Aurora mayor shares thoughts about improving the town center

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Aurora -- Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin's plans to increase parking downtown are under way with planned improvements at Kiwanis-Moore Playground, which will proceed now that a referundum issue will not appear on the November ballot.

Womer Benjamin, though, said she does not necessarily want to see more parking downtown after the current proposed plans are complete.

"Rather, I think we have to be smarter about improving the Town Center and meeting multiple needs of the community," she said, adding "it is very difficult to pull out onto Route 43 from a parking lot at the establishments there.

"The parking at Kiwanis-Moore is off the main thoroughfare and leads to a traffic light, making the travel easier and safer. We also need to be more conscious of code and planning standards with respect to parking needs."

There are not many options available for new downtown parking in Aurora, she said. "That is why expanding the parking at Kiwanis-Moore made sense from a planning perspective," she said.

"In addition, though, renovation plans at the Aurora Inn are developing, and the Skin Care Studio just moved into the building just south of the Sutton Insurance building, so the Route 306 corridor is seeing new activity," she said. "The city will work with these businesses as their plans further develop."

Womer Benjamin envisions those plans in helping to "attract more use."

"I want to work to improve the center of town with greater incorporation and enhancement of its historic character," she said. "In addition, I think connectivity and convenient parking make traversing our town and enjoying its retail and recreational amenities easier.

"Hopefully, that will encourage more use by our own residents and visitors, and begin to shape a better defined 'Town Center' as described in the master plan," she added.

IN TURN, Womer Benjamin believes "when prospective businesses see a more focused area in the downtown, ideally they should be more willing to locate there.

"That is certainly what the master plan developers have anticipated when they noted the need for pedestrian connectivity and parking to help the town center focus area reach 'its full potential as an economic development generator and as a city destination and gathering place.

"It isn't about more concrete; it is about better utilized and more attractive space with clearer connections for the public," she explained. "And for me, enhancing its historic character is part of making the area more attractive."

A referendum petition that would have allowed residents to vote on whether they wanted a new parking lot in Town Center failed to gather enough valid signatures, according to the Portage County Board of Elections. It was 18 valid signatures short of the number needed.

The plan was approved 5-3 by City Council on June 9. The project will cost $90,000 from land and park acquisition / improvement funds.

Voting in favor of the project were Council President George Horvat and members Kathi Grandillo, Harold Hatridge, John Kudley and Jim Vaca.

Voting against were Council Vice President Denny Kovach and members Reva Barner and Amy McDougald. Scott Wolf was absent.

The mayor said the planned improvements at Kiwanis-Moore Playground, including an improved ballfield, walkway and expanded parking, which were halted because of the petition drive, will proceed soon.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

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Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

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