A drawing of what Central Park could look like under the "Main Street Corridor Improvement Plan." (Submitted file art)

MANSFIELD — The seeds of an $11.4 million Main Street Corridor Improvement Plan in Mansfield were planted by local residents inside meeting rooms in Austin, Texas.

That’s where Mansfield Rising was born in 2018.

The downtown reinvestment plan — developed by local residents after attending the annual South by Southwest Conference — continued to reap successes Monday with the announcement of a $7.38 million federal grant that will pay for nearly two-thirds of the Main Street improvement.

The trip to Austin was funded through the Richland County Foundation, sending a diverse group of 15 local residents, tasking them with returning to write a plan for revitalizing downtown Mansfield.

“I think one of the biggest things to come from Mansfield Rising is we specifically said at the beginning, ‘Do not go in thinking about what we can afford or what we have done,'” Jodie Perry said Tuesday.

Jodie Perry Troy Balderson

“Let’s take all those lenses off and think about what we want to do and then let’s figure out how to do it,” the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development president and CEO said.

“I think this (Main Street) project is a perfect example of that. Had we said at the beginning, ‘What can the city afford?’ … which is what we normally had done … we would never have said ‘Let’s do an $11.4 million project,'” said Perry, who attended the Austin conference.

The $7 million award, through the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, is part of $2.25 billion in funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) competitive grant program.

It’s part of the bipartisan infrastructure and jobs act approved by Congress in 2021.

The Main Street Corridor Improvement plan, from First Street to Fifth Street, will include updated LED street lighting, new curbs and ADA-compliant curb ramps, concrete sidewalks, brick pavers, delineated crosswalks and lighted plazas with seating.

Aging water and sewer infrastructure along Main Street would be also be replaced, according to city engineer Bob Bianchi, also a SXSW participant. Main Street will also be converted to two-way traffic during the process, he said.

“This would be a major, significant improvement to the downtown corridor,” Bianchi told City Council in 2021 as local lawmakers approved a $1 million, two-year design contract for the project with K.E. McCartney & Associates.

“It’s aimed at beautifying the corridor, making it pedestrian friendly, adding placemaking features, new lighting fixtures, new sidewalks and brick crosswalks,” Bianchi said.

Bob Bianchi

As that engineering and design work continued, Bianchi said local leaders noted the RAISE grant offering.

“As we evaluated the grant process and the application, we saw, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve got a project,'” Bianchi said. “‘This is it. Main Street is it for this grant.'”

Click the link below if the grant application is not available above.

“So we pursued it. We engaged K.E. McCartney to help us facilitate the grant writing. Jody and (Downtown Mansfield Inc. CEO Jen Kime) came in and wrote the grant and we filed it six months ago,” Bianchi said.

The application included much of the detail identified and developed in the Mansfield Rising plan.

“I think as we were going through the grant-writing process, as we were writing it, we were hitting on the things that they were looking for,” said Kime, also a SXSW participant.

“The project, as we designed Mansfield Rising, automatically hit on those — the transportation, the walkability, all those pieces that we’ve been talking about … it was just a natural fit,” Kime said.

The collaboration found in the Mansfield Rising effort played a key role in the city’s successful application, which was supported by Ohio’s two senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, as well as Congressman Troy Balderson.

In an emailed statement, Brown said, “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is already getting resources to Ohio communities to improve transportation.

“I’m working to make sure Ohio gets its fair share – or more – of infrastructure investment, and this is the first step in that effort. This investment will mean safer streets, better walkways, and will support new economic growth in Mansfield’s downtown and the broader Richland County region,” Brown said.

Portman said it was great news for Mansfield.

“I applaud the Department of Transportation for providing Ohio with the resources needed to revitalize communities,” he said. “By updating and improving aging infrastructure, this project will strengthen the region’s economy and improve quality of life for all residents.”

Perry said, “I think the fact that we had done Mansfield Rising and there’s all of these collaborative projects going on, we really could show how the city receiving these funds really will impact a larger audience. And we know it will.”

Mansfield Rising has notched several victories in the past three years with more still in the pipeline.

“If you’re ranking things by dollars, then sure, this (federal grant) is the biggest,” Kime said. “(But) there are all kinds of wins and they all build on each other. So it’s a snowball effect. It’s more like a ‘web of winning’ than a ranking system.

“We’ve been looking at Main Street improvement projects for a very long time. Building on the collective understanding of where we’re going, and all of the economic wins we’ve had in downtown over the last decade, really kind of paints the picture for this making sense,” Kime said.

Jen Kime

“It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be a highly visible and highly impactful project that will then spur significantly more economic development. It won’t end here. This will be another huge stepping stone,” she said.

Bianchi said the RAISE grant, along with other grants and local matching funds, will cover the cost of the project, though he admitted city leaders “will have to be very creative on how these funds work together and match off each other.”

“We’re good to go,” he said.

He said McCartney’s engineering and design efforts will take about another 15 months.

“There’s some property that we have to purchase, very small amounts … corners to put some signals in. We’re talking square foot, not acres, by any means. But with that acquisition, the federal process has to be followed and that federal process takes time.

“So we have about another year and three months. Then we’ll start construction and it’ll take about a year and a half to build,” Bianchi said.

The construction process will be done in phases, though there is no doubt it will delay traffic and commerce once it begins. However, as part of the grant application, local leaders included letters of support from business owners along the corridor.

“We want to be very proactive about communicating so they can share with their customers what to expect, as well as the general public, because we need people to continue to come downtown and support those businesses while it’s under construction,” Perry said.

“The construction will not be without some challenges. But, again, with the collaboration that has happened here, I think we can help really mitigate those challenges and keep them to a minimum,” Perry said.

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership. Learn more about Newsroom Partnerships.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when...

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