Lebanon seeks $400,000 from state for downtown entertainment plaza

A block of one of downtown Lebanon’s main streets would become an intermittent party zone, the Mulberry Street Downtown Entertainment Plaza, according to a plan being promoted again by city leaders.

Earlier this month, the Lebanon City Council gave city staff the green light to apply for $400,000 in state capital funds - to be matched with $243,000 in local money - to pay for pavers, a WiFi system, removable bollards (short posts used to divert traffic from an area or road), lighting, signs and other amenities for the stretch of Mulberry running from Broadway - the city’s main downtown thoroughfare - a block east to Mechanic Street.

In 2015, Ohio became the seventh state to permit public drinking in designated entertainment districts. Cities and towns with populations between 35,000 and 50,000 will be allowed to create one open container district; those with 50,000 or more residents can create two outdoor drinking zones. The districts must include at least four businesses with alcohol permits and can be no more than a half-mile square

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The project would also leave Mulberry Street a "bicycle-friendly corridor" and connect it with the the existing Lebanon Countryside YMCA Trail system that currently ends in downtown, according to the application for state capital improvement funds.

“As the Director of the Lebanon Area Chamber, I support this concept and feel strongly that this is a necessary change that will continue to help our downtown develop, grow and prosper,” Renee Wisser, executive director of the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a letter to be included in the application for state funds.

Two years ago, this plan was shelved when the city decided to focus on a broader plan for redevelopment of the entire downtown business district, The Think!Downtown Master Plan.

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One of the takeaways from this planning process, wrapped up last year, was to move forward with a modified version of the previous Mulberry Street Entertainment Plaza plan.

“The street will remain open when there are no events programmed for this block, and then temporarily closed with the removable bollards when an event is going on. All of the on-street parking will remain in place. I believe this addresses the majority of the concerns that were raised during the 2015 meeting with the property owners,” Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka said in an email last week.

Bill Duning, a lawyer and landlord whose office and home are in the same building on Mulberry Street, east of the proposed entertainment plaza, expressed surprise the plan was back on track.

Duning said he and LCNB Bank President Steve Foster were concerned in 2015 with how the plaza would restrict access for customers and residents.

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“There are a dozen people that rent from us that depend on Mulberry to get in and out,” Duning said last week.

The plaza would be set up for special events, including Applefest, the Christmas Carriage Parade Festival and summer music festivals.

On-street parking would still be available, Brunka said.

The latest version of the plaza plan would allow for the bollards to be easily moved and removed to limit road blocks.

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Duning said Mulberry Street was the heart of historic downtown. He said he was unsure if the latest version would assuage his concerns.

“We all know what happens when you stop a heartbeat,” he said.

Greg Grote, co-owner of the Royce Cafe & Coffee House at 30 E. Mulberry St., was conflicted about the plaza plan.

The plaza would probably draw new customers to the business, which already serves wine and mimosas, and is seeking a license to serve beer, he said.

At the same time, Grote expressed concern it could limit parking for regular customers.

“Parking is always an issue,” said.

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