ELO looks to increase downtown foot traffic

EAST LIVERPOOL — New isn’t always better, according to city Councilman John Mercer, who said during a meeting last week of the licensing and economic committee that’s why he wants to focus on what’s already available in the city.

Mercer said that, while much attention has been focused in the past year on the condition of rental properties in the city, officials also need to discuss commercial buildings and not allow them to “sit by and watch them fall down.”

His committee has been continuing its work on changing zoning ordinances, implementing a possible historic district expansion and gaining information through in a Main Street program, as well as discussion with the administration, planning Director Bill Cowan and officials of other communities.

Mercer said with families preparing to move into the new Market Street Lofts workforce housing development downtown, “It would be nice to have something for them to look at.”

Committee member Brian Kerr, who moved his computer business from the building he owns on Fifth Street to Calcutta last year, indicated a business moving into the building will “do a lot” toward that goal, and although he has not divulged what that business is at this point, did indicate it involves food.

“I think this would be a good ‘food’ town,” Kerr said, pointing to several existing eateries already in town or planning to open and saying, “You may get foot traffic during the day, but it seems to diminish after 5 p.m. We need something to bring night life back, other than bars.”

Mercer, who lives downtown, said, “I enjoy living in town. I enjoy being in that environment” and said, “If you want small shops to succeed, you need foot traffic. People want that environment; they don’t want a fake Disney World environment; they want the real thing.”

According to Mercer, “Millennials want to live in a mixed-use environment. They want to walk to stores, shops, bars,” and said he believes jobs are coming to the area with completion of the cracker plant in nearby Monaca, Pa., which will, in turn, bring people to the area who will want to live downtown and utilize the existing buildings.

“People think we need ‘new,’ but new isn’t always better,” Mercer said, saying the multi-million project undertaken by New Castle School of Trades that renovated two abandoned buildings on Fifth Street is a “great example of what can be done using what’s available.”

Kerr took a moment to commend Doug Sanford, owner of a building near Webber Way where bricks had fallen from the facade onto the sidewalk, saying Sanford quickly took steps to repair it rather than just string caution tape around it.

“It’s nice to have an owner have pride in his property,” Kerr noted.

Mercer said updated zoning legislation is not yet ready for the committee’s review and said a professor at Kent State University has agreed to help with the historic district expansion, and he will need to get an update on that project.

Although the city is not going to undertake an actual Main Street Program, it had decided to join the program for informational purposes, but Mercer said that got waylaid when the $250 membership fee got cut from the budget.

Mercer said he will request that the funding be reinstated in the budget.

The next meeting was set tentatively for 4 p.m. March 7 in council chambers.