VAN WERT – Recently, the Van Wert County Foundation began acquiring downtown buildings. So far, around 30 buildings have been acquired or are in the process of being acquired. The goal of the Downtown Van Wert Development Project is to collectively create a vibrant quality of life for residents.

Along with other community development partners, The Foundation has launched collective efforts to expedite the restoration and preservation of many buildings in the downtown area.

Each year, The Foundation gives to the community through grants and scholarships. Foundation Executive Secretary Seth Baker said that The Foundation began to think about other ways in which they could invest in the Van Wert community.

“[We asked], ‘How do we create a well-resourced and thriving quality of life for the community while still continuing that high level of grant-making or scholarship-making,” said Baker who noted that The Foundation hopes to see those students who receive money for college through The Foundation thrive in the world, but the organization also hopes to give them a vibrant and livable place to come back to.

The Foundation is utilizing the services of Pago USA, which is made up of a group of experienced development professionals with expertise in historic preservation.

Members of the organization have led and developed projects such as “The Landing” in Fort Wayne and “Over the Rhine” in Cincinnati.

During a recent project, Baker and Adam Ries began to look at buildings in need of redevelopment. When looking at how to solve issues with particular buildings, they worked on a development plan. At the same time, Eric Doden, who was part of The Landings project and part of Pago USA, was having discussions with The Foundation and urged them to consider expanding a revitalization project to lift as much of the downtown area up at once as they could; he asked them to consider a massive redevelopment project.

Baker explained that The Foundation offered to lead the project to encourage investment in the community. Other community collaborators include Main Street Van Wert, Van Wert Area Economic Development, Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce, Business Development Corporation, City of Van Wert, and Van Wert County.

Baker noted, however, that the project is in its infancy.

“We don’t have definitions of a project yet, we don’t have plans in place yet,” said Baker who stated that the project will take a long time. “We do know that the intent is to redevelop the downtown area for future economic investment.”

While the project will focus on the preservation of downtown buildings, the ideal end goal is to bring new vibrant features to the downtown area. One of the many hopes is to bring a residential component to downtown in addition to amenities that would make the downtown a more livable and walkable place for residents. Pago, with the help of The Model Group and community organizations, will initially help to find businesses to fill the renovated buildings.

The Foundation will utilize historic and other tax credits and investments to help make the project possible. Baker noted that the project will be a multi-million dollar project as well as a multi-year project. There will also be many phases to the project.

According to The Foundation, acquired properties will be placed into a “Downtown Trust” through the course of the development process. The Foundation is still currently in the acquisition process and once that process is complete, The Foundation and its partners will actively engage stakeholders and the community for input throughout the project.

While there will be small construction projects to structurally stabilize acquired buildings, Baker said that residents will likely not see major work being done for another 15 months.

“The goal is to bring the whole downtown up at once,” said Baker. “We’re investing in the quality of life for our community.”