The city’s downtown has come a long way in a decade with multiple restaurants, two breweries, unique shops and new sidewalks and trails.
But city planners, business owners and residents still see a lot more potential to build on what’s already there.
The overwhelming sentiment is that while downtown has the charm to attract families looking for an ideal spot for senior class photos, there aren’t enough gathering spots for people to hang out and stick around afterward.
“It needs to incorporate pedestrian accessibility,” said Dave Goodwin, president of Downtown Mansfield Inc. “Getting people to come downtown is a first step toward long-term success. You’ve got to get people emotionally invested in their downtown.
“It really needs some shady gathering space. Without a gathering space that’s comfortable, people come, shop and see their show and go home. Unless you go into a business and hang out, there’s not enough public places.”
He envisions a miniature park with a few amenities like shade, places to sit, a bicycle rack and water.
Dirty Job Brewing founder Derek Hubenak said the area needs more nightlife and entertainment options, such as an upscale pool hall, a video arcade and a variety of restaurants.
“We have so much potential down there but the problem is that there are way too many service-oriented shops, which doesn’t give people a whole lot of reason to stay and play.”
The Development Strategies for Downtown Historic Mansfield plan is expected to be completed by the end of the year or early next year, interim director of planning Lisa Sudbury said.
The study includes a parking analysis that looks at what’s there, what’s needed and what the city should require of future users.
The city has several parcels and facilities in downtown Mansfield, including the Farr Best Theatre, the Mansfield Economic Development Corp. office and the former Parks and Recreation office on Smith Street. The master plan will examine whether the land is being used to its full potential.
Goodwin would like to see the existing buildings saved and renovated rather than demolished.
“We have a rare gift of 100-year-old buildings,” Goodwin said. “I’d like to see a building code overlay where the building code is relaxed or modified to allow them to leap over the more expensive code hurdles they run into when renovating.”
Looking at other downtowns, he’d like to see wider sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks that flash to alert traffic and less focus on vehicular traffic.
“I don’t think there would be an outcry to take in the parallel parking lanes and put sidewalks there,” Goodwin said. “With too many parking lots and driveways, you lose the whole character instantly.”
Rerouting trucks off of that section of Main Street has made a difference, though, Goodwin said.
Last year, Mansfield sent out request for proposals for the city’s property on Smith Street, which started life as the city’s first fire station and was the home of the parks and recreation department for several years until they moved to the new facility on Matlock Road near Oliver Nature Park.
“I think the city’s desire to have a mixed-use area there on that 4 acres is a wonderful idea,” Goodwin said. “The challenge is getting it all to fit there on a tight site.”
Amy Brothers is the president of the Historic Mansfield Business Association, established by the Mansfield Historic Landmark Commission in 2008. The organization’s goal is to restore downtown into a thriving and lively place like it was before all the new development moved outward.
“What I love about revitalized downtowns is that this kind of environment of historic buildings and landmarks creates opportunities for unique businesses to be established, which provide an experience for people not found in newly developed areas of chains and big box stores,” Brothers said.
“What’s needed in downtown, in my opinion, is the continued momentum of support from our city officials, our citizens and downtown business owners who all work together to make our downtown the heart of Mansfield.”