PIQUA — The city of Piqua held a community workshop Wednesday evening to continue discussions around the idea of a Community Center Campus based in the Historic East Piqua neighborhood.
The Historic East Piqua neighborhood is located in the oxbow in the Great Miami River and is bisected by U.S. Route 36 (East Ash Street) and bordered by the downtown to the west.
The importance of Historic East Piqua is its prime location.
“It’s a major entryway to the city,” City Planner Chris Schmiesing said. “It’s a gateway neighborhood.”
The goal of that campus would be to serve recreation, health, wellness, education, safety, arts, entrepreneurial, innovation, and other interests in the community, according to the city, through partnerships with the YMCA, the Piqua Board of Education, Edison State Community College, and National Guard.
“The YMCA has a need for a new facility,” Schmiesing said. The city has discussed previously the idea of having the YMCA move to a location at the Wertz Stadium and Roosevelt Fieldhouse.
Schmiesing and Mark Wentzell, AIA, of 292 Design Group, explained that the National Guard is also in need of modernizing their facility. Wentzell said that the National Guard wants to become a visible presence in the downtown with hopes that “people will feel better about the National Guard and recruitment will grow.”
“They like the idea of being right in the city,” Wentzell said. The current building that the National Guard is in, though, is not expected to go anywhere.
“That’s going to be part of the study because … it’s staying,” Wentzell said.
Schmiesing also said that Edison State Community College has expressed an interest in becoming a part of the downtown. In addition, as the owner of the Wertz Stadium and Roosevelt Fieldhouse and as a current occupant of the Decker building in Historic East Piqua, the Piqua Board of Education is also involved with the planning of this campus.
In theory, the Community Center Campus would be like a miniature college campus at which each one of the major partners in this venture would have a facility located. Having more entities involved will hopefully also get them all “the most bang for their buck,” Schmiesing explained. “There’s an opportunity to utilize a greater benefit.”
The Aerovent and Decker buildings were also a point of discussion. The Aerovent building, which formerly manufactured fans and ventilators, is currently used for storage and is 95 percent occupied, having a five-year lease with a Honda subsidiary. The Decker building, formerly a meat-packing plant, is also a unique space and a “prominent structure,” according to Schmiesing.
“It’s the kind of structure that would be really difficult to tear down and really hard to modify,” Schmiesing said.
Schmiesing also said that the configuration of that space is not efficient for the type of work that the Piqua Board of Education needs to do. The goal would be to have the private sector move into that building, such as a restaurant or a business that would utilize riverfront recreational activities.
As for the workshop, Schmiesing addressed a small crowd with questions like, “What are some of the community needs that exist now or maybe don’t exist now?”
Mayor Kazy Hinds suggested a bike repair shop right next to bike path, other ways for people to be active in the area, and possibly even an eclectic restaurant.
“It has to be unique,” Margie Wallace of Piqua said, agreeing that a restaurant would have to have some type of draw.
Once the idea of the campus becomes more concrete, the city expects that the private sector will want to get more involved as well.
“We create this atmosphere, and then they come,” Hinds said.
Hinds also suggested moving the Piqua Arts Council into this campus and providing them with extra space.
“We need a showroom, and we need a place to do the work,” Hinds said. She said that the current location is doing both in one spot.
Hinds also suggested a senior-living facility that could go next to a child care center for the YMCA. “What a quality of life for seniors to be around that energy,” she said.
Piqua resident Dan Henthorn of Mid-America Management Corporation, which has owned the Miami Valley Centre Mall for 22 years, was also in attendance, contributing both ideas as well as reinforcing the idea that improving one aspect of the community benefits the area as a whole.
“We’ve got an interest in seeing the city continue to improve,” Henthorn said, adding that Mid-America is in it for the long-haul. “This is our base community. This is our anchor community.”
Henthorn said that improving Piqua with this campus could help local employers draw world-class employees to the city by providing a good quality of life in Piqua.
For the Wertz Stadium, the goal would be to utilize it for more than just one sport, but turn it around and use it for a variety of sporting events from the conventional sports to ones growing in popularity like Ultimate Frisbee.
“It’s a big piece of grass. What can you put there that won’t damage it that will bring a lot of people to your downtown?” Schmiesing said.
Schmiesing and Wentzell said that they are moving into pragmatic ideas and plans, but there is still “room for dreaming.” Creating this type of campus is a 10-15 year plan. They are continuing to have meetings with stakeholders, such as Piqua Lumber, situated between the Decker building and the National Guard Armory.
“When we get real commitment, the private sector is interested in what we’re doing here,” Schmiesing said. “Dreaming is okay, but we’re trying to get this a little bit more refined. It’s a process.”
Reach the writer at (937) 451-3336