Earlier this summer, Marietta City Council heard early plans to expand Marietta College’s impact on Downtown Marietta, which included a request to consider the vacation of Butler Street between Fourth and Seventh Streets.
The presentation, given by Marietta College President Dr. William N. Ruud, outlined a Campus Enhancement Plan completed by design firm Derck & Edson. The Campus Enhancement Plan consists of Legacy Projects, Capital Projects, and Operational Projects that are intended to strengthen the Marietta College experience and sense of safety, provide an attractive environmental and sustainable financial campus, enhance the sense of arrival and college branding, celebrate the rich history of the river city, and enhance and expand student housing. High priority projects listed include campus edge and entrance improvements as well as a new student center.
During the July presentation, President Ruud explained the importance of building a new student/community center and how the campus enhancement projects would make a lasting impact on both the college and the surrounding community. A new student center would include improved dining space and food options, gathering areas, learning and innovative space, flex space, and improved mail pick-up. Marietta College has worked with a design partner to develop multiple design options, some of which require the full or partial vacation of Butler Street.
I believe the connection between the College and the community is resilient, and we look forward to continuing this strong bond as we both work together to help make the community more vibrant and ready to face any future challenges.
“Marietta College and Marietta, Ohio, go hand-in-hand. It always has and it always will,” said Dr. Ruud, Marietta College’s 19th President. “It is important that we pursue our future that way — as partners who want to make sure there is a bright future for our community. I believe the connection between the College and the community is resilient, and we look forward to continuing this strong bond as we both work together to help make the community more vibrant and ready to face any future challenges.”
Before a decision is made to vacate Butler Street, the City of Marietta and Marietta College partnered to commission a detailed traffic study from firm TEC Engineering to review Butler Street between Seventh and Fourth Streets as well as surrounding traffic and Third Street. While Marietta City Council authorized $35,564 to pay for the traffic study, Marietta College paid for the study in full. In addition to looking at traffic patterns, the study will provide recommendations for maintenance and repair of Butler, Fourth, Greene, Pike, Putnam, Seventh and Third Streets.
President Ruud said the college wants to make sure they are addressing all concerns and working out possible kinks early on with public hearings and public presentations to council.
Marietta College’s total impact on the region’s economy is more than $55 million.
In addition to the traffic study, the college commissioned an Economic Impact Study from Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. The Economic Impact Study illustrates the college’s impact on the economy of Washington and Wood Counties during 2017, noting that Marietta College’s total impact on the region’s economy is more than $55 million.
The study found that an estimated 42,677 visits to the region were attributed to Marietta College, and that Marietta College visitor spending equates to 93 jobs, nearly $2.4 million in labor and an increase in economic output of about $7 million. Student spending contributed to a direct economic benefit in the region of $1.9 million in 2017, the study report states.
While few question the many economic benefits of Marietta College and its close proximity to the heart of downtown, opinions are mixed when it comes to the outright vacation of Butler Street.
The closure of Butler Street would make campus feel more together and more than anything, safer for the students.
“Part of Fifth Street closing and becoming now what is called “the mall” was not easy to do; not everyone in the town of Marietta was behind it, but I can’t imagine Marietta College with that street open,” said Marietta College alumna and current employee, Annie Kubala. “That’s where students walk and spend time talking to friends. I can envision Butler Street becoming that, too.”
“The closure of Butler Street would make campus feel more together and more than anything, safer for the students,” said Kubala. “As a local to Marietta, I’d happily find a different road to drive on so the college can continue to improve and make the campus safer.”
Marietta resident Andi Roberts doesn’t feel as though closing Butler Street to vehicular traffic would inconvenience her at all. “I do cut down that street, but it won’t truly impact my life to not have access to that road,” said Roberts. Roberts shared that while she thinks vacating Butler Street would be safer for students and add to the overall beauty of campus, it is important to listen to all perspectives.
Closing Butler will only cause more backup and potential accidents on those roads.
Former Norwood resident Kevin Diehl does in fact believe the closure would add to traffic congestion and affect both Norwood residents as well as those who travel Butler as part of their regular commute. “Butler Street is an essential road for traffic flow. Any person that has lived in [Norwood] will say the same thing. The Seventh, Putnam, and Glendale intersection is a nightmare and so is all of Greene Street from Seventh to Front at peak hours,” said Diehl. “Closing Butler will only cause more backup and potential accidents on those roads. As I now live elsewhere, I still use Butler Street in my work vehicle to get across town, primarily for Norwood accounts. Marietta isn’t a big city but it does have a lot of traffic going through it without much room to expand infrastructure, and closing a road will only make it worse.”
“I’m a problem solver at heart, so when I talk about this even with the most vocal critics, I walk away encouraged,” said Fourth Ward City Councilman Geoff Schenkel. As chair of the Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee, Schenkel also serves as a chair for the steering committee working on a Comprehensive Economic Development Plan for Downtown Marietta. “I’m encouraged because even those who start at ‘no’ point us to two things that make a huge difference in this conversation. One is an issue of partnership,” he said. “Find a way to enter into an agreement with the college to work as partners to improve Butler while simultaneously making improvements to traffic flow downtown, and this is a completely different conversation.”
What helps people envision the improvements is when they can picture the changes on campus being timed up with changes in our downtown.
“The second thing I see based on these conversations is that timing is critical,” Geoff said. “What helps people envision the improvements is when they can picture the changes on campus being timed up with changes in our downtown.”
Marietta College, represented by President Ruud and Vice President for Communications & Brand Management Tom Perry, is a participating stakeholder in the steering committee working the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. Schenkel hopes that as planning processes kick-off this winter, coordination will increase between major projects planned for Downtown.
“If we coordinate changes to campus, with the improvements to East Muskingum Park and the Museum District, as well as with the planning work kicked off this year closer to the confluence, this suddenly becomes a really inspiring downtown improvement effort on a grand scale. Then we will have set ourselves up for a change in a way that goes from feeling awkward, or messy, to one that has a logic that feels like it has a natural rhythm.”
Additional information regarding the Butler Street Traffic Impact Study conducted by TEC Engineering can be found on the study’s website, including the study’s objectives and parameters. The firm is collecting public input via this online survey. All are invited to take the survey to help TEC gather feedback and data.
Two public meetings will be held to discuss the possibility of vacating Butler Street on December 12th, at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm at The Gathering Place, located on the corner of 7th and Butler Streets. All interested are invited to attend.