FRANKLYWNOW - Grafton Officials Work to Improve Downtown

Grafton Officials Work to Improve Downtown

Story by Cathy Bonnstetter It's been more than two decades since the B&O trains roared out of Grafton, taking with them jobs, boom times and hope. But today, civic leaders, armed with fistfuls of grant dollars and a plan, are shaking things up in hopes of bringing back prosperity. Main Street in any small town is an important place, but Grafton's Main Street, with its empty store fronts and large, crumbling buildings, had become the poster child for the economic despair that has gripped the city. City Manager Kevin Stead, a Grafton native, and City Council are changing a few storefronts at a time. "We're taking an active role in Main Street," Stead said. "That's where community pride starts. If we try to save everything, we'll lose everything, so we pick our battles and find ways to rehabilitate buildings for adaptive use and then market them." Stead said the city easily can have six additional storefronts occupied within the next year. The old Western Auto and the newsstand beside it will have new tenants by Memorial Day. The city is working on public-private partnerships with businesses to fill the stores and ease Grafton's reliance on grant money. "City Council is aggressive, and private business owners have been pleasantly surprised with this," Stead said. The trains took heavy industry with them, but Grafton has a rich history and a strong artistic community than can encourage tourism. Leaders also hope to make Grafton a craftsman mecca. "We need tradesmen for the kinds of things that need restored, such as cornices, stained glass windows, etc," said Mayor Tom Bartlett. "This has generated a Preservation Trades Council, which will provide an institute to train people in the trades. We'll be starting an institute, and Grafton will be the laboratory." Restoration on the mammoth B&O terminal, a tourism resource, will be complete this year, according to Bartlett. Just down the street, The Mother's Day Shrine, another historical gem, is open to the public.The Shrine board of directors recently purchased The Manos Theatre. In cooperation with the city, the board plans to renovate it and turn it into a playhouse and theater. The Taylor County Arts Council also has been restoring a 130-year-old building farther down Main Street that it uses as an art gallery. Cooperation between the Shrine board and Arts Council has brought the community afternoons of music four times each year, which have included the Pittsburgh Symphony, as well as local musicians. Adelphia Communications will also become a Main Street tenant when it opens a studio to accommodate local programming on Channel 15, another new concept in Grafton. "The city has not seen this much positive change in decades," said Chad Sweck, Taylor County Development Authority executive director. City Council is taking steps toward improving infrastructure services. It will seek bids this spring for a $9 million overhaul of the sewer system. Council is paving streets that have been waiting 50 years, while the Board of Education, with the help of a bond levy, is expanding and improving Grafton High School. With $250,000 in state funding and a $60,000 city match, City Council plans to launch a streetscape project to replace downtown sidewalks and offer period street lighting and amenities to store owners. "According to auditors, we're one of the stronger class three cities in the state," Stead said. "We received more than $7 million in grants in the last five years, and we will continue to be very aggressive in public-private partnerships. We're making visible changes; the community can see we're serious."

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