 1 annoyance," Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.

It is both a "blessing" and a "plague" that Broadway is a highway (U.S. Route 62), he said.

The city has worked with some of the companies on Southwest Boulevard that generate much of the truck traffic to reduce the number of vehicles traveling through the Town Center, Stage said.

Grove City has explored various options, but passing legislation to limit truck traffic isn't one that's available because the roadway is a highway, law director Stephen Smith said.

Another problem is that rerouting the trucks off Broadway would result in the vehicles driving on streets through residential neighborhoods, city administrator Chuck Boso said.

Perhaps there is a way to reduce the amount of truck traffic through the downtown, Stage said.

"The question is, have we given up? The answer is no," he said. "Are we optimistic? No."

Council member Ted Berry said the city might find the survey results to be different in the current COVID-19 situation.

After being cooped up for a year, residents might be more favorable to seeing additional open space in the Town Center, he said.

It might be worthwhile to revive the survey and see how the public responds, Berry said.

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