ZANESVILLE – A joint walkway project between the City of Zanesville and the Muskingum County Convention Facilities Authority could transform a main entrance to downtown Zanesville.
The area around the Zanesville-Muskingum County Visitor Center and Secrest Auditorium could become a new entertainment district, with upgrades to the auditorium and a new open-air market and restaurant on the center grounds of reception.
Each entity would develop a portion of the project, with CFA’s efforts focused on the area around the Visitor Center and the portion of town over the Secrest Auditorium.
“We are looking at doing a project in our footprint around the visitor center,” said Mike Bennett, board member of the Muskingum County Convention Facilities Authority. With other projects underway downtown, now is a good time to start looking for ways to develop their properties, including the former Ohio Power Garage on Fourth Street, he said.
The project would include renovations to the garage, upgrading things like the electrical system to make the building more attractive to potential tenants. The council is also considering a long pavilion in the visitor center car park, which would provide covered space for vendors or demonstrations at various events. The landscaping would make “a more pleasing, aesthetically pleasing and functional gateway to the downtown core,” Bennett said.
The pavilion project would lead to the removal of the section of Elberon Avenue that connects Fifth and Fourth Streets. A sidewalk would replace the road, the removal of which would leave more space around the residential area.
The Secrest Auditorium parking lot, already busy this summer with various events including the Summer Concert Series, was getting a makeover by the city, with landscaping and other improvements. The work will be paid for by $50,000 allocated from the Ohio budget.
In an effort to make Secrest itself a better venue, Zanesville Mayor Don Mason would like to see a new pre-event venue added to the south side of the building, allowing for a much larger lobby and entrance.
“We are still planning but determined to move forward with the renovations that will allow for a better experience,” he said. The upgrades will also make the building more ADA-accessible and easier to access for older residents and those with health care needs.
“It’s a big historic building that needs refreshing to be able to cover all the activities artists and performers would like to have there,” he said.
The Old Ohio Power Garage has three sections, two of approximately 1,800 square feet and a larger section in the middle of approximately 4,000 square feet. The CFA acquired it in the late 1990s, Bennett said. “We are looking at how we can develop this property in a way that would benefit downtown Zanesville and bring people off the freeway and into the city’s central business district.
“We contacted a number of local restaurateurs,” Bennett said. Accordingly, the Board of Directors is considering a proposal and has entered into negotiations. “I hope we will have a tenant in the next few months.”
A new restaurant would be at the center of the entertainment district and help give a boost to the rest of downtown, Mason said. “Millions of dollars leave our city every year” as locals dine out in surrounding areas like Newark, Cambridge or Coshocton, Mason said. “We can build this area and make Zanesville livelier, more fun again.” Mason said that in addition to the possible tenant of the former AEP garage, another downtown restaurant should be announced soon, he said.
Bennett said he expects renovations to begin in the first quarter of next year and any tenant improvements to be completed by the end of 2023, with a new business opening in early 2024. pavilion would be realized during the same period, he said. .
Although still in the design phase, early estimates of the total cost of the CFA’s share of the project are around $3.5 million, Bennett said. This includes building renovations, construction of the pavilion and removal of Elberon Avenue.
With the bed tax starting to rise as a result of COVID-19 and frugal operations over the years, “we’re in a pretty solid financial position,” he said. “Whether we finance the rest through savings or through financing, I am confident that we will be able to manage the whole project, especially since we have obtained two very generous grants from two local foundations and the state involvement.
The CFA received a $500,000 grant from the Straker Foundation and a $250,000 grant from the Rogge Foundation.
“We’re thrilled,” Bennett said. “I think it fits in well with the overall downtown momentum.”
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