Historic Downtown Delaware: Delaware, Ohio

Downtown Delaware, Ohio, was a burgeoning community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with strong institutions like Ohio Wesleyan University and the county courthouse anchoring the neighborhood. But economic growth faltered in the 1970s and 1980s.

Boarded-up buildings dotted the three-block stretch of Sandusky Street, the commercial heart of downtown, and vacancy rates soared. Downtown Delaware was no longer a destination for visitors or residents.

Recognizing the negative impact that losing a historically, aesthetically, and economically meaningful center would have on Delaware, city officials jumped to action to preserve the downtown's architectural heritage, a move that would ultimately halt downtown Delaware's retail exodus.

The Delaware Arts Festival on Sandusky Street. Photo courtesy City of Delaware.

The Delaware Arts Festival on Sandusky Street. Photo courtesy City of Delaware.

The Sandusky Street Corridor became a designated National Register Historic District, which led the city council to establish the Historic Preservation Commission tasked with preserving the character of the historic structures and ensuring compatible new construction with the district. City administrators took advantage of funding offered through the Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Department of Development to make it easier for residents and visitors to access and to enjoy the amenities returning to Downtown Delaware.

Five million dollars in local and state investments allowed the city to install new streetlights and bricking throughout the downtown and to make needed drainage, curb, and sidewalk improvements. At the same time, the city council began offering tax incentives to local business owners and residents to reinvest in their downtown buildings. Two award-winning planning documents — the comprehensive plan and corridor design standards — guided the city's redevelopment efforts.

A renewed downtown Delaware began to emerge in the mid-2000s with the return of residents, students, and visitors to local shops and restaurants. Demand for housing in the neighborhood grew, with new apartments in redeveloped, second-floor spaces above retail. Bikeways were constructed to connect people, parks, neighborhoods, services, and businesses.

Progress stalled in 2008 when the Great Recession hit. Through the planning process, residents and business owners voiced their support for outdoor dining options in the downtown. The city obliged, permitting restaurants to offer al fresco options for the first time.

The city also tapped Ohio's unused Community Development Block Grant economic development revolving loan fund as a funding source for downtown improvement projects. Twenty-nine businesses leveraged nearly $1 million through the city's facade improvement project. Many other community groups like Main Street Delaware and Preservation Parks District have created programming that reflects the interests of Delaware residents and invested in space that gives downtown Delaware its distinctive look.

A parade marches through downtown Delaware. Photo courtesy City of Delaware.

A parade marches through downtown Delaware. Photo courtesy City of Delaware.

The future of Historic Downtown Delaware looks bright. Ninety-five percent of the downtown's commercial space is occupied, with retail space and occupancy rates expected to climb. But Downtown Delaware's real genius is in the way it integrates its past into current and future success as planners and city leaders set out to preserve and improve on the original vision for downtown envisioned by Moses Byxbe more than 200 years ago.