The Marion Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Downtown Marion Inc. released today the Marion Cultural Corridor Vision Document. The Marion Cultural Corridor project is a collaboration between the Marion Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) and Downtown Marion Inc. The purpose of the project is to envision the central corridor of Marion as the cultural hub of the community where residents and visitors gather to experience a truly local environment of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues while creating a sense of place that the community uses as a foundation for feelings of pride and self-worth. The term “cultural corridor” describes an area bounded on the east by the Harding Home and Public Library and the west by Union Station.
A working group was convened in November, 2016 consisting of Mark Holbrook, Marion Area Convention & Visitors Bureau; Beth Meadows and Clarissa Myers, Downtown Marion Inc.; Pam Hall, Marion Area Chamber of Commerce; Sherry Hall, Harding Home & Memorial; Mayor Scott Schertzer, City of Marion; Andrew Carter, Marion Star; Lisa Mendoza, Marion CanDo!; Bev Ford, Marion Palace Theatre; and BJ Gruber, Marion Police Department.
The group focused on the eight elements to a successful city core; Streetscape, Commerce, Office Space, Housing, Historic Preservation, Government Center, Culture and Entertainment, and Open Space. Here is a summary of the findings:
The project analyzed parking in the area and determined that there are adequate spaces for demand, however better signage to identify public parking should address the misconception of a lack of parking. In order to enhance the view of the corridor’s historic architecture, the group recommends evaluating physical obstacles to determined what changes may be needed to open up the corridor streets visually. A lack of public seating along sidewalks, public buildings, and park spaces was identified. Public art in the form of building murals and the upcoming Cardinal Community project were recognized as significant visual enhancements to the area and continued exploration of additional public art project is recommended.
The group identified the need to create a greater density of businesses in the corridor district. That density is necessary to make the area a destination for residents and visitors looking for places to shop, dine, and be entertained. The growing restaurant population in the area is encouraging and should be matched be an equal increase in local shops featuring artists and craftspeople.
While Marion’s downtown currently houses a number of office space-type businesses, attracting additional tenants in this area makes sense. The more people working downtown, the more support retailers and restaurants will receive. It is believed that, as more restaurants, shops, and cultural businesses open, the downtown will become a much more desirable place for those seeking office space.
Of the areas of downtown develop that Marion excels, downtown housing is among the best. With more than 200 units available in the main corridors of Center and Church Streets, current housing levels meet or exceed demand. However, we believe that, as the Cultural Corridor develops, demand will increase. Planning by building owners and others should keep an eye toward expanding housing availability in step with business development.
Regardless of size, a city or town’s historic downtown architecture is the aesthetic core of a community’s identity. Older buildings have a character and individuality uniquely suited to the types of businesses that make a downtown a destination. Artists, crafts people, and other small businesses just seem to fit in vintage storefronts. Responsible property owners have done well in restoration of buildings and these are the ones that are seeing good results in occupancy. It will be important as we go forward to identify properties that could be a detriment to development and seek solutions through education of buildings owners.
In evaluating this element of our community, we have found that downtown Marion is indeed the government center for our community. With city and county offices firmly positioned in the heart of the corridor, Marion can be proud that our local government remains where it began in 1822.
Culture and Entertainment
Marion’s city core is fortunate to include a large historic theatre, President’s home, historic railroad station, large county museum, and a variety of other historic structures. The working group identified a need for more small spaces for artists and performers who are a better fit for small venues.
Other than its architecture, nothing defines a downtown more than its open spaces. Open spaces are not the absence of buildings, but rather the presence of intentional areas for people to gather formally and informally. Open spaces are also valuable in slowing down the pace in a downtown. They can create a desire to stop and experience instead of passing through.
Research of other towns in Ohio showed that most had a main public gathering place. Much speculation has accompanied the recent demolition of buildings at Main and Church Streets adjacent to Founders Park. While the Cultural Corridor Working Group’s role is not to make specific recommendations for particular properties, we do encourage the evaluation to address how using this space to create a permanent gathering place for outdoor performances and other activities would greatly benefit the community.
Few would argue the necessity of revitalizing our city core to spur economic growth in our community. A thriving, engaging cultural corridor facilitates entrepreneurial endeavors, is attractive to large businesses coming to Marion, keeps more dollars local, attracts more visitors, and helps to create a positive image for Marion. Beyond that, there is a more important reason to see the center of our city filled with locally-owned or managed restaurants, shops, attractions, and entertainment venues. That is, to regain a proper balance in our community. In the absence of a healthy city core, a community loses its sense of self - it forgets how to spend time together strolling down its streets, becoming friends with business owners, and feeling like you belong. The challenge is a difficult one as the modern world presses in for us to shop online, dine at chain restaurants with huge marketing budgets, and stay isolated in our homes gazing at screens of all sizes. And the results of succumbing to this new community model are ones we are experiencing today. High unemployment, drug abuse, young residents moving away and more come not just from a lack of opportunity, but also from the absence of communal ties. If people don’t feel like they have a stake in their community, they are less likely to invest in it.
While we as a community will strive to plan well, make wise decisions about our community’s future, and employ best practice for revitalization, none of this will succeed without fostering and supporting the dreamers in our community. Entrepreneurs are people who cannot not do what their passion leads them to. We must as a community support these potential business owners by removing obstacles, encouraging creativity and risk taking, and investing in them with our time and dollars. Small business owners are the future of, not only our downtown, but our entire community. We should pledge together to support those with dreams, ideas, and passion. That pledge must come from elected officials, government departments, community leaders, and all Marion County residents.