Lockland secures development grant from the county to revitalize business district

LOCKLAND, Ohio -- Lockland was already reeling when the Great Recession came. One needs only to drive the length of Wyoming Avenue to see the scars that remain.

The ground once occupied by the Stearns & Foster manufacturing plant now sits bare. The company was what once defined Lockland’s industrial identity; the vacant lot that remains defines its identity today. Vacant storefronts in the village’s two “downtowns” seem just as common as occupied ones, if not more so.

But village and Hamilton County officials alike see signs that change is on the horizon. The Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) of Lockland recently secured a $20,000 planning grant from the county to fund the first of three phases to redevelop the Wyoming Avenue Business District.

“Right now, we’re poised for a real growth spurt,” said David Krings, Lockland village administrator.

HCDC, Inc. assisted the village’s CIC with the application for the grant and will help solicit feedback from the village’s residents and businesses on what they’d like to see included in the revitalization effort. Public meetings will be announced to hold visioning sessions.

“I think a lot of the pieces are starting to fall into place,” said Dan Ferguson, HCDC senior development specialist.

Participating in the visioning process will also be students from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP).

“They bring some interesting concepts to the table,” said HCDC vice president Harry Blanton, a DAAP graduate.

Key to the first phase is the 12-acre Stearns & Foster site, located centrally in the business district. The site will need to be surveyed; utility lines used to service all of the buildings on the Stearns & Foster properties, but their exact whereabouts are unknown.

“There are some legacy issues -- it’s not just a farm field,” Ferguson said. “There’s benefits in that you have the utilities, but where are they? And how do you have to design things to take them into account?”

Krings would like to see Shepherd Avenue, the road that passes through the middle of the site, relocated to align with Mill Street, where the bulk of the village’s retail properties are concentrated. Both streets end at Wyoming Avenue today; depending on the utility location, it may have to stay that way going forward.

The Stearns & Foster site is one of two large brownfield sites in Lockland and one of the largest pieces of developable land in Hamilton County. Though some uncertainty of the site remains because the Ohio Department of Transportation’s plans for the expansion of Interstate 75 haven’t been finalized, its location and size could attract investment.

“If you drive on I-75 you can see it from both sides,” Ferguson said. “It’s highly visible. It’s a lot of ground. That could be a transformational project.”

The second phase of the revitalization plan will entail the creation of architectural renderings for development in key areas of the business district. The Lockland CIC has already applied for a Duke Energy urban revitalization grant for $20,000. Phase 2 could begin in January 2017, provided funding is secured.

The third phase, the implementation of the plans and ideas from Phases 1 and 2, is scheduled for next summer. The third phase, which will likely include beautification and public art, is not yet funded. Again, the Stearns & Foster site will likely dictate the future of the village.

“It’s what the market will bear,” Blanton said. “If a big developer comes in with a lot of money that wants to redevelop the Stearns & Foster site, and it’s a great plan and the village likes it? Transformational. But if not, it probably will be more incremental.”

Ferguson plans to kick off the public input phase by collecting feedback from the public at Gertz Garden Center on Oct. 1, when it holds a fall craft fair. The garden center occupies the former Stearns & Foster office building, the only remaining building from the company’s heyday.