Residents, Council Brainstorm Ways To Attract Businesses

Managing Editor

A group of community members wanting to improve St. Marys’ downtown, spoke up during Monday’s city council meeting.

Residents John Burd and John Andreoni, as well as St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce Administrative Assistant Diana Green approached council about seeking help from the city to improve downtown by filling empty storefronts and maintaining its history.

“Something must be done to create a cooperative attitude between all interested parties looking to rejuvenate downtown St. Marys,” a letter given to council from the group read. “Unlike accidental meetings that seldom accomplish anything, a formal group needs to be created where ideas can be exchanged, problems and solutions identified and credibility established.”

Law Director Kraig Noble said that while the city is always looking for ideas and thoughts to improve the city’s downtown, he did point out that the city has had several committees over the years and he cited an inventory of downtown storefronts that was completed in 2007, stating that the number of downtown businesses increased from 71 in 2007 to 77 in 2019.

“I think the chamber has done a good job of working with local industries and we have done several programs to help businesses with a revolving loan fund and a few years ago we passed the law that allowed additional liquor permits in St. Marys,” Noble said. “The city has been very active in this, but this is not to say that we cannot look for new ideas and work with different entities.”

Andreoni said that while there might have been meetings established at looking to improve downtown over the decades, he added that there seemed to be spurts followed by “dead time” on a number of occasions instead of continued and constant growth.

“We want to create something that gives continuity,” he said. “The community is interested and it should be something that is continuous as opposed a spurt in the 80s, a spurt in the 90s.

“This community is different from those who survived on industries and we have a lot to offer.”

Councilman John Bubp proposed that the chamber take the lead on any kind of committee that might be formed since it has a network of businesses, while also inviting the city to attend meetings.

“I think it is a great idea,” he added. “I think that we all have some interest in this. If I sat here and said, ‘I have no interest,’ I better not be on city council, but I do have interest in this.”

Council President Jim Harris added that council and the city have demonstrated in the past that it is willing to partner with just about anybody.

“But I agree with John [Bubp] that this should be the chamber’s lead because they have the wherewithal and the contacts,” he said. “We have limited resources, we have one industrial development director who is out recruiting businesses and is focused on industrial … and we are limited with what we can do by law.

“It seems like people want the city to do everything and we have limited resources, but we are trying to do all we can.”

Councilman Jim Christman took an informal survey last month on Facebook from St. Marys residents on what suggestions they have on businesses people think are needed in St. Marys and where they would like to see them.

Christman said he received more than 400 responses to the informal survey.

“From the informal survey that I took, there is a large group of people that want to assist with a lot of different things,” he said. “The city has limited resources. We don’t have the capabilities to do a lot of things, but by partnering up with the chamber, they can take the lead on community-related things, we can take the lead on certain things and other residents or business leaders can take leads.”

Green informed council that the letter sent to them did not come from the chamber and that it was simply approached by Burd in asking if the chamber would support holding a meeting as concerned citizens.

“We were approached to try to help bring more business to the community,” Green said. “We would just love to — if a committee is formed — to help bring businesses to this town.”

Mayor Pat McGowan reiterated something he has stated multiple times this year, that the city needs individuals to invest in the town. He compared it to Bellefontaine’s downtown area.

“We want to help you guys, but let’s not make plans just to make plans,” the mayor said. “Let’s make sure that we have a concrete idea as to where we are going to go and what we are going to do with this whole thing.

“We need someone to make it a destination point. Give people a reason to come to our downtown and spend their dollars. That is the task that you are faced with and it does not happen overnight.”