Tiffin isn't the only city in the area working on redeveloping its downtown.
For the past 10 years, community members have been working in Findlay to improve its historic downtown. The process began in 2000 when a group of citizens banded together and hired Kinzelman Kline and Gossman to
create a downtown masterplan.
"10 years later, 2010, we can say that the majority of the plan has been implemented in one shape or form or has been identified and worked through in one shape or form," said Ed Hartman, a member of Findlay Development LLC, a for-profit community reinvestment group that works toward development strategies in Findlay.
The vision has grown since 2000 and community members are moving toward the next
stage in their plan to change the look of downtown.
Lynn Child is a self-described proponent of downtown redevelopment.
"I firmly believe your downtown is your first impression," Child said. "If they're going to come build a factory, if they're going to come raise their children, if they're going to do those things in a new community, that's what they want to see. That's one of the reasons we're revisioning our downtown in the next five to 10 years."
The chairman and co-founder of Centracomm, chief executive officer of Aardvark Media and the president of the Findlay Rotary Club, Child is active in the redevelopment of Findlay's historic downtown.
And she is not the only one.
"It takes everyone working on it," she said. "It takes the private and the public sector. There is no way you can bring a vision together unless everything is organized and pulling in the same direction."
The offices of her two businesses are in the Rawson Building - a historic property that looks out on Main Street and the Hancock County Courthouse. The building was one of the first steps in instituting the plan set by KKG.
The Rawson Building renovation was the vision of 65 people who got together to show the community what is feasible.
Hartman said out of the group, 55 people do not own a business or building in downtown except for the Rawson Building.
Renovation started in 2001 and today the property has two floors of apartments, two businesses on the top floor and two storefronts on the first floor.
The renovation earned the building two statewide awards - one in 2003 for the best restored historical building in Ohio and one in 2004 for the best restored historical building for the use of technology.
"It's the prime example of a mixed-use property," Child said.
What followed are renovation projects in buildings around the area and the beginning of a major streetscape project on Main Street, with lighting poles and banners, wayfinding system, holiday lighting and others. It represents a community effort that is far from complete but well on the way to changing the look of Findlay.
One of the biggest challenges since the plan started was the flood in August 2007. Hartman and Child said it was a somber event - one from which the community is still trying to recover - and opened their eyes to another aspect of redevelopment in the downtown: recapturing the river.
"As crazy as it is, back in August 2007 when we had our flood, I called Craig Gossman (of KKG) with 2 feet of water to my knee, and he said 'I knew that (Findlay needed a flood control project), look at page 32 to 34 (of the plan) on how to fix it,'" Hartman said.
Hartman said the process of creating flood controls will be costly - resulting in more than $100 million being reinvested in the downtown - but the project will greatly increase safety and can be beneficial to the improvement of the downtown.
A few years ago, organizations banded together to create the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership.
Headed by former Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti, the group has investigated ways to keep
the control the river without compromising the plan.
"We are ahead of what we normally would be because we had this concentrated effort
and the private sector came together," Child said.
Leigh Esper, administrative manager for the group, said original plans called for concrete walls to be installed but after meetings and panels with members of the public and private sector, alternatives - such as tiered structures and earthen levies to allow for bike paths, walking trails and other amenities for the community - were presented.
"We're trying to do as many things as possible to make it recreational as well as protect against flooding," Esper said.
Hartman said one
of the unplanned benefits is uniting the downtown.
In particular, Hartman said flood controls will allow the downtown to connect with the University of Findlay.
In addition, Findlay passed three major tax levies last year, one to add flood controls and two for new middle schools. Harman said together, these investments in the community will allow Findlay "to go from good to great."
What comes next?
The last 10 years have been difficult for many Ohioans, but Findlay has been able to take its plan and stay on target throughout political and social uncertainty, economic recessions and natural disasters.
"You just stay committed to the plan, stay committed to what we could," Hartman said. "I would say we made more progress during the recession than we did prior to it. We've got great leadership."
Child said the next step is to update the plan based on what has been achieved.
"We're at a new decade," she said. "Now we're going to go back and celebrate what we did in 2000-2010 - because we accomplished a lot - and decide what our vision is for the next 10 years, and come up with another document; not throwing away what we've done, but build upon it. ... It's a matter of just keeping focused on what you've accomplished and knowing that it's not going to happen overnight."
Findlay now is in the midst of looking for new projects.
"Like any other community, we're going through brainstorming," Child said. "Whether all of this is going to happen, whether some of this is going to happen, we don't know, but
at least we have a vision of all the things possible."
Child said one of the main areas to improve upon is focusing on the city's art community, which may help bring
people into downtown Findlay.
In order to achieve this, there has been some discussion about taking the Central Middle School, which is to close in the next few years, and using it as a performance center while also incorporating some county offices which were scattered throughout the city after the flood.
Child said they are working with local contractors and designers to facilitate what the building could look like based on its function.
"If nothing else, the group wants to save the performance center," Child said. "We want to be able to save all of Central, but it depends on who can go in there to maintain the building."
Another idea is to raze three buildings next to the Hancock County Courthouse and Dorney Plaza which have been vacant since the flood. Child said one idea is to expand the space, possibly add more parking and turn it into a community area for events in the downtown.
"If we had a place right here in the center of town where we could (have events) and bring feet on the street of downtown again, we have a vision to possibly do that," Child said.
What Tiffin can learn from Findlay
Tiffin is in the early stages of using its masterplan from KKG as a basis for redevelopment. Like Findlay, the community needs to take the ideas from the plan and create a vision for the future.
"We're always using that (the plan) as our foundation to move forward," Hartman said. "A lot of communities just let them sit on the shelf. It takes more than just the plan to implement it. It takes leadership, it takes commitment, it takes building confidence back in the investment community."
Tiffin's plan, which was presented to the community in April, includes many of the things Findlay has done or it working on - reclaiming the river, renovating and maintaining historical stock and building a cultural community to attract people to the downtown.
Hartman said "it is not rocket science" to institute a redevelopment project: it just takes strong support from the community, a willingness to try new things and never allowing the community to get worse.