EDITOR'S NOTE: Andy Prutsok's column will not appear this week. In its place we are substituting this one written by Stan Obrenovich.
This is the 22nd year I have been involved in uptown Norwalk.
For 15 of those 22 years, I was the unofficial uptown messenger, walking the uptown on a weekly basis with ideas and acquiring input from the businesses.
When anything was decided uptown, the property, and business owners decided, not by a committee that the majority do not have (any) investment in the uptown community.
I had seen a sign in Toledo, "Welcome to Uptown." I ran the idea of uptown by the businesses they decided and uptown was born. As you enter our city a sign says "Experience Uptown."
We have been known as uptown for 19 years. Businesses have used uptown in their names and many advertise as uptown Norwalk. Uptown expanded from Dave's Food Mart to the plaza at League Street. This took a lot of effort, but the term uptown united the business district.
A group approached me about signing on to the revitalization project because of owning three buildings on Main Street. If we had not united and agreed to commit the money and move forward uptown would be dead. This was 1998.
For years, there was no uniformity of address numbers uptown. I went to Bull Dog Art and Sign; we came up with a design that was approved by the property owners and businesses. Each one of them was willing to pay $50 for the number plaques. This in no way covered the cost. I donated $800 to cover the cost and installed the plaques for free.
More than anyone I was pleased to see an organization formed to promote our uptown. Things were moving forward until an Elyria councilperson was hired to direct the uptown community. The first time I met this director, she stated she did not like the concept of uptown. It should be downtown like it is in Elyria.
I was informed she was making a move to redesign and replace the number plaques, using an amateur artist to design the new plaque, instead of using local design professionals like John Reed or Bull Dog Art and Sign, both chamber members.
Then it seemed the Elyria councilperson/uptown manager wanted to promote the Main Street Ohio Organization, not Main Street Norwalk. The uptown identity has been in existence 19 years. It does not need to be compromised to promote any statewide organization. I would also like to know why only 20 Main Street communities were recertified out of 29 that were eligible? What's the problem?
I circulated a questionnaire uptown to the businesses on which plaque design they preferred, and five businesses signed that they preferred the uptown plaque. I showed the uptown manager and said "shouldn't we have a discussion?" It was ignored. I contacted 28 of these businesses and they were willing to pay for the uptown plaque, knowing they had a freebie coming (These signs will be forever). The reason was they were paying for revitalization and many were advertising uptown. The main thing they objected to was not being asked for input.
I requested to meet with the board. I did so and was granted five minutes. I presented the new design; there was no discussion and I left. I was never asked by anyone for input. Revitalization 1998 was removed along with uptown. Why? This is part of our history.
The effort we are trying to accomplish, the history and pride we are trying to maintain, the future we are trying to prepare for, we do because we must.
No family and no community can thrive without open, honest, heartfelt communication, dedication and effort. After all, you can not buy commitment; you cannot rent success; and you cannot import dedication.
Norwalk has so much to offer. How can I be sure? I know Norwalk.
Stan Obrenovich is a Norwalk businessman and former city councilman seeking to return to that office this fall as a write-in candidate.