Right time

Tucked within the details of Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s blockbuster expansion announcement this week was other important news.
Talk, we’re told, began last year about making Findlay’s downtown more “pedestrian and business friendly.” To that we say keep talking, but don’t forget to include the public as the discussion continues. Everyone, after all, has a stake in downtown.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer said in a story Wednesday that city officials have been talking with Marathon, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Hancock Regional Planning Commission about a “downtown transportation alternatives plan” for the past nine months.
The plan, initiated by the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance, focuses on Main Street and its main crossover streets.
It’s true, Main Street doesn’t need to be the primary path for large commercial vehicles through town. North/south traffic could, as some are suggesting, be routed to Blanchard Street to the east, and to Broad and Western avenues to the west.
Reducing truck traffic on Main could make it unnecessary to have five lanes, and free up space for curb “bump outs,” more accessible angled parking, and expanded landscaping.
Actually, some of the ideas circulating now may sound familiar. “Streetscape” surfaced years ago, but fell by the wayside due to a lack of funding before any improvements resulted.
But 2014 may be just the right time to bring some of the best concepts together in a comprehensive plan.
While Marathon’s expansion plans, which include parking garages and office buildings, will take up to three years to complete, they will impact the flow of traffic along Main Street, especially south of Sandusky Street. Making infrastructure enhancements along Main and side streets in that area will not only add to the campus-like atmosphere that Marathon desires but help keep vehicles and pedestrians moving.
The entire downtown area, though, would benefit from a similar facelift.
The transformation of the Central Auditorium into a performing arts center is scheduled to begin this spring, and the renovation of a row of buildings into apartments, offices and retail shops next to the courthouse is already underway.
It makes sense to incorporate road and curb changes, especially those as significant as the ones being considered, as the various projects are unfolding, not after they’re completed.
While such a project would come with a hefty price tag, the city would reduce its share of the cost if it obtains a grant through the Department of Transportation. Marathon would also be a partner.
The company, whose $80 million expansion may qualify for up to $20 million in tax savings under the city’s revamped reinvestment area program, has said it would give up to a quarter of that to help pay for downtown infrastructure improvements.
Meanwhile, Schmelzer said more specifics on downtown traffic, parking and pedestrian ideas will be considered soon by City Council and input will be sought from the public. We look forward to hearing more of the details.

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