Moving BG forward: Downtown initiative will identify priorities

Bowling Green leaders want to respect the city’s heritage and reimagine its future.

Mayor Mike Aspacher said Downtown Forward will identify community priorities for downtown and develop detailed plans for implementation.

A press conference was held Tuesday to announce the collaborative initiative to enhance downtown.

The city and Bowling Green State University’s Center for Regional Development have formed a partnership in the Reimagining Rural Regions (R3) program.

“Bowling Green is a special place and has many tremendous assets,” Aspacher said. “Our downtown is the heart of our community: a place for business, a place to gather as a community, a place to entertain and a place that truly reflects Bowling Green. The project is worthy of our time. It is worthy of investment.”

He hopes a roadmap will be created to guide the current and future generations for a vision for the future of downtown.

Aspacher said that Downtown Forward is based on Heritage 2025, which he outlined during his State of the City address earlier this year.

“I explained the successful community history of downtown development projects. Starting with the country’s bicentennial in 1976, the community has been proactive in taking time to assess the changing needs of the city’s center area and identifying pathways for implementation of improvements,” he said.

In 2000, a new heritage plan was developed.

Over the last several years, numerous ideas and efforts have been made to continue the evolution of the city’s downtown, Aspacher said.

“The collaborative approaches of the heritage projects have been transformative to our community,” he said. “The essence of the previous heritage programs is similar to what we are contemplating in the Downtown Forward program.

“We want to respect our heritage and reimagine our future.”

The name change to Downtown Forward from Heritage 2025 reflects the current strong momentum in the Bowling Green community, he said.

Aspacher introduced the team he has appointed to spearhead this initiative.

Dick Newlove will lead the 13-member Downtown Forward committee, which includes downtown business owners, Realtors, city officials and a Bowling Green High School representative who has yet to be named.

Newlove, who was a member of the Heritage 2000 process, said he and Aspacher have been talking about something like this for quite a while.

“We didn’t know what form it would take,” Newlove said. “I think we need to look at this every so often, what the downtown is and what it can be.”

Martha Woelke, community development administrator for the city, said there are many people with project ideas and she hopes Downtown Forward will help narrow the list down to “what should we be doing based on what everyone downtown wants.”

It won’t cost the city anything to do this project, she added.

Russell Mills, senior director of BGSU’s Center for Regional Development, said the initiative will help Bowling Green take advantage of its unique assets and help transform them to aid in talent attraction and retention.

Public forums will be held this winter to discuss reimagination areas.

Mills said that the Downtown Forward steering committee will identify two-three projects to implement.

Implementation will start next summer.

BGSU Provost Joe Whitehead said the city and the university’s Center for Regional Development have formed the partnership for the 15-month R3 program.

“This is a community-led, student-driven project that focuses on quality of place and workforce attraction and retention,” he said.

The partnership will allow the city to leverage economic and demographic data, facilitate public engagement with stakeholders, and then identify the steps required to get there, Aspacher said.

His current term as mayor will expire in 2023, and he would not commit to running for reelection to complete this project before talking to his family.

“I’m always interested in finishing what I started, but there is a tremendous amount of talent and skill on the committee,” Aspacher said.

“We understand what has led us to this point … and where we go in the future will be something we discover along the way,” he said.

Funding for the projects chosen will be part of future discussions.

The R3 program is funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the USDA Rural Development Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge.