LIMA — As Lima’s revitalization efforts push the region forward, downtown business owners have been at the forefront of the initiative.
For Boom XYZ’s fourth episode, The Lima News brought in three of those business owners heavily involved in such work to discuss both the unique difficulties and opportunities related to downtown investment.
John Heaphy, owner of Good Food, Inc., has been involved in downtown Lima since 1980. When comparing the state of downtown then and downtown now, he said he’s seen a lot of change.
Four decades ago, as a number of major manufacturing employers left the region or shut down, downtown bore the brunt of the impact. The number of vacant buildings increased, and as the economic needs of business owners shifted, more and more stores found a place outside of downtown.
“When the big mega employers pulled out of town, that’s tough to recover from,” Heaphy said.
But today, the momentum is swinging the other way. Heaphy rattled off a number of new and ongoing projects: the Rotary amphitheater project, Rhodes State’s downtown expansion, the recent completion of 43 Town Square, the ongoing Metro Center project, major community investments by both hospitals in the region and increased sales and larger acts at Veterans Memorial Civic Center, as well as major private investment projects.
Heaphy helped update the block south of the Civic Center by purchasing with plans to renovate the former McDonald Supply building near one of his restaurants, Old City Prime, 215 S. Main St., Lima. Once renovations are complete, he’ll look for a tenant for the space, he said, which would end up creating a strip of businesses across from Family Dollar.
Jennifer Brogee, owner of The Meeting Place on Market, 220 W. Market St., Lima, is making some similar movements. Brogee’s history with downtown began in 2003 with the opening of the Meeting Place.
“What I love about downtown business owners is that everyone cares about the social impact as well of what they’re doing, so it’s not purely about trying to make a profit. It’s about trying to make a positive impact on the community, how can we be a part of the community,” Brogee said.
Her latest project, the Legacy Arts Collective — which currently includes Brogee; Marc Bowker, owner of Alter Ego on North Main; and the duo of Omar Zehery and Kayla Nocera, representing Rustgaze Records — looks to set up downtown as a center for the arts and other community-based projects.
Some of the difficulties of such projects tend to be the size of such buildings, Brogee said. She has considered expanding her current co-working center onto the second floor of the building that houses the Meeting Place through some sort of co-op investment, but the size of the space has created some difficulties.
Cody Ridenour, co-founder of Modo Media, 309 W. High St., Suite B, Lima, said his company has considered purchasing a downtown building in the past, but the size of such a space makes it financially burdensome. His company only has five employees.
“Modo has looked at buying a building because that would be the ultimate investment like these two have done. But they’re just giant buildings. If you’re a startup like us, how do you take that and convert it into something that’s profitable?” Ridenour said.
Another obstacle for downtown’s revitalization has been a stigma associated with the city center. Heaphy said some of that stigma is common with urban centers everywhere, but the track records of many of Lima’s downtown businesses disprove the concerns of safety that some people may have with the area, the business owners agreed.
Between the three, Brogee could only name one incident outside of her establishment.
“It’s been really great for my business, and I can’t imagine being somewhere else,” Ridenour said.
That stigma is starting to lift, as more and more people head downtown to experience Lima’s city center for themselves.
“In the last few years I’ve met more people than I have in the last 16 years who aren’t the traditional downtown customers,” Brogee said.
Heaphy added, “It takes the citizens of a community to make a community. Everyone wants to complain, or criticize government, the city council, the mayor, the county commissioners. Those people are really there to administer our money, our safety services, to keep our laws, but it takes citizens to make a town what it is. Let’s just make our town really great.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.