ELYRIA — Despite immense challenges, experts developing an economic revival strategy for Elyria say it will be realistic and doable.
“We won’t give you a strategy that is basically a castle built on a broken foundation,” Heather Arnold, director of research and analysis for Bethesda, Md.-based Streetsense, told about 70 people at the Elyria Transportation & Community Center on Wednesday.
Arnold, along with Abigail Ferretti, co-founder of Washington D.C.-based Partners for Economic Solutions and Terry Schwartz, director of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at Kent State University, are writing the marketing analysis and redevelopment plan expected to be completed by mid-2016. The companies are being paid with $93,000 in taxpayer and private grant money, including $75,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mayor Holly Brinda said. The remainder is local public and private matching money.
Because they just came to Elyria this week, the experts offered few specifics. The 90-minute presentation focused on broad goals, such as how Cleveland Street, downtown and Midway Mall-area businesses can complement one another rather than compete.
The plans will also focus on how to make downtown more inviting and giving Cleveland Street a more consistent look and feel. Arnold said the mix of businesses and residences on Cleveland Street give it a “schizophrenic” quality.
The plan will include how to capitalize on the $22 million state Route 57 improvement project and the $6.6 million, 108-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel being built by the Midway Mall. It will also recommend how to benefit from historic downtown architecture and buildings.
Arnold said the mall may be having trouble finding and keeping tenants due to the median household income of nearly $34,000 of families living near the mall. She said national retailers want a minimum of $50,000 median incomes by their stores. Arnold said the mall is in a transition, but it has the opportunity to thrive by becoming a community space with shopping options.
Even if not for shopping, Arnold said downtown is a “critical asset” that must become a destination for residents. Arnold, whose company has done studies in Durham, N.C., Richmond, Va., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Westlake, said the study will recommend how to make it more walkable and better use existing parking.
“It provides the symbol for everybody around you about who you are and what you’re about,” she said. “Right now, it’s not telling a very nice story, and we have to start to change that.”
Brinda said the experts have spoken to about 20 business owners so far.
A second community meeting is at City Hall’s Council Chambers 8:30 to 10 a.m. today. Another community meeting in about nine months will review a draft of the market analysis and make revisions.
With deindustrialization, increased poverty and eroded housing stock, Ferretti acknowledged revival is challenging but said it is attainable.
“The mayor wouldn’t have hired us if we weren’t going to give her surefire actions steps,” she said. “Otherwise, our work sits on the shelf, and we don’t get rehired.”