GOPC Presents the Commercial Vacant Properties Guidebook in Youngstown

March 14th, 2014

By Marianne Eppig, Manager of Research & Communications

On Monday, I traveled to Youngstown to introduce our new guidebook for redeveloping commercial vacant properties at the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Bootcamp hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. The SC2 Bootcamp in Youngstown was a two-day workshop that brought together national experts and local stakeholders to exchange ideas in support of economic and community revitalization in downtown Youngstown and the surrounding region.

The panel I participated in focused on “Tools and Strategies for Revitalization” that can be used as part of a holistic approach to redevelopment in Youngstown. Tamar Shapiro of Center for Community Progress moderated the panel expertly and the other (highly esteemed) panelists included Heather Arnold of Streetsense, Jamie Schriner-Hooper of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, and Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

For my presentation, I introduced GOPC’s new guidebook for redeveloping commercial properties, titled Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization. Local leaders and practitioners–such as those from community development organizations, municipal planning and economic development departments, Main Street and commercial district programs, SIDs and BIDs–can use the guidebook to plan and manage the revitalization and reuse of commercial vacant properties in legacy cities. 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

GOPC produced this guidebook in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and the Center for Community Progress. We plan to release the guidebook within the next month.

Click here to view my presentation on the commercial vacant properties guidebook.

The panel also covered tools for developing vibrant retail streets (see Streetsense’s Vibrant Streets Toolkit), methods for working with anchor institutions to revive vacant land and urban spaces (see CUDC’s Pop Up City initiative and Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland), and temporary uses for vacant properties (see VACANT Lansing – the event themes are secret until you show up!). Following the panel, we were able to speak with participants and go into more depth on the tools and strategies presented.

Several of us went on a tour of Youngstown after the event. Dominic Marchionda of NYO Property Group showed us around downtown Youngstown and Wick Park. This tour of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods revealed both challenges and opportunities for efforts that are bringing vibrancy to the city. As Terry Schwarz mentioned during our panel, this will be the work of our lifetimes.

Unique place making: How Ohio should approach the revitalization of its vacant properties

February 24th, 2014

Written by Ryan Dittoe, previous GOPC Intern

Defining a place is a necessary component for recognition and navigation. But unique characteristics that infiltrate an environment lead to an overarching identity of that space, and unique spaces promote cities with substance and life.  As an Ohio State University City and Regional Planning student, I am heavily influenced by the idea of making cities look unlike any other. This can begin with small pockets of creative urban development that together construct whole cities with exclusive personalities. Realizing setbacks, color schemes, historical value, transportation modes, walkability, permeability, and other living aspects of a place and how these functions work together ensure its continual success.

Ohio’s vacant properties require attention to detail. Recently I visited Detroit and listened to a presentation given by Detroit Works. They explained the value of creating revitalized, useful areas through public participatory design (that is, encouraging citizens to share ideas about what they would like to see in any given area that is the focus of revitalization or redesign), implementing a framework of ideas for progress to be initiated, and thinking beyond the normal scope of city planning for a unique design that breathes individuality into a space. An example of this plan in action is the open-air art Heidelberg Project, located near southeast Detroit. A public artist transformed this neglected area into a block-wide sculpture site encouraging residents to visit and experience their city through a different perspective. Projects like this one can provide a multitude of starter ideas for neighboring cities, including Columbus, to uniquely develop their invaluable public spaces. Keep in mind that it is crucial not to “copy” another city’s projects, but to strive for uncommon attributes.

Every city needs attractive “third places.” These are locations you visit outside home and work to interact with your family, friends, or colleagues in a more relaxed manner.  Incorporating these design pockets into the city offers a functional location for socialization. Ohio’s vacant lots (especially those right here in Columbus) might serve well as third places for existing residential and commercial infrastructure. Creating mixed use buildings with permeable human scale faces will attract patrons that are already visiting the area. Creating safe sidewalks, complete streets, attractive storefronts, public seating with lights, landscaping and other vital aspects of a lively city block will engage passersby and stimulate a city’s reputation. Bring back vitality to blighted spaces and allow their energy to be recreated into something useful and noteworthy. Realize that problems are just an opportunity for improvement and prosperity.

The Need for Targeted Demolition

February 24th, 2014

Written by Jacob Wolf, GOPC Researcher

Two recent news articles discuss Ohio legacy cities’ use of demolition programs when faced with large numbers of vacant and abandoned properties. However, the articles also point out that demolition alone is not a complete solution for these problems.

Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding,” which appeared in The New York Times on Nov. 12th, provides an overview of demolition activities in Cleveland, Youngstown, and various other legacy cities nationwide. With city populations declining to fractions of what they once were, some demolition becomes necessary. For example, the average vacant house in Cleveland costs $10,000 to demolish, but it would cost $27,000 per year to maintain in hopes of a future rehabilitation.

However, with resources for demolition limited, cities must prioritize and target their demolition activities to make the maximum impact. Case in point, a recent report by BCT Partners—a firm that works with HUD—recommended a better focus for Youngstown’s demolition. The report’s findings are explained in “Firm urges Youngstown to focus on healthier neighborhoods,” published in the Youngstown Vindicator on Nov. 25th. “If Youngstown is to survive as a residential location,” states the report, “it must shift focus from prioritizing those areas with severe blight to stabilizing healthier neighborhoods and retaining the existing population.”

Youngstown officials say the city had been prioritizing demolition in the most blighted neighborhoods, because those houses cost the least to demolish. They also said EPA regulations and the requirements of the Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) program, which funded the demolitions, necessitated this more “scattershot” approach. While Youngstown has demolished more than 2,600 structures since 2006, more than 4,000 remain in the city. The focus of Youngstown going forward should shift to prioritizing the “quality” of demolitions over the “quantity,” and other cities should follow this lead.

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.

Attorney General’s Demolition Program Extended

September 4th, 2013

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced that he will be extended the deadline for counties wishing to apply for demolition funds under the Moving Ohio Forward Program.  The program has been a rousing success so far, demolishing almost 5,000 blighted properties across the state.

With the deadline now extended to May 31, 2014, communities will have an opportunity to apply for the full amount of funds allocated to them.  According to records posted by the Attorney General’s office, almost $5 million in funds are currently unclaimed. 

The Greater Ohio Policy Center has been providing technical assistance to counties applying for and utilizing the Moving Ohio Forward funds.  For more information on GOPC’s relationship with the Attorney General’s office, please see our web page, which gives a background on our role in this program and includes resources that can help communities make strategic use of their demolition dollars.

For more information on the program extension, please visit the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Detroit’s Rebirth: “Future City” Report offers new ideas and solutions

February 13th, 2013

By John Gardocki, Greater Ohio Policy Center Intern

“Cities are living places that require ongoing awareness and firm yet flexible approaches to decision making which acknowledge changing realities and multiple voices, leading to pragmatic and agreed-on solutions” (Detroit Future City Framework, 12).

Future City, a two year report offering short and long term solutions to restore Detroit was recently released by Detroit Works. It is the culmination of an in-depth 24 month process involving 30,000 interviews, 70,000 surveys, and hundreds of public meetings.

Below are some key statistics that demonstrate the challenges Detroit is facing and the need to come together to solve these problems.

  • 79,725 out of 350,000 units are vacant in the city of Detroit-meaning the city has an astounding vacancy rate of 22.7%
  • 700,000 people live in a city originally designed for 2 million people.
  • There is only one job for every four Detroit residents
  • A recent survey of Detroit residents revealed that nearly one-third of the respondents would leave the city within five years, citing safety as the top reason.

Four major targets are to be evaluated in 2030 that stakeholders see in their vision that will be accomplished from the framework.

By 2030, Detroit will have a stabilized population
By 2030 the city will have two or three jobs for each person living in the city
By 2030, the Detroit Metropolitan region has an integrated regional public transportation system
By 2030, Detroit will become a city for all

The plan outlines several strategies that should be put into place to make a permanent transformation in Detroit over the next 20 years or more. There are five major planning elements: Economic Growth, Land Use, City Systems, Neighborhoods, and Land and Building Assets built within the framework to enforce the strategies:

  • Economic Growth is intended to make Detroit’s economy more knowledge based by utilizing four economic pillars: Global Trade/Industrial, Digital/Creative, Local Entrepreneurship, and Education & Medical. The four knowledge based sectors are meant to diversify the workforce.
  • Land Use is integral to transforming Detroit by addressing four key ideas: A City of Multiple Employment Districts, A City of Connecting People to Opportunity, A Green City Where Landscapes Contribute to Health, and A City of Distinct, Attractive Neighborhoods. The city’s current footprint is too expansive to meet the current population and fiscal capacity and so it needs to be refocused to be more sustainable.
  • City Systems revises the path to sustainable systems by using three transformative ideas: Strategic Infrastructure Renewal, Landscape As 21st Century Infrastructure, and Diversified Transportation for Detroit and The Region. This element is important to the city to determine which systems are critical to remain online, discontinued, or upgraded. Financially the city cannot afford to give out these resources to areas that are not populated.
  • Neighborhood utilizes five ideas to create more choices for residents: A City of Many Assets, A City of Neighborhood Choices, A City of Different Strategies for Different Neighborhoods, A City of Diverse Housing Types for Diverse Populations, and A City of Residents Who Engage In Their Own Futures. To remain competitive and meet the demands of a 21st century city, Detroit needs to understand the needs of their many neighborhoods and the unique challenges each neighborhood may face.
  • Land and Building Assets is critical to solving Detroit’s vacancy problems which will be initiated by: A City That Shares A Vision: Coordinating the Management of Vacant Land, A City Where Everything Is Connected: Viewing Vacant and Problem Properties Within One Interrelated System, A City of Strategic Approaches: Recognizing The Uniqueness of Each Property’s Value and Challenges, A New Urban Landscape: Using Land for Infrastructure And Innovation, and a City Where Public Facility Investments Count: Aligning Public Facilities With Land Use Transportation. Detroit has numerous neighborhoods that are beset by blight and have vacant land that needs to be utilized for new uses like parks, urban farming, and commercialization. To get a handle on the declining population will mean a critical movement to alter the vacancy problem in Detroit.

The use of info-graphics and GIS data helps to showcase Detroit’s urban crises and how they are interconnected. Figuring out exactly where the problems are heavily weighted will help impact the city’s strategy.

Detroit has a wide range of economic assets that should be capitalized on to fuel economic growth. Assets include existing businesses, institutions and transportation infrastructure. (Detroit Future City Framework, 38).

This first of its kind report can be a great tool for other cities across America facing similar problems to better assess and find new and innovative solutions.

GOPC Discusses Cost of Vacant Property and Solutions for Vacant Commercial Properties

November 8th, 2012

This week, Greater Ohio Policy Center presented at a Heritage Ohio workshop, “Combating Vacant Property”  that provided ideas and strategies to local communities on ways to manage vacant properties.  Heritage Ohio, Inc is Ohio’s official historic preservation and Main Street program organization.  Greater Ohio outlined the costs of vacant residential and commercial properties and discussed successful strategies that have overcome common barriers to sustainable property management and redevelopment.

Other presenters included a lawyer who has worked with community development corporations and municipalities to bring nuisance abatement actions against problem properties in Cleveland and city officials from the city of Sandusky and city of Painesville, which both have vacant property registries.

The problem property crisis impacts every community in Ohio.  Greater Ohio continues to measure the impact of vacant properties, and research policies and programs that can mitigate the effects of these properties by turning them into assets for redevelopment opportunities. Check our website regularly as we update our research and policy recommendations.

Dublin Bridge Street Corridor Plan brings potential to Columbus Metro Area

April 13th, 2012

By John Gardocki, Greater Ohio Intern

The Dublin Bridge Street Corridor Plan is unique to the Columbus Metro region because it calls for such an expansive plan covering over 800 acres of land.  Dublin has issued vision principles and plans for each district that will encompass the plan for smart growth.

 Vision Principles:

1.) Enhance economic vitality

2.) Integrate the new center into community life

3.) Embrace Dublin’s natural setting and celebrate a commitment to environmental sustainability

4.) Expand the range of choices available to Dublin and the region

5.) Create places that embody Dublin’s commitment to community

 Dublin identified eight districts for implementation that will include mixed-use development, greenways, improved transportation and connectivity, and strong connections to existing neighborhoods.  Three districts stand out in the vision that will enable these priorities to be achieved.

The importance of the Historic Dublin District is to be a guiding point for the rest of the project.  Currently, the Historic Dublin area is acting as a model for the plan with a large amount of walkability and development already in place.  Most Dublin residents see it as being the core, so if the core falters then the rest of the project most likely will cease to exist or grow.  Redevelopment is the key to this district to become a livable, walkable community area that Dublin residents will be proud of. 

Riverside District utilizes the connection of the Scioto River.  The plan calls for a park initiative to strengthen the greenways of Dublin and its transportation opportunities as a walkable and sustainable community.  Residential buildings will be located on the river to access the new park land, while new office development will be located behind for easy access to work.  The importance of this is to make residents daily commute be as little as possible; while having access to recreation and retail at the same time.

The Sawmill District is set to alter the suburban mantra that is low-density.  The goal of this district is to provide high density housing, office, recreational, and entertainment for Dublin residents to enjoy.  Concentrations of these activities will be an important connective aspect of the district.  A landmark is currently in the plan to act as a gateway between Dublin and Columbus.  Branding is important for a community because it brings a sense of pride.

 The Columbus metro area will see large benefits from this project.  Development could bring employment to the area as well as new products.  Smart growth initiatives will also start to become more prevalent in Central Ohio with Dublin leading the way.  Continued growth of Columbus’ population will enhance the building potential of other local communities and of the amenities Downtown could offer to its residents.  Linkage between Columbus and Dublin could be put on the list of to-do projects, possibly utilizing public transit opportunities that are currently not available for the Columbus area. 

To check out the plan with more detail visit:

Media Advisory for Properties Institute

April 3rd, 2012



Alison D. Goebel
399 E. Main Street, Ste.140
Columbus, OH 43215
April 3, 2012

Greater Ohio Policy Center to Hold Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute

 Two day event will provide hands-on strategies to private and public sector leaders to generate redevelopment opportunities for Ohio’s vacant and abandoned properties.

COLUMBUS – Representatives from over 35 cities and towns in Ohio will gather here this week to examine cutting edge solutions to address problem property development challenges and generate redevelopment opportunities. The Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute is a critical component of Greater Ohio Policy Center’s broader statewide initiative, “Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities,” which is shaping property redevelopment policy solutions and practices for comprehensive community revitalization in Ohio.

WHO: The Greater Ohio Policy will host more than 175 state and local leaders from Ohio’s legal, banking, property development, nonprofit, community development, and academic, communities in a two-day discussion on the challenges and opportunities to Ohio’s vacant and abandoned property crisis. 

Local practitioners, financial institutions, and state and national level redevelopment experts will offer panel discussions on strategies for redevelopment.  Professor Frank Alexander, a leading national expert on real estate finance and community redevelopment law will keynote Wednesday’s lunch.

WHAT: The two day event will arm local leaders with new property reutilization tools, showcase best practices from the private and non-profit sectors and provide opportunities for input into policy reforms that align with local community development needs.

WHEN:  Wednesday April 4, 2012 8:30am-5:30 pm and Thursday, April 5, 2012 8:30am-3:30pm.  Frank Alexander keynote is Wednesday April 4, 2012 from 11:30am-1:00pm.  A Bank Panel on strategies to keep borrowers in their homes and discussion on neighborhood stabilization will take place on Thursday April 5th from 1:30pm-3:00pm.  

WHERE:  Columbus Hyatt Regency (McKinley and Hayes Rooms)
350 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43215

 There is a Self-Park Parking lot at the Chestnut Street Parking Garage for $12. It is located 1 block south of the hotel on Chestnut Street. When entering the garage, please take a ticket and park as normal. The garage connects to the Hyatt Regency Columbus via a covered skywalk and can be accessed on the 3rd floor of the garage.

Journalists attending the Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute should check in with the Event Registration desk, located outside the McKinley Room. 

WHY: Vacant and abandoned properties have been on the rise in Ohio’s cities and towns for over two decades — long before the national economic downturn hit in 2008  This Institute comes at a critical time as Ohio’s communities struggle to stem the tide of vacant and  abandoned properties.  The Institute’s goals of training and education, coalition-building and policy advancement are vital economic development interventions that will productively reshape Ohio’s communities. 

ADDITIONAL DETAILS: This Institute is part of Greater Ohio Policy Center’s “Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities Initiative,” which aims to equip local leaders with information, policy ideas and practices necessary to make progress against this crisis and to advance state policy reforms that are aligned with local action.  Addressing the physical deterioration of our cities and town is a critical economic development strategy that will help restore our state’s prosperity as a whole. 

For additional information please visit, or contact Samantha Spergel at 614-224-0187 or via email at

Greater Ohio Moderates Columbus Metro Club Forum on Regionalism

March 15th, 2012

Yesterday Greater Ohio’s Senior Director of Governmental Affairs, Gene Krebs moderated a Columbus Metropolitan Club Forum, “Grow Smart, Grow Regional: Practical Examples of Collaboration.” 

There has been much talk at the state and local level of the possibilities and pitfalls of a more regional approach to government services and government itself.  Sometimes however, it is not always clear what “regionalism” looks and feels like in reality.  This Forum explored “on-the-ground” perspectives from local business, local government, and education leaders of what regionalism and collaboration means in Central Ohio.

The expert panelists included: Bart Anderson, executive director of the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, Michael Hartley, VP of Government Affairs at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, and Ginny Barney, partner at the Collective Genius and former city manager of Upper Arlington, a first suburb of Columbus. 

All three panelists discussed numerous “back office” efforts underway in the region which are streamlining operations.  Some examples offered were the sharing of computer tech support among a number of school districts, small villages contracting municipal services from neighboring villages (instead of hiring their own staff and equipment), and managing payroll and other fiscal operations within a centralized location. 

All panelists spoke to the importance of having an attractive region that makes businesses and potential employees move to the area, and all pointed the role regionalism would play in lowering costs, but increasing service quality. 

Ginny Barney, along with Bart Anderson and Michael Hartley, warned that central Ohio still has tough conversations and adjustments ahead as we “retrofit” our educational systems and local governments to an upgraded version that more closely aligns with today’s realities.  All three were optimistic that Central Ohio’s current regionalism efforts were creating a foundation which would keep our region strong in the future.

This Forum was the first in a yearlong series that will shine a spotlight on current efforts in Ohio and beyond that are creating sustainable communities through collaborative, region-focused, relationships.  The next Forum is under development, but will be announced soon.