SIDNEY — Sidney’s Downtown District is taking shape. Literally. Over the last year since the revitalization district was officially established by the city of Sidney September 2018, boundaries have been set and business are moving in.
“Placemaking” — creating an identifiable, sense of place by building on local assets and amenities — has become the priority in downtown Sidney, said Jim Hill, executive director of Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership (SSEP).
Hill and Sidney Alive Executive Director Amy Breinich have been working to create a walkable, neighborhood place in the downtown/riverfront areas for residents and visitors to enjoy.
“We want a downtown that we can all be proud of. Where all the people who live and work here can call this their home. Not just in the city of Sidney but throughout the county. This is their county seat as well. The county owns a lot of property in the downtown and we wanted to create this place that felt like home to us,” Breinich said.
To take the development to the next step, they, along with the Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and stakeholders, have decided to bring in downtown developer/consultant CityVisions Associates, of Louisville, Kentucky, to help strategize the vision for downtown.
Locally, CityVisions has previous worked on the riverfront development strategy in Piqua, and in Dayton and Springfield.
“It’s not only that (CityVisions) can help communities with revitalization strategies, but they can also invest and manage and develop those properties. They have a separate arm that does that piece, called Weyland Ventures. So the good thing is, they look at everything through the prism of, ‘Oh, would we do that? Does it make sense?’ Opposed to these pie in the sky ideas. They are very pragmatic,” Hill said.
Things are happening downtown, Hill and Breinich explained, but creating the walkable, outdoor community in a small town requires a strategic vision.
“It’s a little different strategy when you are not in the metropolitan corridor where all of those demographics are already there,” Hill said. “It’s very critical that we continue to make the community attractive for workers and workforce, because that’s the number one issue in economic development. How do you get enough workers? Part of it is growing your own, but part of it is also to be able to attract people with the skill set you need to run your company.”
Within the last several months, two new businesses opened downtown within the district’s boundaries. Murphy’s Craftbar + Kitchen on Poplar Street opened on April 16. Murphy’s was the first business to apply for and receive a liquor permit in the new district.
One of the advantages or incentives a designated downtown revitalization district offers is that it brings additional liquor licenses into the city for restaurants to open in the district. The liquor licenses cannot be taken out of the district. If a business leaves, the license can only be transferred to another business within the district.
Also, The Royal Parlour beauty salon on North Ohio Avenue opened on June 14. The former Fifth Third building on South Ohio Avenue, where SSEP and the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce’s offices are located on the second floor, was recently bought by a local owner and is currently in the development stage.
Hill noted aside from the new salon and restaurant, other improvements include the restoration of the Eikenberry building on North Ohio Avenue, which was needed after a pickup crashed into a gas line and caught the building on fire in 2017. Amos Memorial Library’s renovation in 2017 and The Historic Sidney Theatre’s ongoing restoration are other improvements.
“Those are good anchors in the downtown. So there is good momentum now to just build upon,” Hill said. “It is more of a challenge in a small city building the amenities. Demographics are a little bit of a challenge. Generally speaking, amenities, restaurants and entertainment venues, they follow population bases. In a community like this, you are more likely to get those amenities in place by working with local entrepreneurs and local individuals who see the vision, opposed to trying to develop those large chains.”
“Part of the CitiVisions strategy here is they are going to look at buildings like the Ohio Building and the old jail and give us some very specific recommendations on reuse, but also things you need to do to position those buildings for redevelopment,” Hill continued. “Things like putting a new roof on it, or demo, or to renovate part of (a building). And sometimes that takes funds like the city had to put into (the Ohio Building). …(CitiVisions will help with) how to get (these properties) viable and to get those things done.”
Breinich said, “Resources are a huge thing. It’s not like it’s a one size fits all for any business or building. And that is something that CitiVisions is also going to help us with, is funding sources that we can pass along to potential owners or property and businesses.
“What we are looking for here is community champions that want to start businesses, invest in properties. It is a labor of love, and it’s a passion project for most of this stuff because you do have to really love what you do, if you are going to do these things. Because the road is not easy. It is expensive. But the pay off is great, eventually,” Breinich continued, while also agreeing with Hill that any new development is expensive.
Seeing local entrepreneurs and building owners, like The Royal Parlour and Murphy’s, create beautiful spaces is encouraging, Hill said, but he noted downtown Sidney needs more amenities to tie in with the existing anchors.
“Our folks here now, both citizens and established businesses downtown, they need our citizens to come down and shop with them, eat there, walk around, visit them and get to know the business owners. They need that support, because if they don’t, it’s discouraging,” Breinich said. “We want them to stay open. Things are changing and more businesses are coming in. And more properties are being readily available for new businesses to come in to keep that momentum going. It takes our entire community to step up and do their part as well.”
Hill added, “We will keep the ball moving forward and expanding those amenities so there are more things to do and options downtown. It would be great to have a few more restaurants and a few more amenities. And the riverfront connectivity, and more connectivity to the trail-head; all of that is what we are working on in this strategy so that every time you come downtown there’s more activities and things to do.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.