By Danny restivo
City officials are hoping to revitalize the downtown area without altering its identity.
“We’re not trying to change the face of Girard,” said Mayor James Melfi. “We just want to figure out how to best utilize the space by working with downtown businesses.”
Melfi is asking for their help in an effort to stimulate the downtown. The area once was filled with small “mom-and-pop” businesses, he said. Although they still are important to Girard, Melfi said not all of those business have survived the current economic climate. The result is vacant storefronts around Wilson Avenue and Liberty Street.
“To think you’re going to have separate shoe stores or clothing stores in downtown Girard is not feasible anymore,” he said. “People go to the malls for that stuff now.”
In March, the city received a $10,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Development, along with $5,000 from the Raymond John Wean Foundation.
Girard then added $5,000 from its general fund to the feasibility plan, said George Zokle, a CT Consultants engineer charged with helping Girard develop a blueprint for economic success. The city enlisted CT Consultants, a private municipal-engineering firm, in procuring the grants.
The funding from the state, the foundation and the city was for developing a downtown revitalization plan. Zokle said he believes the downtown plan needs local involvement. “It’s not going to happen without a partnership between the city and the community,” he said.
City officials invited several area businesses to a “Downtown Plan” meeting at city hall Wednesday.
Dan Rowland, director of marketing for Windsor House Inc., attended the meeting. He said it was about getting local businesses to invest in the area, as well as making the downtown an area for community activity. Although Windsor specializes in senior- citizen care, its office is downtown on West Liberty Street. The business is a geographical focal point for the community, he said.
“We’ve been in Girard for 53 years,” he said. “We want the city to be successful.”
Rowland points to the expansion of V&M Star as a reason for optimism. The new $650 million facility is slated to begin production in October with around 350 employees. He said he was “amazed” by Wednesday’s meeting and hopes Girard can maintain a small-town feel while harnessing the economic ripple effects from the plant.
“We just want to see this city reach its full potential,” he said. “Girard is a mom-and-pop town, and we want it to succeed.”