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SHELBY — Simonson Construction has resumed work at the Black Fork Commons Plaza in downtown Shelby, with completion anticipated by late fall.

Cody Albert, vice president of the Shelby Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), said the organization originally anticipated the project would be complete this summer.

Delays in receiving supplies and a lengthy permit process for the plaza fountain paused construction, he said.

Black Fork Commons Plaza sketch
A sketch of the Black Fork Commons Plaza project. (Provided by the Shelby Community Improvement Corporation)

“All of the hurdles have now been overcome,” Albert said. “We’re excited to see the project start to come to fruition.”

Current construction at the plaza is phase two of the corporation’s downtown revitalization project. The three-phase plan is designed to bring consistency to public areas and transform the heart of the city into an active place for entertainment and gathering, according to the Shelby CIC website.

Gallery: Black Fork Commons Plaza progress

  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project
  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project
  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project
  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project
  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project
  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project
  • Shelby Community Improvement Corporation Project

Phase One

Albert said phase one of the project, including downtown landscaping, improved flowerpots, new furniture, brick crosswalks and other pedestrian enhancements, is nearly done.

He said last week that only finishing touches remain, including striping the new pavement on West Main Street and installing a new steel archway, which was done on Monday morning.

The arch, sponsored by ArcelorMittal, a steel production corporation in Shelby, is near the plaza entrance on West Main Street.

Albert said inspiration for the new arch came from a former arch made by the Ohio Steel Tube, a local steel tubing manufacturer, which is now known as ArcelorMittal. It was located in nearly the same spot 100 years ago.

Main Street Shelby in the year 1913
An arch constructed by the Shelby Welded Tube stands above flood waters on West Main Street in 1913 downtown Shelby. (Photo provided by Cody Albert)

Phase Two

Albert said the project’s second phase is active. Phase two involves transforming the Black Fork Commons Plaza, the heart of the city’s downtown, located along West Main Street.

Once construction is complete, the plaza will feature several new amenities, including a splash fountain for kids and families, a three-season use community fireplace, café style tables and chairs, and an indoor/outdoor pavilion.

Private and public dollars were used to fund the project, including $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds approved by Richland County commissioners in March 2022.

“We’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the future of the city and its downtown area.”

Cody Albert, shelby community improvement corporation vice president

Albert said that he and the Shelby CIC team like to refer to the plaza as an “outdoor living room” for the community.

Donor recognition pieces were recently installed in the commons area. Albert said the installations are representative of the helping hands of Shelby. The six hand-shaped wooden cutouts symbolize the community spirit and serve as a ‘thank you’ for gifts provided by donors, he said.

Art installations at Shelby Black Fork Commons Plaza
Art installations were recently placed at the plaza, honoring donors who have gifted toward project funding.

Albert said the city’s recent Bicycle Days festival was an exciting moment for the Shelby CIC. During the annual festival, several vendors and activities were set up in the Black Fork Commons Plaza and amphitheater area.

“During Bicycle Days, you could start to see into the future of the downtown space,” he said. “It’s going to be transformational for the future of our downtown.”

Albert said he is excited about the installation of the splash fountain because it will help attract families to the downtown area. The hope is it will encourage visitors to patronize local businesses when spending time at the commons.

Albert said the three-season fireplace will help extend community members’ use of the commons area later into the year and allow for comfortable gatherings, even as the weather gets colder.

Construction site in downtown Shelby.
The plaza will feature a splash fountain and three-season use community fireplace.

Throughout the initial planning process, the CIC worked closely with EDGE, an integrated team of landscape architects, planners, and development consultants in Columbus.

Albert said it was important to incorporate functionality into the aesthetic looks of the projects.

“We’re (Shelby CIC) making very important choices on behalf of the community,” he said. “This is something we take very seriously and have a lot of pride in.”

Albert said the corporation has recently been asked questions and received feedback from several neighboring communities, including Crestline, Galion and Mansfield, regarding the improvement projects aimed to revitalize and improve the future of Shelby’s downtown.

“There has been so much positive forward momentum lately,” he said. “It’s very exciting to see the whole region lift each other up.”

Phase Three

As development of phase two continues to near completion, Albert said he knows there is a large public interest in the project’s third phase. Development will focus on revitalization of the 15-acre green space once site to the Central School building and W.W. Skiles Athletic Field.

W.W. Skiles Athletic Field bridge
Phase three of the revitalization plan will address the 15-acre green space once site to Central School and W.W. Skiles Athletic Field.

“The plan for phase three has always been to address the former site of the old school and football field and actively going through the same development process as the first two phases,” Albert said.

At the July 3 Shelby City Council meeting, Mayor Steve Schag designated the CIC as the city’s agent in development of the large property in the heart of the city’s downtown.

“I have complete confidence in the CIC facilitating the development of this property to its fullest potential,” Schag told the Richland Source July 3.

The plan’s first two phases featured shorter construction timelines for a more immediate impact, but phase three was designed as a long term development, somewhere between the next five to 10 years, Albert said.

Input from community members and project stakeholders regarding the vision and utilization of the space will be important decision making factors for the corporation, he said.

Shelby's Black Fork Commons
The CIC revitalization plan aims to draw residents and visitors to the hub of the the community, the Black Fork Commons, per the corporation’s website.

“We want this to be a collaborative community vision,” Albert said. “We’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the future of the city and its downtown area.”

To learn more about the Black Fork Commons Plaza and the Shelby Community Improvement Corporation, visit its website or Facebook page for project updates and information.

Staff reporter at Richland Source since 2023. I focus on the city of Shelby and northern Richland County news. Shelby H.S./Kent State alum. Have a story to share? Email me at hayden@richlandsource.com.