MANSFIELD -- Mansfield City Council on Tuesday decided to immediately move ahead with a two-year design and engineering process for the Main Street Corridor Improvement plan.
Two bills associated with the plan were scheduled for three readings with a vote on Feb. 16. Instead, council opted to move the bills forward for a vote, a move applauded by city engineer Bob Bianchi.
"That would be great," he said when the suggestion to move ahead was made. "That would allow us to get moving."
That design/engineering effort is estimated to cost just over $1 million, 90 percent of will be paid for with federal grant dollars through the Richland County Regional Planning Commission. The remaining 10 percent, or about $100,500, will be paid by the city using permissive sales tax funds, Bianchi said.
When the engineering work is done, the construction project itself would cost about $7.5 million if City Council approves, Bianchi said, with federal and state grants hopefully covering about 75 percent of the costs. He said the city would also seek funds from the Richland County Foundation for "some of the more decorative" portions of the project.
The ideas, in keeping with the Mansfield Rising downtown reinvestment plan, were discussed during a City Council streets committee meeting on Jan. 5.
During that meeting, Downtown Mansfield Inc. CEO Jennifer Kime said the planned improvement's goal is to make downtown Mansfield a destination, not just a place to travel through on the way to somewhere else.
She said the effort to replace the nearly 40-year old streetscape would spur visitation to the downtown, promote business growth and increase economic investment in the area while also honoring the city's long history.
Both related bills were unanimously approved, though 4th Ward Councilman Alomar Davenport opposed the move to vote on the issues ahead of the stated schedule.
"While I am in full support of the Main Street improvement plan, I believe we are doing the community a huge disserved by not giving them time to weigh in on these huge projects," Davenport said. "I hope in the future we can do that.
The City Council meeting was again orchestrated in virtual session, which has been the case since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Ohio in March 2020.
During the public participation portion of the meeting, only one member of the public voiced an opinion on the project via email.
Historic preservationist Steve McQuillen complimented the plan, but asked the city consider restoring Central Park by removing the Park Avenue cut-through constructed in the 1950s.
"This would add a major amount of new green space downtown, would make the park more pedestrian-friendly and can provide the opportunity for alternatives to traffic lights, such as traffic circles," McQuillen wrote.
He said downtown Newark in Licking County has a similar plan, though its historic courthouse remains and is the center of its central park.
"They have small traffic circles and islands such that pedestrian traffic is made safer by shorter and easier crossings," he said. "Plus, car traffic has to slow and weave, but it doesn't have to stop, as it does in downtown Mansfield, because of traffic lights.
"These could be good changes to an otherwise very good and much-needed improvement project. I don't buy the argument that these are state routes and therefore eliminating the cut-through won't be permitted by ODOT," McQuillen said. "If it's a city priority, as this should be, I'm sure accommodations can be made. It's not like 430 is a major through-route and State Route 39 already turn corners that don't seem that wide."
No members of council or the city administration responded to McQuillen's letter.