By DAVE DELUCA - For the Star Beacon
A ‘streetscape’ can be defined as all the visual elements of a street, including the road, adjoining buildings, street furniture, trees and open spaces. On Monday, the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association held a meeting at Casa Capelli to discuss and get input on Ashtabula’s streetscape. About 50 interested citizens, business owners and city officials attended. The goal of the meeting was to get ideas for a plan to beautify and improve access to the downtown Main Avenue business district.
ADDA President Lynda Annick said she wanted to bring together merchants, property owners and the city to work with landscape architect James McKnight to create a plan for a new downtown streetscape.
“It’s their call,” Annick said. “We need to know what people want to see downtown. We’ve had 860 responses to our most recent survey. Appearance of the downtown area was rated number one.”
Annick said three landscape architecture firms were looked at to help develop a plan, and ADDA chose James McKnight Associates Ltd. Associates of Cleveland. The firm is one of the area’s most well known landscape architects, with credits including the city of Hudson and Superior Avenue, Perk Park, Slavic Village, MLK Drive and RTA median enhancements in Cleveland. McKnight Associates has been in business for 25 years.
“This session was the dream part,” McKnight said. “It was to dream of what people would like to see. Then a plan is developed from that.”
McKnight said his company’s focus was on urban, suburban and university areas. He said he sees plenty of room for improvement and lots of potential in Ashtabula.
“We need a congruous plan for a streetscape stretching from North to South Park including the side streets,” he said. “It needs to be a unique environment that makes people feel connected to the town, streetscape and businesses.”
McKnight said some of the challenges to creating a unique, visually pleasing streetscape in Ashtabula include empty storefronts, unsafe pedestrian crossings and lack of consistency in street lines. He said some bare walls need murals or green spaces and that there need to be better traffic patterns. McKnight agreed with many of the people who attended the meeting that the renovation of the Hotel Ashtabula should be capitalized on.
“Downtown should have a unique district identity with lots of character,” he said. “This improves the overall experience for shoppers, diners and tourists.”
McKnight said one important thing is to wisely use the space between parking and entry to businesses. He said Ashtabula has an average of about 15 feet between parking and that this needs to be redone.
McKnight gave a half hour talk on what needs to be done and what could be done and concluded by placing photos of a number of improvements created by McKnight Associates on the walls. People were asked to place a dot on streetscapes that appealed to them. The photos included planters, trees, sculpture, side street development, lighting and other visually pleasing streetscape aspects. Many of the elements used in Hudson were looked upon favorably. After that there was an open discussion and McKnight wrote down ways to develop the most popular ideas. Most people said of these should include using Ashtabula’s unique traditional Western Reserve, industrial, railway and covered bridge heritage. It was agreed that trees should be included but they needed to be regularly pruned so they soften the view but don’t obstruct other street design elements.
Local artist Julene Schwarz attended the meeting and said art and lighting was important to a great streetscape. ADDA member Marty Cephas said a plan that looked forward into the future was needed so the streetscape will still be interesting and safe years from now. Another person attending the meeting said the Lake to River bike trail will run through town when completed and that cycling and cyclists should be considered in streetscape.
Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere made it to the meeting and was pleased with what he saw.
“We need concrete things on paper to get grants and funding,” Timonere said. “That’s why the city got behind this ADDA project and helped get the study going. It could mean very good things for downtown Ashtabula. We could have both the Harbor and downtown as two visually pleasing, economically viable districts.”
McKnight agreed and said, “We can dream great stuff but the hard part will be funding. It’s always better to do this work first and then develop the plan. With some effort downtown Ashtabula could have a great looking streetscape.”