With about 15-20 people in attendance, including the current mayor, a former mayor, and mayoral hopeful, a Hillsboro City Council committee discussed the proposed uptown plaza project Tuesday evening and took comments from the public.
Ann Morris, chair of the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee, along with committee members Dick Donley and Justin Harsha, fielded questions and heard comments from local business owners and residents, detailing plaza costs and revised plans. The meeting was held at the new fire station.
Also in attendance were mayor Drew Hastings, safety and service director Todd Wilkin, city auditor Gary Lewis, and council members Tracy Aranyos, Claudia Klein and Rebecca Wilkin.
Morris said the total cost of the plaza has been pegged at $177,448, although there could be minor variances based on ongoing plan revisions, including those made in response to Tuesday night’s citizen input.
She said $78,000 would come from an anonymous donation to the city, another $25,000 from private contributions through an online fundraising “GoFundMe” account, and possibly $75,000 from the city, which is already in the city budget, depending on how much is privately raised. Donley said a fundraising campaign could be undertaken similar to what was done for the YMCA years ago. Todd Wilkin had a document detailing itemized costs of the project, which include underground water and electric lines.
Morris said the plaza will “beautify the city and revitalize uptown Hillsboro,” which she said was one of her goals when she ran for council. She said that the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association, the Hillsboro Uptown Renaissance Project, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hillsboro Community Improvement Corporation have expressed support for the plaza.
“It will be a wonderful addition to our city,” she said.
Some changes have been made to the design since a concept suggested by an ad hoc plaza committee, and a new rendering was shown at Tuesday’s meeting, featuring eight benches, eight street lamps, four to six ornamental trees, ballards at the east end of the plaza, a 15-foot wide sidewalk and other items. The rendering does not show all the planned trees so the view of other amenities could be visible. It also does not include a large archway that was originally suggested.
While several in attendance asked questions about the plaza and the funding, only one attendee expressed outright opposition. Local attorney Susan Davis, whose office is located on Gov. Foraker Place, around the corner from Gov. Trimble Place, where the plaza would be built, said she wanted to be on record against building the plaza where it is currently proposed.
Davis said she is concerned about inhibiting the flow of traffic around the courthouse, disturbing current parking places, and hurting local businesses. She said a hotel developer with whom she recently spoke said the plaza was a “big mistake.”
But near the end of the meeting, after questions were answered and other comments were offered, Davis said, “You have made me feel a little bit better,” and promised to “be on the bandwagon” with whatever decision is made.
Todd Wilkin said he had spoken with a hotel developer who expressed enthusiasm for the plaza.
“He loved the plaza idea,” said Wilkin.
Donley said that uptown Hillsboro “is Hillsboro.” He said that the plaza would not only serve as a place of leisure for shoppers and visitors, but would be a site for small concerts and other community events. He said that “people downtown are fixing up the buildings” and the plaza would fit in with the general improvements taking place.
“It would be more than just a place to go sit,” said Donley.
Ralph Holt, the former safety and service director during the Dick Zink administration, said he had lived in Hillsboro his entire life, and said many local people don’t want the plaza because they will go to Kings Island and other places for rest and relaxation.
Holt said, “We never had the opportunity or funding to do something like this.”
“We do now,” said Hastings.
Hastings also responded to Holt’s suggestion that the plaza might benefit Hastings’ properties, some of which are adjacent to the proposed plaza site. Hastings said that in many ways “it’s a detriment to me,” adding that he will have to build additional rear entrances and provide more customer parking for his tenants, which include The Times-Gazette.
Hastings said the plaza is “one of the few things any town can do to bring people into town,” adding that there is “no place uptown to do small events.”
Pam Limes, the Democratic candidate for mayor who will face off against Hastings this fall, suggested that the city close Gov. Trimble Place occasionally to test how shutting down the street will work. Morris said the street is closed regularly for events like Anna’s Army and some First Friday activities.
While Limes did not voice opposition to the project during Tuesday’s meeting, she has done so in past remarks, and Morris said later that she and her fellow committee members received an email after the meeting from Limes asking for more clarification regarding the plaza.
Joe Mahan, president of the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association, said that people often stop in his shop, Bon Appetit, which houses the Highland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and ask, “Where can we sit and relax?” He said an uptown plaza would fill that void.
Local resident James Wikstrom said that “successful towns have a theme,” and added, “I like the idea.”
Other discussions centered on the square footage of the plaza, the source of the bricks that would be used for the project, the demolition of the Armintrout building to create more parking, and maintenance at Liberty and Shaffer parks.
Hastings said that he is considering taking up the brick pavers that exist at the four-way stop at the center of town and using them for the plaza. He said he hears from motorists and pedestrians who are confused by the current design at the stoplight because they think the bricks serve as the crosswalks or mark the line where cars should stop.
Zink, the former mayor, was present Tuesday, but made no comments other than to say that the bricked crosswalk area was a project prior to his administration. He said the bricks had to be reset at one time because they had not originally been properly installed.
Wilkin said that in years past, the city provided grass maintenance at city parks by spending $40,000 on a subcontractor to mow. He said the city is handling the mowing now, saving that money, which helped do projects like paving Diamond Drive at a cost of $80,000.
Diamond Drive is the road that winds through Liberty Park, and which is now paved all the way back to Harmony Lake, said Wilkin.
Morris said that the city is waiting until Sept. 4 to receive proposals to renovate the Colony. If that renovation does not happen, she said the city would likely proceed with plans to demolish the auditorium portion to create more parking, and use the façade and lobby either for a business or to create public restrooms.
After the meeting, Morris said she came away feeling positive about the plaza, and added that the city has received “enough input now” to move to the next phase. She said she was “really pleased” with Tuesday’s input.
Hastings said later he also thought Tuesday’s meeting was a positive step.
“I think there were a few people who came loaded for bear and they had the wind taken out of their sails because the costs were lower than had been rumored,” he said. “It was hard to find fault with anything.” He said the next step is to try to generate more donations.
“We’re not on a deadline,” he said.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.