Fairfield’s Ohio 4 and Town Center corridors are significant areas of focus for Butler County’s third-largest city, and leaders say there will be a lot more activity in both areas over the next few years.
The city has focused on finding ways to improve both thoroughfares, including contracting consultants, developing plans, talking with stakeholders and looking at best practices and trends.
Sometimes planning can take a long time, as with the redevelopment of the soon-to-be less antiquated Riegert Square, a shopping plaza that’s needed a facelift since the 1980s.
“We have been looking at these two corridors for years now, and they didn’t get into the condition they’re in quickly and they’re not going to change quickly,” said Fairfield Development Services Director Greg Kathman. “We’re looking at long-term changes to the trajectory of these important corridors.”
And while people can grow impatient with a project that could take a long time to redevelop for various logistical reasons (one challenge with Riegert Square was it didn’t have a single owner), but City Council and Fairfield’s executive leadership team will be paying closer attention to areas moving forward.
Ohio 4 and U.S. 127/Pleasant Avenue, which includes the Town Center, are two “significant focus areas for us at the moment,” said Nathaniel Kaelin, Fairfield Development manager. “I think in the next five years, you’ll see more activity in both (corridors) than you had seen in the last five years.”
The strategic look at both corridors is part of a larger plan Fairfield is pushing, where they’re looking at different themes that focus on six initiatives. City Manager Scott Timmer said what is being called the 2023 Strategic Focus started in February when City Council, the mayor and senior staff held an off-site retreat where they came up with six priorities, or initiatives. Staff internally looked to see how these initiatives fit with what the city wants to achieve, he said.
In addition to revitalization, the city will look at quality of life and centers of excellence so Fairfield “can be the best at what we do in these different areas,” Timmer said.
The revitalization theme will be the most visible in the immediate and long-term planning, and Timmer said “is going to be critical for our short-term and long-term success of the city.”
“These two are critical areas of the city, and focusing on them short and long-term is what we’re going to need to do to ensure their vitality and continued success for many, many years,” he said.
Ohio 4 and U.S. 127/Pleasant Avenue are important to Fairfield in different ways. Both are major transportation corridors and handle a lot of traffic, but Ohio 4 has about 500 or more businesses along the nearly 5-mile stretch within the city. It also has higher volumes of traffic and more regional attractions, like Jungle Jim’s and several automotive dealerships.
“When a lot of people outside of Fairfield think of Fairfield, a lot of them come here to visit some attraction on Route 4,” Kathman said.
U.S. 127/Pleasant Avenue is critical for Fairfield more for its residential population, as “it cuts through the residential heart of our community.” And while Ohio 4 is the image outsiders envision when thinking of Fairfield, the Town Center ― which encompasses the area along and just off Pleasant Avenue south of Wessel Drive to Pleasant Run Creek north of Patterson Boulevard ― is where city and county residents conduct much of their business.
While there’s not much construction along Ohio 4, outside of some new asphalt at the southern end of the state route, Town Center is getting a facelift of sorts with the redevelopment of Riegert Square’s parking lot and landscaping. The road in front will, in the next couple of years, be repaved and re-stripped to reduce the number of lanes.
“What you’re seeing in our Town Center is really a reflection of planning and transportation trends,” said Kaelin. “In the 1960s and ‘70s, the goal was to move cars as quickly as you could ... and now you’re seeing communities all across the country trying to slow people down and make sure they can enjoy the businesses.”
That trend was likely ahead of its time in the early 1990s when Fairfield’s town center plan was developed. In the first paragraph of the plan, it addresses how Fairfield does not have a cluster of historic buildings one typically envisions in a town center, and thus did not have a downtown to provide the city with a sense of place.
That prompted the development of Village Green Park in the early 2000s, and for the next two decades, Fairfield put a lot of it’s focus on that southern end of Town Center. Now, it’s time for the area north of Nilles Road.
Now, Ohio 4′s challenges are the properties with real estate that have seen the end of their useful lives.
“Some buildings are just older and were built for a certain purpose, and that purpose doesn’t exist anymore, so the challenge is how do you repurpose that, those structures and the land sites, for the market as it exists today,” Kathman said.
The hope is that the private sector can help improve those properties and handle any redevelopment projects, as Raising Canes did with the redevelopment a couple of years ago on Ohio 4 and Stadium Drive. They demolished an antiquated office building to make way for the new chain restaurant location, and Kathman said, “We have a number of examples of that.”
But other sites have more challenges such as the cost of remediating a site or demolition, or some other issue that makes a private investment not make financial sense. That’s when the city would need to step in. That could be purchasing the property and remediating it, though city funds are limited, or develop private-public partnerships.
“All options are on the table,” Kathman said. “The preference is to work with private developers to leverage their investment through public-private partnerships, but if there’s a situation where a property has more challenges than what the private market can handle, that’s when traditionally, that’s when the public sector steps in to try to work on those properties.”