A new economic development initiative approved by the Franklin County Commissioners will work to preserve and revitalize historic downtowns across Franklin County. The program, Downtown Works, allocates $54,175 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money for downtowns to partner with Heritage Ohio to take part in their Ohio Main Street Program. The money will also fund a part-time position to work directly with the participating communities on education and resource accrual efforts.
Franklin County is the first county to enlist Heritage Ohio, as they primarily work with individual downtowns. Every city, village and township in Franklin County that is not City of Columbus is eligible for the program.
“Downtown Works is an economic development initiative, first and foremost, which will benefit our whole community,” says Commissioner John O’Grady. “But it’s also an opportunity to invest in some of the smaller towns and suburbs around Franklin County that don’t always get as much attention as the bigger cities, and a chance for them to build some cachet, improve property values, and get people living and working in their downtowns again.”
The fund targets the communities around the 270 loop like Worthington, Westerville, Hilliard, Canal Winchester, Grove City and Groveport.
Participating communities will complete the downtown affiliate level program of the Ohio Main Street Program.
“In our world, a downtown plan is a little bit different in the sense it’s about what this volunteer board can strategically prioritize,” says Joyce Barrett, executive director of Heritage Ohio.
Public-private partnerships will bring together residents from the community, building and business owners, and entities like the visitors’ bureau, chamber of commerce, and others into a volunteer board to accomplish initiatives.
Barrett says to imagine if a place like Easton had nobody in charge of cleanup, leasing or programming – that’s what often happens in smaller downtowns, and exactly the issues the program will address. The end goal is a template that can be used for groups to work together to manage a downtown.
The help and guidance provided will be highly flexible depending on the needs of a specific downtown, and could encompass everything from historic tax credits to liquor licenses, and design, economic restructuring and promotion and marketing efforts.
“It’s a bunch of different tools that you try to personalize for that specific city and their specific goals,” Barrett says.
She adds that they will also help draw attention to underutilized programs already in place in Franklin County.
Currently there’s no cap on the number of downtowns that can participate. An informational session will be held Friday, August 14 with a one-hour training session and introduction into what services will be provided and what to expect.