The upcoming Nov. 5 general election has five people running for three seats on the Washington Court House City Council: Jim Blair, Jim Chrisman (running for reelection), Jason Gilmore, Kathie Oesterle and Kendra Redd-Hernandez (running for reelection).
The R-H supplied questionnaires either through email or on a printed document. Answers were collected, organized and then split into four articles. The following is part one of the collected answers:
1) Do you think our downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change it?
Blair—Over the last few years, downtown businesses across the USA have seen a dramatic downturn in business. There are few who have stood the test of staying in business for an extended period of time. Locally, while there are a few businesses that have been able to exist for a moderate amount of time, the business turn-over rate is still high. How does the city attract merchants who will offer a variety of goods and services that will keep local shoppers from fleeing to the larger cities for their shopping needs? The volume of our downtown shoppers tends to rise and fall in conjunction with the special events that happen from time to time. The methods the city has employed, such as hiring an outside firm to advise on how to populate the downtown, hasn’t seemed to garner much return on our investment. Most new businesses are local entrepreneurs and have nothing to do with the firm hired to bring in new outside businesses. There is much to be done before I would consider our downtown healthy and successful.
To change: Requiring landlords to maintain their buildings and make them more appealing to prospective vendors would be a start, and searching to find a family style restaurant for downtown shoppers to frequent would be appealing. I would like to see the city go “all in” in promoting The Scarecrow Festival. We need to make it a greater draw by inviting multiple high school and college bands, and civic groups such as Veterans groups, to participate in a Scarecrow parade. We need to take a page from surrounding communities who have successful festivals and work to incorporate their ideas into our own community Scarecrow festival. Circleville, Wilmington, Hillsboro and Bainbridge all have hugely successful festivals. We could learn from them. We need to think outside the “box” on how to make our Scarecrow festival more appealing.
Chrisman—It’s gotten a lot better the last two or three years. It still has a ways to go.
Gilmore—Our downtown is growing, no doubt about it, but we could have more growth. Look around us at the cities with the same amount of traffic, access to larger cities and population as us, and ask yourself why we are behind. We need a Council with a solid vision for our downtown as well as our other hubs in Washington Court House. Why did we not get the McKesson expansion that went to Jeffersonville? We already have McKesson and they chose them over us. We must deregulate downtown zoning, create a competitive tax system to attract business and high paying jobs, and strengthen zoning.
Oesterle—I do believe our downtown is healthy and successful, but we must ask ourselves what we want out of our downtown. What kind of businesses do we want? Do we want restaurants and pubs for the public to be able to eat downtown? What about a small convenience store? That is why I have stressed that we must have an action plan developed between the Economic Development Department and Council about what we want out of our downtown, and further, our industrial park and strip mall.
Redd-Hernandez—I serve as Vice-President of Main Street Fayette (MSF) and we made huge strides in the right direction. We have doubled our retail storefronts and created awareness through monthly Shop Hops and other family activities. The City just added a new sound system for music & events. We still have empty storefronts and are in need of more shopping/eating options. MSF along with Chelsie Baker, Economic Development Director, are just getting started. Stay tuned for what’s to come in the next 6-12 months.
2) How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city?
Blair—While I do not use public transportation and use only private, it does appear that the transportation options are readily available if needed. I observe several vehicles such as cabs and transportation vans transporting citizens and the handicapped.
Chrisman—We have a cab company and Community Action transportation. The other option would be buses running a regular route, but it has been tried here before and didn’t last.
Gilmore—I think we have a unique situation where CAC has given so much to our city in terms of public transportation. A lot has been done through grants from the Ohio Department of Transportation. I hope we can continue to improve and expand their mission and I will do all that I can to help in those endeavors.
Oesterle—Fayette Transportation and the Community Action Commission has done a great deal for affordable transportation for our residents. I would like to see those programs and initiatives expanded and will advocate on their behalf. We obviously do not have the infrastructure for transit like Columbus, but we must have options for our seniors and low-income residents to be able to get place to place in Washington Court House.
Redd-Hernandez—I believe the addition of Fayette Transportation has been a positive addition. It has made travel around our community much easier for many people. Transportation, like many other areas, requires continual evaluation in an ever changing world.
3) Do you feel we have traffic/parking problems in this city?
Blair—When they changed the traffic pattern a few years back reducing the amount of lanes, it has resulted in traffic backups, especially during rush hours, train crossings and weekends. Many times there is traffic backed up between up to 2 lights. The programming of the downtown traffic lights needs to be revisited. Business owners parking in parking spots in front of or within a short distance of their own establishments contributes to the congestion.
Chrisman—The more businesses that open downtown, the worse parking will be. A part of the problem is employees parking in front of the stores where they work.
Gilmore—I have driven through the downtown before. Yes, we have a traffic problem. I think the Council has some options to attempt to fix this, including prohibiting through trucks from using Court Street. We, through a shared payment plan, extended SR 753 to US 62, we built the 35 bypass and have other routes more accessible to through truck traffic. Some argue they provide business for the downtown and city, but I have never seen a semi parked downtown and only occasionally out by the strip mall. Another problem I imagine we have is overweight trucks, and we have no way of knowing without scales, but Court Street would not deteriorate the way it does if that was not true.
Oesterle—We definitely have a traffic problem in downtown, especially when both schools let out at 3-5 p.m. during the week. I noticed this occurs once we went from two lanes on each side of Court Street to single lanes and a turn lane. I also believe the light sequence could have something to do with it. Further, look at the condition of Court Street since we went to single lanes and all the patch work—we must look into ways to maintain our roads better and use better materials to get the most for our tax dollars. Our roads are the first thing visitors experience, so they are a reflection of the condition of our city. In terms of parking, I believe the city has adequate parking for the size of our downtown and city.
Redd-Hernandez—At this time, we do not have a significant traffic/parking problem. Yes, sometimes we have to walk a few steps to get to our destination but we also walk quite a few steps when we shop at big box stores. As we grow, add crosswalks and increase occupancy in the downtown area, we will need to address this issue.
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JenniferMWoods.