Sarah Sidlow, Senior Staff Writer

Dreams of giving the Locust Street area a much-needed facelift have been put on hold since last year’s announcement by the Oxford City Council and Planning Commission. “(The plan) is not dead,” said Economic Development Director Alan Kyger. “The Planning Commission is just going to sit on it for a little while.”

Progress on Locust Street will not start for at least another semester.

The Planning Commission gathered a wide array of ideas for the projects, Kyger said. They held public sessions to gain feedback and ran into some problems. The Chamber of Commerce and some local builders had concerns about the project.

Some members of the Planning Commission had suggested the city change the zoning of the area to allow builders to create a more streetscape aesthetic, similar to Stewart Square, where Patterson’s Cafe is located.

“The idea was, ‘Can we create a new standard, which gives us more of a streetscape look and feel when these buildings are redeveloped? Do we want another ugly building with one acre of parking and then the building or do we want to create something that makes the area look better and have a little more of an urban feel to it?'” Kyger said.

Others, like Chamber of Commerce representative and local architect Scott Webb dissented, saying if the re-zoning were to occur, it would hurt existing businesses like Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, whose current building standards would not meet the new code. This would make it so business owners would not be able to reinvest in their own property, according to Kyger.

Careful to appease current business owners and community members, the committee shied away from the plan to make more adjustments.

The Community Development Department hired a group called Front Street Analytics to conduct a marketing demographic study.

This Columbus-based firm will look at how the city has positioned itself as a business community and garner some ideas on how the city should change things. Kyger said the plan would stay on hold until the Planning Commission can create new ideas from the results of the study.

The Planning Commission has paid Front Street $40,000 out of the city’s economic development budget to help Oxford avoid the problem they have had attracting businesses in years past.

Miami University students are the prime consumers in Oxford, however, much of their spending is tracked back to their individual hometowns, rather than to Oxford. This makes it difficult to track the spending power of the student population and creates an undesirable image of the power of the town’s population, according to Kyger.

Front Street Analytics is working with Miami now to gather some information about the student population.

By looking at things like the students’ zip codes, the firm can get a better estimate of what kind of backgrounds the students come from and can use that information to determine the purchasing power of the student population, as well as the types of commodities they purchase, Kyger said.

Front Street should be finished with their study by the end of the semester, according to Kyger, but the study might have to run into the fall semester, because the firm cannot conduct an accurate study when much of the student population is gone from Oxford during the summer months.

This report will belong to the people, Kyger said. The data will be disbursed to all of the development companies and real estate companies in town, so they can use this information to recruit outside businesses.

“We, as a community, can take whatever it is we can get out of this report and use it to our benefit,” Kyger said.

The Community Development Committee is hoping to use this information as well, so that they can gain some insight and direction to move forward with the project on Locust Street.

“We are hoping that through this process we can learn something about what features Locust Street needs to have in order to be attractive,” said Community Development Director Jung-Han Chen.

The Community Development Committee is also gathering input from Miami students.

Evan Craker, Kiley Mass and Richelle Viles took on the task of redesigning Locust Street for their architecture capstone course. They presented their vision to the Planning Commission on April 12 for feedback. They said the city of Oxford wants the Locust Street area to be a gateway into the city, but right now the space lacks accessibility. They suggested placing a boulevard with trees down the center of Locust, which would slow down traffic and increase sustainability. They also recommended curb extensions which would allow for on-street parking and pedestrian safety. Their idea to expose the stream that runs by Locust Street was met with positive feedback from the committee.

Of course, this vision of Locust is an idealized concept that would probably require widening of both the road and the sidewalks, among other costly measures. While opinions may differ on what should be done about the future of Locust Street, it seems to be a consensus that the people of Oxford want to give the area a sense of place.

Chen has asked for a copy of the students’ presentation so the commission can look at what elements and features they would like to expand upon.

In May, the Oxford City Council will hold a round table discussion with Front Street Analytics and merchants from each quadrant: U.S. Route 27 North, Uptown district, Stewart Square and Locust Street, as well as potentially some representatives from the other businesses in town like Johnny’s Deli and SDS Pizza, to get their thoughts, according to Kyger. No specific date has been set.