Ohio | 2001 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 4/2/2000
When the railroad came to Mansfield in the 1850s, the town was transformed from a sleepy village into a prominent manufacturing center. By the late 19th century, downtown was a vibrant Victorian community, growing through the first few decades of the 20th century.
In the post-WWII years, however, downtown Mansfield's vitality began to fade. Retail gravitated towards a strip center called the Miracle Mile, and in 1969, a regional shopping mall was built in Ontario, a Mansfield suburb. One by one, Mansfield's department stores closed or moved away. By the late '70s, the entire downtown was in a state of decline. The area around Fourth and Main was especially blighted and known for its abandoned buildings, rough bars, and prostitution.
In 1984, comedian Bill Cosby came to Mansfield and opened his act with several cutting remarks about the city's North Main Street. Cosby wondered why North Main Street existed at all because the street had no reason for being. There were no people and no cars. All the buildings were boarded up and the railroad tracks just stopped.
Mayor Ed Meehan was in the audience that night and heard Cosby's comments. Not liking what he heard, he was determined to change Fourth and Main by initiating the North End Area Development Plan. Cosby's remarks sparked the creation of Mansfield's North Main Street renovation - and what would become Richland Carrousel Park.
A small group of business and civic leaders discussed the possibility of installing an old-fashioned carousel in the middle of Mansfield's most blighted area, hoping it would be a catalyst for the neighborhood's redevelopment. The city pledged $300,000 towards the project and individuals and corporations contributed $600,000, funding the first hand-carved carousel made in the United States since the 1930s.
Since Richland Carrousel Park opened in 1991, a number of retail, restaurant, and office spaces have been developed. In 1999, the Carrousel District reached 100 percent occupancy of its finished space. In addition to building restorations, developers used landscaping, brick, and ornamental ironwork to create a distinctive downtown.
To help reacquaint shoppers with downtown, merchants participated in several special events, including the Tiny Tim Shoppe, where children did their own holiday shopping; the Cruise-In, a custom car show held downtown; a farmer's market; and the Miss Ohio Festival and Pageant. The carousel now attracts 250,000 riders a year, and the Richland Academy recently opened the $4.2 million Discovery Center, a hands-on art and science center for children.
In 1999 alone, 22 new businesses opened downtown, 61 new jobs were created, $6.2 million was reinvested in downtown, and over 70,000 square feet of vacant space was filled.
The ongoing revitalization of this once-derelict Carrousel District has led the way for downtown's reemergence as a thriving commercial district, rekindling a sense of pride that was all but lost.