The Release of the Guidebook for Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities

May 6th, 2014

In the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the long-term abandonment of older industrial cities and their regions, communities and neighborhoods have been increasingly burdened with vacant and abandoned properties. Organizations and municipalities are now more systematically addressing vacant residential properties. However, for years there was very little guidance for the redevelopment of commercial vacant properties, which are equally prevalent — especially throughout older industrial regions.

Commercial and residential vacancy at the county level for legacy cities. Data collected on the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013. Data source: US Postal Service. Data aggregates vacant and no-stat addresses.


Today, Greater Ohio Policy Center is releasing its new guidebook, Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization, which is the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive set of tools and strategies for redeveloping commercial vacant properties and business districts in legacy cities.

The guidebook, developed in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and with support from the Center for Community Progress, is designed as a “How To” manual for local leaders, identifying practices and policies that take advantage of the link between available commercial properties and needed economic re-growth strategies in legacy cities.

The tools and strategies provided can be used by local leaders and practitioners no matter where they are in the process of commercial property redevelopment, from data gathering and planning to real estate acquisition and redevelopment, and from tenant attraction and support to business district management.

The guidebook includes the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

While the tools, strategies, and policy recommendations within the guidebook are particularly relevant for legacy cities and their communities, they are also applicable to all cities and regions that seek to reuse commercial vacant properties with the purpose of enhancing community stability and economic development.

Click here for more information and to download the guidebook.


GOPC Applauds Transportation Reform in Pennsylvania

February 12th, 2014

The Greater Ohio Policy Center sends its belated congratulation to our smart growth colleague 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania for leading a diverse coalition of stakeholders in successfully advocating for a $2.3 billion state transportation package in Pennsylvania.

In late 2013, Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, signed a bill that was advanced by the Republican-controlled legislature.  Under this transportation funding bill, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation will:

  • Creates a multi-modal fund that grows from $30 to $144 million over a 5-year period, to which bicycle and pedestrian projects can apply for funding; and sets an annual minimum of $2 million of that fund to be spent on bicycle and pedestrian facilities;
  • new revenue streams for transit will generate $49 million to $60 million statewide in the current fiscal year and $476 million to $497 million in year five.
  • Funding for repairing deficient bridges and roads

This package is expected create 50,000 new jobs and preserve 12,000 existing jobs, according to the Governor’s office.

Funding for this work will come from the gradual elimination of the limit on the wholesale tax on gasoline, and increased fees on licenses, permits and traffic tickets.

Together, multi-modal advocates, road contractors, business leaders and policymakers made the economic case for this visionary, game-changing budget.  GOPC congratulates all advocates and applauds Pennsylvania’s General Assembly and Governor.

Legislative Update: GOPC to Give Testimony!

October 30th, 2013

In partnership with Ohio CDC Association and a coalition of supporters, the Greater Ohio Policy Center will be testifying at the Statehouse in support of the Neighborhood Infrastructure Assistance Program on November 5th.  The bills that would create this state tax credit program (SB 149 and HB 219) have begun to receive hearings, which allows for members of the General Assembly to ask questions about the proposed program.  GOPC is excited to be a leading proponent of this legislation.

As previous newsletters have described, the Neighborhood Infrastructure Assistant Program would authorize tax credits for monetary contributions invested in catalytic economic and community development projects undertaken by local governments and nonprofit corporations.

This upcoming legislative hearing would not be possible without the dozens of organizations around the state that have facilitated introductions to legislators or have voiced their support of this bill to their Senator or Representative.  To see the complete range of supporting organizations, we proudly list them on the 1-pager we “leave-behind” with stakeholders and on this webpage.  If you are interested in adding your organization to this list, please email Alison D. Goebel. Your support has been and will continue to be invaluable in moving this legislation toward passage!

OSU Architecture Students Tackle Ohio Economy

June 22nd, 2011

Greater Ohio recently collaborated with a class of Architecture students at Ohio State (we wrote about this in our May newsletter).  The students examined the evolution of Ohio’s economy and considered how restructuring the economy to be more export-driven would impact Ohio’s built environment.  A few weeks ago, the students presented their final work to Greater Ohio and several faculty members.  Below are a few of our favorite examples of their work.

The following image depicts the evolution of Toledo’s manufacturing base from light bulbs to solar panels over the last 130 years and illustrates how modern economies often have their roots in our industrial past.

As shown in the following image, the students also recommend that in looking toward the future, we should not completely turn our backs on the past.  They identified the enormous potential that the vestiges of the industrial economy offer and suggest that old warehouses, for example, could be used as resources in our transition to modern economy.  We like the idea that what are often perceived as eyesores could, with some tweaking, become the venue for a return to economic prosperity.

There are still a lot of remaining questions about what a transition to a new economy means for places in Ohio, but we enjoyed tackling this interesting and important question with the OSU students and look forward to continued collaboration.




Building the Ohio Innovation Economy and the National Academy of Sciences

April 28th, 2011

On Monday, April 26th, Greater Ohio attended a symposium on Building the Ohio Innovation Economy.  Co-sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, University of Akron, Case Western Reserve University, Morganthaler—a venture capital firm—and Nortech—a northeast Ohio technology economic development group—the symposium was held in Cleveland and brought together regional, state, and federal leaders to discuss innovation.  Panelists from federal agencies, private sector companies, think tanks, universities, and philanthropic foundations offered a range of ideas of how to capture, support, and encourage the innovative work being done throughout Ohio, and especially in northeast Ohio.

Lavea Brachman, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s executive director, provided a state-policy perspective and made the case that the private sector will have to lead the state in innovation—especially in supporting industry clusters as a regional economic development strategy—but that state and local governments must provide the right conditions for the private sector.  In urging for governance reform and strategic investments that can help Ohio lead the next economy, Brachman argued that state policy could be pivotal in clearing the way for growth in interconnected businesses, and that the state should join with local and regional players to create a climate for innovative growth.

From L to R: John Fernandez, assistant secretary of the Economic Development Administration, a sub-agency of the US Department of Commerce; Lester Lefton, president of Kent State University; Lavea Brachman, executive director of Greater Ohio; Ronn Richard, President and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation.

Brachman’s co-panelists pointed to the role the federal government and philanthropy in encouraging cluster development.  As they, and speakers on other panels affirmed, building an innovation economy requires a multi-pronged strategy that knits together and syncs federal, state, local, private and public programs and officials.   Jim Leftwich, the new director of Ohio Department of Development, publicly committed the state to developing and supporting Ohio’s innovation economy.

Greater Ohio is heartened by the idea streams brought together by the symposium and the number of stakeholders who are deeply invested in building Ohio’s innovation economy. We look forward to reform and creation of state policies that can further support this work.

Greater Ohio Releases State Budget Response & Local Government Restructuring Toolkit

April 14th, 2011

Greater Ohio applauds the proposed 2012-13 budget for taking a bold first step in challenging local governments to modernize, but cautions that Ohio needs more tools to realize the vision of more efficient local government and to ensure a return to prosperity for Ohio.

Recently the 2012-13 State Operating Budget was released in which bold proposals set into motion the streamlining and cost reduction of government operations, especially among local governments.   In a response released by Greater Ohio– The 2012-13 State Budget Response and Local Government Restructuring Toolkit– we agreed that the status quo is not a winning strategy and to move Ohio’s economy into the 21st century, increased efficiency and savings among local governments are needed.

However, to return Ohio to prosperity, budget cuts MUST be combined with strategic and targeted investments; cuts alone will not bring about a climate of prosperity.  Our response recommends legislative adjustments, new pieces of legislation, and the creation of some new state programs and policies to smooth the transition from the existing, antiquated structure of local governance to a modernized one.

We strongly recommend that the 2012-13 budget bill and subsequent legislation incorporate the following tools:

  1. Create a Governance Reform Commission to oversee the modernization of Ohio’s local governments by providing innovative leadership on governance reform, collecting data on local governments to help set efficiency standards, and offering technical assistance for local governments that are merging or initiating other new governance structures
  2. Create a framework for pooling resources regionally to pave the way for robust regional economic development by creating a regional revolving loan fund for needed infrastructure funding and economic development projects.
  3. Make permissive mergers, consolidation, shared services, and alternative governance structures and eliminate any legal and constitutional barriers. This could provide for a merger of city and county jurisdictions that results in consolidated service districts and governance, increased value for the taxpayer and a better business climate.
  4. Develop a protocol for collecting data on local governments’ costs and level of services, like the Cupp report for education, so that the Governance Reform Commission can create efficiency standards, evaluate the performance of local governments, and develop other indicators of performance.

In research conducted by GO and the Brookings Institution, we found:

  • 86 percent of states have fewer governments per square mile than Ohio
  • Ohio has 41.3 local governments per county and the national average is 27.9 local governments per county
  • Ohio has moved from 9th highest in local tax burden to 6th highest among the fifty states, while the state burden has stayed stable at 33rd
  • Ohio ranks 22nd nationally in instructional payroll spending, but its non-instructional payroll is 8th highest nationally (as a percentage of personal income)

It is clear that dramatic measures are needed to make Ohio average.  Reducing and eliminating duplication in services will save money and free up resources Ohio can use to make strategic investments in assets to grow our economy.  Fixing congested freeway interchanges, seeding venture capital investments or supporting anchor institutions have significant multiplier effects that will allow Ohio to realize the Governor’s vision of competing anywhere in the world.  The underlying structure of local government in Ohio must change, and the State should drive this change.

To see our full analysis and a longer menu of policy tools that can be used to foster the necessary restructuring of local government, please see our 2012-13 State Budget Analysis and Local Government Restructuring Toolkit.


Making long-term investments in our Cities and Metro Regions, While Balancing the Budget

March 29th, 2011

By Lavea Brachman.

The 2010 census data for Ohio showing many of Ohio’s cities shrinking further over the last decade, leaving additional vacant properties in their wake, as well as declining revenues and increasing legacy costs, was disheartening, although not surprising.  Juxtapose these trends with the Kasich Administration’s budget proposal, as local governments grapple with the impact of the proposed cuts on their day-to-day operations, and there is reason to be concerned about how these cities and their metropolitan areas – which are the state’s economic drivers — will retain a toehold in the next economy.

Looking at European cities – resulting from Greater Ohio’s on-going partnership with the German Marshall Fund – to see what they have done to fortify their cities as economic engines, we are reminded of the need for policymakers to take a longer view. Ohio WILL emerge from this fiscal crisis, and when we do, we want to make sure we have preserved our assets and made critical long-term investments.  Against tremendous odds, the cities of Manchester, England and Leipzig, Germany have begun to prosper, due to many innovative local practices and to strong leadership (to be discussed in a future blog). But one lesson stands out from both cities which is the importance of treating public money as investments and not as subsidies.

Taking this approach, these cities – in partnership with their state and federal government equivalents — systematically identified areas (both geographic and business sectors) where increased investment could produce the greatest quantitative and qualitative returns over the long-term.  For instance, Leipzig targeted select neighborhoods, using federal-state funding programs to support demolition and rehabilitation in distressed neighborhoods, coupled with other rebuilding programs.  Manchester used innovative public-private partnership vehicles to target and invested in regeneration areas (such as an area called New East Manchester).  Also Manchester aspires to be Britain’s center for digital and related created industries, so it is promoting cluster development with an incubator of entrepreneurial media firms.  Certainly, there are promising stateside examples of making strategic investments for the long-term, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Here in Ohio, we have tremendous institutional assets that we must leverage with smart investments, at the same time that we undertake the necessary cost-cutting measures, such as shared services and consolidation.  Even in this state of fiscal and economic crisis, we need to take a step back and encourage targeted, strategic investments — in market-ready neighborhoods and leveraging our many and vaunted “anchor” institutions (e.g. universities, medical centers).  Without these investments, our metropolitan regions will be less and less capable of creating the climate that leads to business growth, innovation or produce the exports needed to be part of the next economy.

Columbus 2050

March 23rd, 2011

In 39 years, will you love to live in Columbus?

The Columbus chapter of the Urban Land Institute along with many central Ohio partners has launched a visioning and long-term planning initiative called Columbus 2050.  Throughout the process, ULI will ask central Ohio residents what they would like to see happen in the community over the next 39 years.  Several events with local experts are also scheduled for the coming year to inform the broader conversation.  In the end, this long-term effort will create plans for Columbus that reflect the needs and desires of the community and are sensitive to global and regional economic and demographic trends.  We applaud the effort to proactively plan for the Columbus region’s future.  See the video below where local stakeholders, including Greater Ohio’s Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, discuss the initiative.

Building Talent Through Internships

March 18th, 2011

Last week, an editorial on the local news radio station caught the ear of several Greater Ohio staffers.  The commentator, Gail Martineau, highlighted several programs which are aimed at retaining college graduates in Ohio.  In particular, Martineau attributed internships programs as being one of the most important tools in the state’s arsenal.

Research by Collegia, a higher education economic development consulting firm, confirms Martineau’s hunch: out-of-region students who interned in Philadelphia were twice as likely to stay in the city after graduation and undoubtedly, the number is higher for in-region students.  Although there are differences between Ohio’s shrinking cities and Philadelphia, similar retention rates likely occur.

Many of the internships listed on clearinghouses like EasyColumbus, NEOIntern in Cleveland, and SOCHE in southwest Ohio are located in cities.  This isn’t surprising actually because the state’s cities turn Ohio’s economic motor; the seven largest metros concentrate talent and innovation and contribute to 80% of the state’s GDP.

Cities like Akron and Springfield have recognized that to increase the number of local jobs and the city’s prosperity, education and workforce development will carry the metro into the next economy.  Internships will be one critical strategy as Akron and other Ohio cities continue to leverage their assets and prosperity drivers.  The state can play an important role in this process by supporting internships programs, as it does now with the Third Frontier Internship Program and the proposed funding for the Ohio Co-op and Internship Program.

Ohio has one of the largest collections of colleges and universities in the country— using internships to capitalize on the presence of so many young, eager, educated people not only brings fresh talent to businesses and gives students real-life work experience, but internships can also help retain the creative, highly-trained workers needed for the state’s long term competitive success.

The State of the State

March 15th, 2011

By Gene Krebs.

Like many Buckeyes, I am waiting for the budget to be released later today.  In the meantime, many have been poring over the recent State of the State speech by Governor Kasich and looking for clues.  I was pleased to see that the speech touched on many smart growth principles.

Some of the themes from the speech aligned with what we have been hammering on for seven long years.  The main one is that our metropolitan regions are central to restoring Ohio.  Governor Kasich emphasized this by drawing attention to the dramatic population loss of many of Ohio’s major cities.  “Cleveland and Youngstown have lost 50 percent of their population since 1950. Fifty percent of the population of Cleveland and Youngstown gone.  And I will take your breath away by telling you that the city where the north meets the south, Cincinnati, has lost 40 percent of its population since 1950.”  This acknowledgment of our shrinkage is an important first step to being able to diagnose and treat the problems we are facing.  This focus on cities also affirms Greater Ohio’s agenda.  I am glad to hear that cities and metros are getting the attention they deserve.

The State of the State speech also reflected a shift in attitude towards how we grow.  What does it all mean?  This could be an indicator of massive changes in how we govern, how we are organized, and how we spend.  These changes are likely coming as the state attempts to deal with our unprecedented budget shortfall.

It was also positive to hear that Governor Kasich supports governance reform and shared services.  As he said in his speech, “We are going to reform government, okay? It’s going to happen. And I’m — I’m asking you all to keep an open mind about the possibilities of reform because you can’t keep doing the same thing in this state and avoiding the decisions that need to be made that have been put off for political reasons, frankly.”   Change certainly is needed for many reasons.  Ohio’s antiquated form of government was designed for the horse and buggy economy, not the global economy.  We need to reform in order to compete.

However, we hope that the change represents not just cuts in our spending, but also the right types of investments in our cities and metros as well.  Ohio needs to face the fact that cutting taxes and spending alone will not be the silver bullet.  And we have to acknowledge that our population loss is not due solely to high taxes.  We need to invest in order to build the kinds of quality places that attract businesses and skilled workers.  For further proof of this, see this letter from a Michigan CEO who wants to relocate out of Michigan not due to taxes or regulations, but because the sprawl endemic to his area creates undesirable places where talented, educated workers prefer not to live.

All in all, there were many positive signs, but there is a lot of work ahead of us, and the devil is in the details.  We look forward to seeing the budget later today in order to figure out the Governor’s proposed path of action.  Stay tuned for more of Greater Ohio’s analysis.