Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008
By Janie Southard
Facelift of downtown St. Marys begins
  ST. MARYS - The restoration of Miami & Erie Canal lock 13 in downtown St. Marys is well underway and includes the possibility of a new restaurant and the loss of the Cotton Mill building.
The work is one of the first components of a multi-faceted improvement project in the city.
"We'll be tying up a few million dollars in various projects, which will stretch from Memorial Park to the canal towpath trail head and incorporate many other downtown areas," St. Marys Mayor Greg Freewalt told The Daily Standard last week, adding that one option under consideration is demolishing the Cotton Mill and putting up a brand new building. Should that happen, Freewalt is hopeful the new building would include a restaurant.
He said there also are a "couple ideas stirring" to improve the old grain mill (beside St. Marys Hardware).
In the meantime much renovation is being accomplished, such as the elevated parking platform beside the city's tax/utility office, which will be completed this spring.
As to the old lock, the plan is for new wooded gates with water actually flowing through.
To begin at the beginning, the mayor said the old lock was hidden for more than 60 years under the Cotton Mill buildings. City officials were pleasantly surprised to find the old lock was still in good shape.
"Our project really started when the old Glass Block building burned. That was an eyesore for a long time. Finally (the city) got ownership and we cleaned it up. We figured even a big hole was better than the burned-out building in the middle of town," Freewalt said.
Then First Financial Bank officials said they'd like to build a new building on the Glass Block lot. Final papers are expected to be signed in early February, according to the mayor. Freewalt has conducted behind the scenes arrangements with the state to clear up land titles in preparation of the new projects along the canal.
"This year we plan to complete the (concrete) walking path from Memorial Park, under both the Spring and High streets' bridges, along the canal to the trail head ... Eventually we'll have the entire pathway from K.C. Geiger Park to 40-acre pond ready for our folks to enjoy.
"Overall, what we're doing is taking an ugly duckling and turning it into a beautiful swan," he said.
Money for the projects is being funded through the city 0.5 percent income tax.
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