Board to pick review panel

As the Seneca County Board of Commissioners prepare to pick members of a review panel, some area residents and officials are hoping to provide input on the future of a green space that was the site of the 1884 Courthouse.

Commissioners, acting on a request from common pleas court judges, said during a board meeting Tuesday they are to formally appoint members to board for a three-month review process to determine the best use of Courthouse Square.

During that meeting, Common Please Court Judge Steve Shuff suggested, with agreement from Judge Michael Kelbley, a complete stay of activities at the space in order to maintain fairness.

“You have complete power of this space under the law … under the terms you prescribe,” Shuff said Tuesday, citing Ohio Revised Code 307.03. “Well, these terms that you’ve had existed when the building was up, and now it needs to be reviewed and looked at. … We need a review, a complete review, and our suggestion is stay everything until that review is done.”

One of the most recent proposals for the space, and the one mentioned specifically during Tuesday’s meeting, was for an event sponsored by The Ritz Theatre.

Michael Strong, executive director of The Ritz, said he received an email Wednesday saying the application was denied. He said he intends to appeal the decision as his proposal, which stated 350-600 children may attend a series of eight programs, may have been misinterpreted as relating to just the event on the lawn.

“I think it’s unfortunate that it was denied,” Strong said. “Having the community green is such a wonderful space.”

Strong said his intention was to showcase Courthouse Square as well as put on an event in the downtown. He added the city and county parks “do a very good job with what they do,” but he intended for the event to feature the space.

“I thought it would be a nice way to welcome the community to that space, to let them know it is your community green,” he said.

Strong said The Ritz has used the area multiple times in the past, including as a location for Friday concerts when the 1884 Courthouse was at the site. He said of the venues used for the event, it was used the most and he believed the space would be ideal for other organizations to host similar events.

While commissioners had no decisions on specifics of the review, they were in agreement Tuesday that usage of the space needed to be addressed.

“I like that suggestion, to kind of review it, because it has changed, and that was my concern – I think I brought it up a few weeks ago – I said I’ve got concerns with a few of these things because we don’t know what the future intentions are,” said Board President Holly Stacy said Tuesday.

Shuff added the review would be running concurrent to other studies about the county’s future court space use, with a private study conducted at the East Tower property and a study commissioned by the county.

Shuff said his concerns, echoed by Kelbley and Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry, include security for the public and those on trial and ensuring a fair trial.

“Believe me, that building is not sound proof,” Shuff said Tuesday. “… The defendant has the right to a fair trial, and that means the jury is listening to, hearing the evidence in that case. You can’t if you hear screaming kids, that’s a distraction.”

During the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Wagner said he would stand by the decision of the board majority, but would prefer the board approve events planned for weekends and outside court hours during the review process. Commissioners, and Shuff, also said they planned to honor events already approved, which include a wedding, activities related to the Heritage Festival and Tiffin farmers’ markets and exercise group meetings.

Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said that while the space is not city property, he hopes commissioners would consider him or another representative of the city to sit on the review panel.

“I completely understand why its not good to have events (on Courthouse Square) while court is in session, but I hope going forward, it can be used at least nights and weekends,” Montz said. “It’s a great way to bring people downtown.”

Montz said he had not been approached by commissioners or either of the judges about the review process, but had briefly talked with Commissioner Fred Zoeller Wednesday morning about having a seat at the table.

John Detwiler, president and CEO of Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services, said he also hopes to be included in those discussions on behalf of the business community.

“By using that space, it impacts development of the downtown in a very positive way,” he said.

During Detwiler’s tenure at the office, many events have been staged downtown that have used the green space at Courthouse Square, when the 1884 Courthouse was there and after. Detwiler said many of those events, which often take place on weekends or outside of court hours, could have been done at Hedges-Boyer Park or another space in the county, but “if you put (events) someplace else, downtown business owners cannot participate.”

“I’m not saying things wouldn’t work out at the park, but you get double bang for your buck by bringing it downtown,” he said.

Detwiler said he had not been contacted by commissioners, business owners or community members concerned about Tuesday’s decision.

During the meeting Tuesday, commissioners said the board may include Zoeller and representatives of Seneca County common pleas court, sheriff’s office, Tiffin Tomorrow, Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Tiffin Area League of Women’s Voters.

Commissioners are to meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday.