The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

November 23, 2009

A downtown dilemma

A few do battle with absentee landlords

ASHTABULA — Ashtabula City Manager Tony Cantagallo gets angry when he walks down Main Avenue.

“They say we can’t get tenants,” Cantagallo says, pausing at an empty store front with yellowed paper peeling away from the window. “Drive by this place. Would you want to be a tenant?”

Cantagallo points out the eyesores, as if they are not painfully obvious, as he walks the street: a facade painted with colors reminiscent of a 1968 VW painted by hippies on a bad trip; dirty windows with rotting carpet, falling plaster and decaying backdrops; rooms filled with the dirty remnants of a long-gone retail attempt.

“Wash the windows, put some paper in there,” Cantagallo says. “This is (expletive) appalling.”

Cantagallo says the curb appeal of the city’s downtown section is an economic issue that is costing tenants and revenue. He tells of a banker who was looking to locate a new branch in the city, but after taking a hard look at how existing property owners cared for their Main Avenue holdings, the banker concluded he couldn’t justify locating a branch on Main.

That loss angers Cantagallo, who recently met with the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association to find out what they are doing to improve the appearance of what was once the heart commerce in the city.

It turns out that the same things that bother Cantagallo about absentee and apathetic owners also bother Dr. Cara Ogren, president of the ADDA and a downtown business owner (Synergy Physical Therapy and Wellness).

“Curb appeal is what the city manager is concerned with, and I think we are addressing that. We’re just getting started,” Ogren says.

She says the association has created four committees to study and act upon specific issues related to downtown Ashtabula. One of them is design.

“They’re looking at how to improve the appearance of the downtown corridor,” Ogren says of the committee, which is chaired by Ralph Bacon, a local graphic artist.

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