EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to reader-submitted questions through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
MANSFIELD -- John Leach has fond memories of lighted arches along the Main Street corridor through downtown Mansfield many years ago.
Leach remembers often walking through the downtown as a lad in the 1950s, visiting the many stores, shops, restaurants and more, with and without his parents.
As the city ponders a major Main Street improvement plan, Leach reached out to Richland Source via the Open Source section of the website. He posed this question:
"As part of the re-scaping of the Main Street corridor, why not recreate the one-time lighted arches that began at Fifth Street and continued south up to the former Reeds building?"
It was a popular question, winning a "voting round" among Richland Source readers as the query they most wanted to see answered. Voting, which ran from May 11 to May 26, attracted 622 "ballots" cast.
The question of downtown's decorative arches won with 239 votes, or 38 percent of the total.
Two other questions included in the voting round were wondering about a large iron wheel in a landscaped setting (218 votes) and asking why some cities have dedicated recycling centers but others don't (167 votes). These questions may be included in future voting rounds.
"The once-lighted archways began around Fifth Street and continued up to around First Street," Leach said in a follow-up email. "Besides lighting the way, they were ornamentally attractive and provided a nice touch to the ambience of the area."
Leach said the city of Columbus in its "short north" area included lighted arches.
"My interest in using a similar approach in Mansfield resulted after viewing the visual prints submitted by the planning agency hired by the city to beautify the area that showed the use of a standard, modern black metal half-arch commonly used to hang traffic lights and street signs," Leach said.
Leach said the drawings showed a "continuing string of zig-zag 'party lights' hung up all along the area from Fifth Street to Fourth Street.'"
"To my eye, that wilted the look of the other great design strategies that the various drawings implied," Leach said.
We reached out to Mansfield city engineer Bob Bianchi this week. The official answer regarding at least some lighted arches is -- maybe.
Bianchi said the planning process for the project, at this point, includes two decorative arches at the intersection of Main Street and South Park and Main Street and North Park.
"We are exploring the possibility of lighting those two arches," Bianchi said.
"There used to be lighted arches about every 100 feet up through the Main Street corridor, all the way to Fifth Street, I believe," the engineer said.
"However, due to the expenses of the arches, it would not be feasible to construct that many along the corridor at this point," Bianchi said.
Mansfield City Council in January approved a two-year design and engineering effort, which may ultimately lead to a $7.5 million project to improve the road from First Street to Fifth Street.
In May, K.E. MCartney & Associates in Mansfield was awarded a $1,046,987 contract on Tuesday morning to do the design and engineering services for the project. The city is also working with EDGE Consulting, a Columbus firm that features an integrated team of landscape architects, planners, and development consultants.
When the engineering work is done, the construction project itself would cost about $7.5 million if City Council approves. Bianchi has said he hopes that 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 are in keeping with the Mansfield Rising downtown reinvestment plan. Downtown Mansfield Inc. CEO Jennifer Kime told City Council 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.
Bianchi said lighting the arches would require a power source connected to a metering device.
The plan calls for two arches made of powder-coated steel, though Bianchi said planners are looking into the possibility of putting them on top of a sandstone foundation.
"The city has engaged K.E. McCartney and EDGE Consulting to assist in designing the arches and we will seek public input as well," Bianchi said. "We will be putting together a design review team to work with McCartney and EDGE to make sure the details are worked out in terms of materials and locations/"
The engineer said McCartney has begun its survey process, including locating various underground basements that encroach upon the sidewalk area.
"It's important to know the location of these basements before the design work is done," he said.
The proposed project is still in its early stages, according to Bianchi, who said no final decisions had been made on any phase of the proposal.
"The city is continuing to work with the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, DMI, the Richland County Regional Planning Commission and Richland County Foundation on multiple efforts, such as the possibility of private financing, design review and public input," he said.
"We will schedule meetings that will ask the general public for input, as well as the downtown merchants," Bianchi said. "There is just a lot of preliminary design that needs to happen before we conduct those meetings."
It's likely Leach will be happy to offer his opinions and input into the arches and other Main Street improvement plans, including his desire to restore Central Park by eliminating the Park Avenue cut-through created in the 1950s.
"Yes, the decorative lighted arches will cost more, but I believe that the added beauty and ambience that will result will be well worth the additional investment," he said.
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