Monday, November 24, 2008

St. Bernard considering Main Street program

The City of St. Bernard is considering joining forces with the Ohio Main Street Program to improve its Vine Street business district.

At the November 6 city council meeting, St. Bernard Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) director Al Kanters reported that they had been in discussions with the Vine Street Business Association over the branding and marketing of the city and were considering applying for the program on behalf of the city.

The Main Street Program, administered by Heritage Ohio and developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, brings retail and professional experts into communities to help develop strategies to revitalize historic or traditional commercial areas using a four-point approach, including:

  • Organization: Cooperation between business owners and operators, residents, and city staff
  • Design: Improving the downtown's image by improving its physical appearance
  • Promotion: Marketing of the business district
  • Economic restructuring: Strengthening and diversifying the economic base of downtown
"One of the things about this program is they do encourage to save historic buildings," Kanters said. "Just because something is old doesn't mean it's historic but we do have some very classic architecture on Vine St. which needs to be restored, which needs to be kept. Some of them are in very good shape that we need to enhance. We will be doing that as well as seeing how we can fit in new development that will fit with that character and we started to do that as you saw with the architectural renderings that were done for the proposed building at Bertus and Vine."

A district resource team from Heritage Ohio will be in to evaluate the city on December 3-4, which will include a tour and dinner on the 3rd and a day-long planning workshop at Centennial Hall, 110 Washington Avenue, on the 4th.

"The more people we can have at the workshop on the 4th, the more it will demonstrate that this community is serious about revitalizing its downtown and in working together to make that happen," Kanters said.

Kanters said that this program can help the city evaluate its strengths and weaknesses from an objective point of view.

"Obviously the mix of the past of having a drug store, a shoe store, a grocery store, a clothing store...that's just not going to work anymore with the big boxes that we have all around us," he said. "We have to look at what a unique set of businesses can we put together that's going to bring people into St. Bernard and provide services for our residents."

Kanters said that St. Bernard is well ahead of the curve, having already a paid CIC staff, office, and budget, with a board that could also serve as the Main Street board.

But "organization" is going to have to include the cooperation of many city interests.

"What we're focusing on is Mitchell and Vine through the St. Bernard Square Mall," Kanters said. "That strip of Vine St. this group will help us come up with a formalized plan with a step by step benchmark and everyone is going to have to have commitments, written commitments from the people that actually do the work, creating committees so it's going to force us to formalize the process and make a real commitment towards moving forward with this project and I highly recommend that we do this."

Joining the Main Street program would require the city to submit a letter of intent by December 1.

A resolution of support from the city will be required with the full application, which is due February 13.

Through 2007, 50 Ohio communities have taken part in the Main Street program, with more than $414 million invested in improvements.