Knox County is expanding. The county has a population of over 61,000, and experts estimate that by 2050, another 17,000 people — roughly the population of Mount Vernon — will have settled into the region. This increase in population presents both challenges and opportunities for the county, and officials are already searching for ways to build up the area’s infrastructure and economy.
For the past year, the Knox County Foundation — in conjunction with the Knox County Area Development Foundation and MS Consultants — has discussed, brainstormed and gathered feedback from communities in Knox County, all in an effort to establish a vision of the region’s future. Their final product is a series of Strategic Plans: one tailored to each village in Knox County. On Monday, Jan. 13, they presented the Gambier Village Strategic Plan at a Village Council meeting. The Village Council must now decide whether to adopt the plan, and what to do with it going forward.
The plan is essentially a list of steps that the Village can take in order to grow its economy and strengthen its community. These steps include methods of improving the zoning code, attracting small businesses and promoting regional tourism.
At the center of the plan is an economic investment: If the Council ratifies the plan, the Village will be granted $40,000 in funding each year for the next four years. This money must be requested from the Knox County Foundation on a project-by-project basis, and can be spent on any endeavor outlined in the Strategic Plan. While the plan does not require the Village to undertake any of its projects, it will make these enterprises much easier to afford.
Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04 thinks that the plan is a great opportunity. Many of the things it describes would benefit the Village, but would be very difficult without outside help. One of the projects outlined in the plan would connect the Kokosing Gap Trail with downtown Gambier, using a trellis bridge for bikers and pedestrians that would cross Ohio State Route 229. This undertaking would likely increase regional tourism, but would be prohibitively expensive without the funding the plan provides. To even consider the project, the Council would first have to hire an engineer to give a structural assessment of the area.
“You can justify that a lot more if you can say, ‘We can get our engineering assessment to be paid for out of this grant money,’” Kessler said. “Even if [the project] doesn’t go anywhere, we have not risked our own money exploring it.”
Other strategies in the plan include hosting more recreational events, amplifying the Village’s online presence and potentially merging with the College Township, which governs the surrounding area. Kessler suspects that some of the more ambitious proposals will not be attempted in the near future. He describes it as a “wish list,” rather than a binding course of action.
“They had a lot of thoughts about, how could you repurpose the elementary school?” Kessler said. “Well, that presupposes either getting rid of the elementary school, or building a new elementary school. Which is not immediately on the horizon.”
The Village Council has yet to approve the plan, but Kessler expects that they will when they vote on it in March. Overall he sees plenty of benefits to the funding, and no real downsides.
“You have to have a very good reason to say no to $160,000,” Kessler said.