ASHLAND — The first official event of the downtown plaza opened Saturday night to a crowd enjoying Ashland Main Street’s initial “Music on Main” concert of the summer.

Ahead of the opening ceremony at 6 p.m., patrons began entering the plaza through an iron archway adorning its name — Foundation Plaza, after one of the plaza’s main funders, the Ashland County Community Foundation.

ACCF provided $75,000 towards establishing a targeted action plan for the county, with one of the primary goals of establishing a downtown gathering space.

The goal was interrupted by the pandemic, president and CEO of ACCF Jim Curight explained during the opening ceremony. 

“We wanted 2020 to be a year to remember,” Cutright said. ”Well, 2020 was certainly a year to remember but not in the way we intended.”

The 2020 calendar year marked ACCF’s 25th anniversary. ACCF had a celebratory season of grant making planned, which was supposed to culminate in a grant for the plaza, said Courtney McNaull, communications director of ACCF.

While much of ACCF’s anniversary grant money went to COVID-19 pandemic nonprofit relief, ACCF set aside $100,000 — and received an additional $25,000 in donations — to provide a grant specifically for the plaza, McNaull said. 

While the plaza is named after ACCF, Matt and Melissa Wurster kickstarted the project, Ashland mayor Matt Miller noted in his opening remarks.

The Wursters bought three adjacent buildings on Main Street, cleared a site and donated it to the city, Miller said.

The location was practical because it already had an adjoining parking lot, Miller said. But it was also practical in that it was centrally located and accessible to all, Cutright added. 

“It was important that it would sit in the center of our county, where the seats of our government reside and where many of our nonprofit partners are headquartered as well as where 40% of our population live,” Cutright said.

Former senate president Larry Obhof also helped fund the project, Miller said. During Obhof’s time in office, he secured a grant of $200,000 from the state’s capital budget. 

The city and its crews helped with other expenses, and Simonson Construction, which handled the plaza project, donated one of three bronze animal statues located on the plaza lawn — the lion statue. The other statues, which children climbed on throughout the night, include a tiger and bear.

Miller invited the Ashland City Council to cut a ribbon after the opening ceremony, marking the official opening of the plaza. The ribbon cutting was timed with the crowd releasing confetti poppers, which were handed out to patrons at the beginning of the event.

After a short break, the band of the night, DEPARTURE, a Journey tribute band, took the stage and filled the then-packed plaza with music. 

Ashland’s “Music on Main” series is sponsored by Coldwell Banker Ward Real Estate, Inc. Kelly Cooke, an agent at Coldwell, helped run the bar during the event, which featured beer from Uniontown Brewing Company.

Cooke, who is also a board member of Ashland Main Street and chair of the “Music on Main” committee, said she felt like the sponsorship was a way to give back to the community.

“So many people from our community help us have a livelihood,” Cook said, adding that they are simply returning the favor. 

Rob Ward, broker and owner of Coldwell, was a part of the Ashland Main Street board when it first started. 

“I had helped things get started with flowers, facade renovations, getting new trees, furniture, that type of thing, so it’s fun to get to see us at this point, where now we have a plaza and bands,” Ward said. 

Proceeds from the drinks sold during the event will go to Ashland Main Street, Ward said.

Ashland Main Street will host two other concerts this summer, Electric Circus on July 10 and Tom’s Kitchen Table on Aug. 14, both from 6 to 9 p.m.

The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.

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