Thursday, April 20, 2000

Mall overhaul called too vanilla

Some want more spent to lure the people back

BY Janet C. Wetzel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — Just ripping the roof off City Centre Mall does not mean shoppers will come, a businesswoman told city commissioners this week.

        But a little extra money to pretty up the plaza, turning it into an eye-catching focal point downtown, could do the trick, said Peggy Blakley, who along with her husband, Tom, owns several businesses and downtown properties. She said she also was representing a local investors group.

        Since Butler County commissioners have agreed to contribute $3 million to the mall project, and the state has included another $2 million in a pending bill, part of that should go toward beautification, Mrs. Blakley said.

        “We'd like to see the revitalization of the downtown area ... instead of the plain brown wrapper” to draw people downtown, she said.

        City commissioners have agreed to spend about $11 million for what some call a nuts-and-bolts project: to remove the roof from the 25-year-old mall, restore storefronts and reopen Central Avenue and Broad Street to traffic.

        Interior demolition is to start late this year, and interior work early next year.

        Mrs. Blakley asked com missioners to reconsider an earlier proposal by mall design team Scheer & Scheer and Burgess & Niple to enhance the plaza at Central and Broad. It would include a raised plaza, cascading waterfall, planters and seating, estimated at $41,000.

        “The idea is that it will attract people to the area and it could be used for outdoor dining for a restaurant,” Mrs. Blakley said Wednesday. “This would encourage development in the downtown area. I've talked to several business people and local organizations that want this.”

        City Commissioner Laura Williams agreed downtown needs to be beautified and asked if private developers would get involved.

        “If it's unattractive it will be undesirable and if it's undesirable we're wasting our money,” Mrs. Williams said.

        Commissioner David Schiavone said more ameni ties will help draw people downtown.

        City Manager Ron Olson said plaza enhancement is a good idea for a small price, and it fits in with the marketing plan.

        If commissioners “sense there is more private contributions, they'll be more likely to consider putting some funding into it,” he said.

        Charles VanRenterghem, executive director of The Downtown Middletown Partnership Inc., said the upgrade is vital on that prominent corner, and follows the recommendation of city-hired experts.


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