By JOY BROWN
Private discussions and brainstorming sessions about what to do about Findlay’s downtown traffic and parking have been ongoing for more than a year, business and government leaders say.
But plans began to solidify a year ago when Marathon Petroleum Corp. representatives began quietly giving the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance and government leaders a heads-up that they might be pursuing a large building project.
“It started out with conversations. ‘Hey, this might happen,'” said Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer.
“This originally started by focusing a lot on the logistics with Marathon’s expansion,” said Tim Mayle, the Alliance’s assistant economic development director.
Marathon’s expansion is eligible for up to $20 million in property tax breaks through Findlay’s Community Reinvestment Area. The company is pledging to return up to $5 million to the city, for use in making traffic and pedestrian improvements downtown.
With plans for a performing arts center also coming to fruition, and other development, such as improvements to former Hancock County-owned buildings just south of the courthouse, city leaders decided they had a good shot at making traffic changes happen.
The Alliance proceeded to hash out ideas in committee, and then hired architect Craig Gossman of Gossman Group, based in Covington, Ky., to create a framework.
But going public with traffic ideas was dependent on Marathon’s public announcement about its expansion, Schmelzer said.
“We can’t talk about how the Community Reinvestment Area (the tax savings program that Marathon is benefiting from) and the downtown project fit together without having them ultimately deciding for sure what they plan to do, and communicating that to their employees,” Schmelzer said.
“Timing is everything when it comes to this,” said Mayor Lydia Mihalik. “Something this big and that has this much impact and ability to change things deserves a lot of study and coordination before it’s rolled out.”
“Besides, we’re not completely reinventing the wheel here,” Schmelzer said. “This has been cyclically talked about for years. I felt there were unanswered questions the last time something was proposed.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story.