Mansfield takes Austin - South by Southwest 2018

On Thursday March 8 of this year 41 local citizens will embark on a project to reshape Mansfield's central business district with the support of the Richland County Foundation.

This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.

People tell stories about when it was scary to walk downtown, when crime was high and the lights were low, when there were more bars and massage parlors than restaurants and attractions.  

My memory doesn’t go back that far. I can remember when the Carrousel was being built and the only reasons for a child my age to go downtown was for hot dogs from Coney Island and donuts from Buckeye Bakery.  

We’ve come a long way. We still have more work to do. The Richland County Foundation wants Mansfield, our county seat, to be dynamic and vibrant.

Allie Watson

Allie Watson.

We have talked about ideas we may have for various buildings, parking lots and even blighted properties.  But, we didn’t know how to tackle such a large area or concept.

Wanting to do “something” for Mansfield’s core area, we started talking about plans that have been funded. We found many plans and people who were frustrated with outsiders coming in to tell us how to change our city without funding to support the change.

Some plans have been used like a la carte menus and some followed like a checklist. None that were bringing multiple sectors or people together. We read through these plans and had teams of local people check out the progress in other cities like Kent, Hamilton, Springfield and Ohio City.

Almost a year ago Brady Groves and I met with Jodie Perry and Jay Allred. They had a crazy idea to send a group of people to South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas with the intent of bringing back new ideas to implement.  

We decided we could use their idea to accomplish our goal. So, last June the Richland County Foundation Board of Trustees voted to approve a grant to the Chamber Foundation to send 15 individuals to SXSW.  

Here’s a few things you should know about SXSW. The event has the notoriety for being a film and music festival. But, the first six days of SXSW are actually a convergence of some of the greatest minds talking about successful things happening in other areas as well as ideas that haven’t even been developed yet.

This year SXSW has a special Cities Summit to focus on the progress of cities across the world.

You’re probably wondering who is going and why them? They are individuals who work, live, play and invest in downtown Mansfield. These 15 individuals skew young and diverse and they were chosen for their ability to think with an open mind and get stuff done.

Those participating in SXSW are: Jay Allred, Damien Beauford, Bob Bianchi, Benjamin Davis, Aurelio Diaz, Cameron Haring, Jennifer Kime, Nikki Lewis, Jodie Perry, Jotika Shetty, Leona Smith, Matthew Stanfield, Maura Teynor, Chelsie Thompson, Allie Watson.

What’s the plan?  The plan is to go to SXSW with a background on the history and progress of the Central Business District and zero preconceived notions of what we’re looking to do. The plan is to have an open mind and convene people within five sectors upon returning.

The sectors are: Cities and Walkability, Food and Entertainment, Start-Up and Technology, Social Impact and Workplace. The investment will come full-circle through 2018 as the 15 participants work with 27 advisors to develop an actionable plan.

Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. Or watch for more blogs starting Saturday, March 10 at

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South By Southwest Conference Blogger

Senior Community Investment Officer at Richland County Foundation. Allie helps donors fulfill their charitable wishes through grant making. She discovers and discusses community opportunities, projects and programs with donors and grant recipients.

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