Saturday, January 22, 2000

City plans street redesign

Historic look aims to lure shoppers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HARRISON — Following the lead of downtown business owners, the city is preparing to give Harrison Avenue a face lift.

        The shop-lined street will be widened and relieved of unsightly above-ground utility cables. Sidewalks will be repaved with decorative bricks and dotted with trees or planters. Standard streetlights will give way to gaslight-type fixtures.

        The improvements will fit right in with the historic restoration and new facades completed by several business owners. Both projects are designed to attract more customers and shops to the once-failing downtown.

        “The overall atmosphere is changing from a town that has been depressed to an air of regeneration,” said Dan Weethee, owner of the recently renovated Whitewater Market and a board member of Main Street Harrison, which is dedi cated to downtown rejuvenation.

        The $1.3 million city project will cover seven blocks of Harrison Avenue, from Broadway to State streets.

        Construction is scheduled to begin on Oct. 1, the day after the city's 150th anniversary celebrations conclude. It should be completed by November 2001.

        City officials are polling business owners and residents before setting final design details. And they will keep communication open as construction begins and access becomes troublesome.

        “We will do everything in our power to make sure they know exactly what we're doing,” said Councilman Walter “Coke” Powers. “Because it's going to mean some interruption in service. We're going to be tearing up streets.”

        But, he said, the results will be stunning.

        Unsightly rows of electric lines and cables that hang low and uneven over the street will disappear. Removing the poles will allow more space for pedestrians and accommodate the widening of the narrow street by one foot on each side. It also will provide more reliable utility service.

        “You don't have people hitting your poles, you don't have the wires being hit by ice, you don't have them getting hit by lightning,” Mr. Powers said.

        Shoppers will be able to park their cars along the street without having to worry about their side-view mirrors being bashed off by passing vehicles — now a common complaint at the police station.

        And business owners say they hope that the pretty, historic look will help them attract more customers, as well as new shops and cafes. They want to lure people away from the big-name chains and superstores that cover “the hill” near Harrison's two I-74 interchanges.

        “When the hill started (developing), it was a mad dash to get up there” with many stores forsaking downtown, said Denise Noller Frazier, who works at her family-owned Harrison Home Bakery. Her parents, Dieter and Sandra Noller, opened a branch location on the hill — but always maintained the downtown store, and later closed the branch.

        “We like being downtown. This is where our roots are. This is where we started, from the bottom up,” Ms. Frazier said. “We don't want to lose our downtown. We have a lot of history here on these few blocks.”

        City and business leaders have talked for more than 15 years, on and off, about the need to do something with downtown. But they never had the will or the sense of cooperation that is making this project possible, officials said.

        “For whatever reason, there just hasn't been a push to make it happen,” said Village Health Mart Pharmacy owner Jeff Biddle, a former city councilman.

        He was one of the first to renovate his storefront with a historic theme, and welcomes the pending changes. His customers and friends are looking forward to it, as well.

        “I think it's just human nature that people want to go back to the traditional and look back at their roots,” Mr. Biddle said. “And this is still the place people think of as the heart of Harrison.”


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