By LOU WILIN
When music, art and oratory fill the new $10 million Marathon Performing Arts Center next year, the only boos may be for traffic troubles outside the building, just off West Main Cross Street.
Findlay City Planning Commission members on Thursday expressed fears about collisions in the center’s parking lot, where two, one-way driveways will converge at a 45-degree angle.
One driveway, meant for westbound traffic coming off Main Cross Street, is an angled, two-lane drop-off area. The other driveway, for eastbound traffic coming off Main Cross, is a straight single-lane driveway.
Commission members also had concerns about traffic backups on Main Cross Street.
But the commission approved the site plan for the building, grounds and driveways. Construction is expected to begin in March with a public event and celebration.
The center will include a renovated Central Auditorium, and an additional art gallery, education center and black box theater/multipurpose area for receptions and events. The additions will total 32,000 square feet. Existing building space is 26,000 square feet.
The commission vote Thursday was 3-1, with member Thom Hershey dissenting. He called the traffic plan a “somewhat dangerous situation.”
“What you really have here is three lanes basically going down to one (lane) going in,” he said during the meeting. When Hershey made a motion to eliminate the straight single-lane driveway from Main Cross, his motion died for lack of a second.
However, even those voting “yes” expressed concerns.
“How do you prevent cars from running into each other?” Mayor Lydia Mihalik asked a project engineer.
The engineer said there would be signs.
Most of the commission’s scrutiny was focused on the single-lane driveway. Besides creating potential hazards at the junction with the drop-off lanes, it could cause an unnecessary bottleneck and delays backing up traffic on West Main Cross.
“I’m thinking 30 to 40 minutes before show time and everybody’s trying to drop their wife or their children off and it’s an absolute mess and all of a sudden West Main Cross has just come to a standstill because people are trying to turn left and trying to turn right,” Mihalik said. “I’m just wondering how essential that one lane is to access to your site. The two-lane (angled drop-off point), I think that’s a good idea, but the other (single) lane, your on-site traffic and then the stacking that’s going to occur in the backup along West Main Cross, is going to be an issue.”
The single-lane driveway is unnecessary because the parking lot will have driveways off West, Front and Cory streets, Hershey said.
“There isn’t really any need to have a separate single lane going into the parking lot (from West Main Cross),” Hershey said. “The two access points (on Main Cross), they’re just going to be a problem.”
Hancock Regional Planning Commission Director Matt Cordonnier, who advises the city planning commission, conceded the traffic design has flaws. But it will cause little disruption, he said. Performing arts center traffic will occur at off-peak times.
“It’s not an office complex with people coming in at 8 in the morning and leaving at 5 every day,” he said. “With that in mind, on Saturday at 6 o’clock, with people coming in, I don’t know that it will be that much of a disruption. That’s what gives me some comfort.”
The arts center was designed by RCM Architects. Its president, Jerry Murray, championed the Main Cross Street driveways.
“We’ve got to have some way to have some sense of entry at the front of the building,” he said. “I think it will be quite dramatic.”
Dramatic impact will be a plus for the arts center and Findlay and Hancock County, since some patrons will be coming from Interstate 75 on the west, Murray said.
The arts center’s “survival is based on regional draw,” he said.
As for traffic concerns, Murray said not to worry.
“I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “As everything is, it’s a habit people will have to learn to adjust to.”
For many people, it will mean little adjustment, he said. Traffic on Main Cross will be backing up in what for many years was the bus lane for Central Middle School, he said.
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