Officials entertain downtown proposal

COLUMBIANA — A group of young business owners want city council’s help in bringing more people downtown on a regular basis.

To do this, Greg Snyder of BirdFish Brewery and Matt Campbell of Generations Coffee House asked council at this week’s meeting to explore seeking state permission to designate the downtown a community entertainment district, which they view as a first step in achieving the goal of attracting more visitors.

“Just look at Columbiana the way it used to be and you think of the antique district … We’re trying to find that unique vibe” that would again make the city an entertainment destination, Snyder said.

The downtown has attracted an eclectic mix of new businesses in recent years, and the plan would be to hold events and activities that focus on those merchants by having “something going on all the time” downtown, Campbell said.

A quick review of the law indicates one of the chief benefits of a CED designation is that it creates new liquor licenses within the CED and at a considerably cheaper price. Campbell indicated there could be financial assistance programs to benefit the city and businesses within the CED and those wanting to locate there.

“This is just one tool, although it’s a powerful tool,” Campbell said of the CED designation.

Campbell, who operates several coffee shops in Mahoning County, purchased the coffee shop on South Main Street in May and has grown increasing concerned over insufficient foot traffic to support the business. He said during the recent street fair Generations had one of its best periods since he took over, but the next day it was back to the normal.

While BirdFish benefits from off-site distribution and sale of its craft beers, Snyder said some of his neighbors are not as fortunate. “Most of the businesses on Main Street need the foot traffic … There are other businesses that are hurting, and if things don’t get better they could be gone,” he warned.

Snyder and Campbell have met with other business owners, the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, and all are on board, but the organizations do not have much money to bring forth. A new law passed two years ago by the state legislature allows cities to create areas within CEDs where people can walk about outside while carrying an alcoholic beverage. Snyder suggested allowing his patrons to do that and charge them an extra $1 for the plastic beer cups, with the money going to the chamber or tourism board to help fund the plan.

Later in the meeting, Renee Walker and Jaquelyne Shell met with council to seek their approval for three events they would like to hold in 2018. The pair have their own business but are also partners in Co-branded Events, an event planning organization.

They want to hold a “Food & Makers” market in the downtown once a month from May through October; ShamROCK Fest on St. Patrick’s Day at Firestone Farms; and a Festival of Arts downtown and at Firestone Farms in August.

Walker, who owns the Watchtower Heroes comic book store in town, described the market as something that “works with the antique vibe that exists in Columbiana … It’s a classy market, not a flea market,” she said, adding the ShamROCK Festival would have something for adults and children alike. As for the Festival of Arts, Walker said the idea is to “make it more of a cultural entertainment event.”

Council and Mayor Brian Blakeman were very receptive to both sets of proposals and told them to start by presenting detailed plans to the city planning commission.

“I think it’s awesome you want to work with the city and think outside the box,” Blakeman said, adding these young entrepreneurs are in large part the driving force behind the revival underway downtown.