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.

How Demolition Helps to Stabilize Communities

February 14th, 2014

Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute recently released a new study that analyzes the economic impact of residential demolition in the Cleveland area between 2009 and 2013. The report’s findings estimate a net benefit of $1.40 for every dollar invested in demolition activity, with larger benefits in high and moderately functioning markets and little to no benefit in weak markets. It also shows that mortgage foreclosure rates decreased in neighborhoods—across all income levels—where demolition activity took place.

This study demonstrates the value of demolition as part of a comprehensive strategy to stabilize our communities that struggle with property vacancy. It provides information that can help guide demolition activity to make the most efficient use of limited resources. This study is very timely in light of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s release last week of an additional $3.8 million in demolition funding awards under the Moving Ohio Forward program.

The study was written by Nigel Griswold, Benjamin Calnin, Michael Schramm, Luc Anselin, and Paul Boehnlein, with support from Thriving Communities Institute, the Cleveland City Council, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Eva L. and Joseph M. Bruening Foundation, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, and land banks throughout Ohio.

Addressing the Legacy of Property Neglect

December 6th, 2013

Throughout November, the Columbus Dispatch has been publishing a series of articles on the “Legacy of Neglect” of vacant and abandoned properties throughout Columbus. This article series has revealed some of the serious challenges related to dealing with slumlords that are perpetuating the vacant and abandoned property problem in Ohio.

Greater Ohio is mentioned in the article “Landlords cloaked from citations, prosecution” for our work with a group of financial institutions and other organizations to investigate possible practical and policy fixes around the state. Together, we need to stem the vacant property crisis to restore prosperity to Ohio.

Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties

October 25th, 2013

We would like to thank all of those who participated in the 2013 Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties conference! We thought that the summit was a great success, thanks in large part to the cross-sector attendance and relationship-building that occurred over the course of the two days.

The conference speakers and breakout sessions facilitated the exchange of ideas on practices and policies that could be used to leverage vacant properties as opportunities for community revitalization throughout Ohio.

The following links offer materials and highlights from the conference:

Click here to view and download conference presentations

Click here to see highlights from the keynotes and breakout sessions

Click here to see photos from the conference

Click here to join the ongoing discussions in Greater Ohio’s LinkedIn group


EPA Releases New Toolkit for Greener Residential Demolition

October 4th, 2013

EPA Region 5—serving Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin—just released a new toolkit for cities, counties and land banks undertaking large-scale residential demolitions. The report, “On the Road to Reuse: Residential Demolition Bid Specification Development Tool,” includes valuable information on:

  • Environmental issues associated with residential demolitions, from pre-planning to demolition to site rehabilitation (e.g., hazardous materials abatement, fill material selection and placement, material recycling or deconstruction).
  • Specific practices that can be incorporated into the demolition contracting process to achieve better environmental outcomes.
  • Existing regulations and best management practices concerning residential demolitions.
  • Bid specification language that instructs contractors on the technical requirements of greener demolition projects.

The purpose of this toolkit is to assist cities, counties, land banks and other entities with the inclusion of greener practices in the demolition bid specification used during the contracting process. The use of environmentally beneficial demolition will result in better site conditions and will better prepare vacant lots for future reuse.

 

For more details on reclaiming vacant properties, make sure to check out our upcoming conference:

“Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties: Tools & Policies to Transform Communities”

October 22-23, 2013
The Westin Columbus
310 S. High Street
Columbus, Ohio, 43215

 

Will Mortgage Companies Get the Right to Redeem in the Tax Foreclosure Process?

September 26th, 2013

By Jacob Wolf, GOPC intern

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear the appeal of a case that could have a major impact on efforts to redevelop foreclosed properties in the state. Under Ohio law, a property owner whose property is in danger of foreclosure due to unpaid taxes may pay off those taxes and keep the property without it going up for auction at a sheriff’s sale. This is called the right of redemption. The issue in this case—with the unwieldy name of In the Matter of the Foreclosure of Liens for Delinquent Taxes v. Parcels of Land Encumbered with Delinquent Tax Liens et al.—is whether a mortgage company has the same right of redemption as a property owner.

Coshocton County started tax foreclosure proceedings on the property in question in April of 2011. Six months later, the property was sold at a sheriff’s sale.  Two weeks after the sale, the company that held the mortgage on the property—Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance—filed motions to vacate the sheriff’s sale and to redeem the property by paying the delinquent tax bill. The trial court accepted Vanderbilt’s redemption and voided the sale, but the county appealed. The 5th District Court of Appeals sided with the county, overturning Vanderbilt’s redemption.

In its appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, Vanderbilt argues that it was protecting its mortgage interest in the property. However, the appellate court found that Vanderbilt could have protected its interests in one of two ways:

  1. by advancing the tax money to the homeowners and allowing them to exercise their right of redemption before the sheriff’s sale, or
  2. by bidding on the property at the sheriff’s sale.

The land sold for more than $15,000 at the auction. Conversely, the homeowners owed only $825.84 in taxes; and Vanderbilt paid a total of $6,000 to the county in their attempt to redeem the property. It appears as though the Court of Appeals thought Vanderbilt was attempting to take ownership of the property without bidding at the sheriff’s sale.

If the Ohio Supreme Court rules in favor of Vanderbilt, it will allow banks and mortgage lenders to acquire foreclosed properties at deep discounts. Currently, these properties often wind up in city and county land banks, where they can be prepared for redevelopment. This court case, and its decision regarding property acquisition by private lenders, will influence the future of urban redevelopment and revitalization efforts in Ohio.

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.

Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties: The 2013 Summit

May 1st, 2013

Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties:

Tools & Policies to Transform Communities

October 22-23, 2013
The Westin Columbus
310 S. High Street
Columbus, Ohio, 43215

The Greater Ohio Policy Center & The Thriving Communities Institute invite you to attend Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties, a two-day interactive training and policy solutions summit that will offer hands-on techniques and strategies to address vacant and abandoned property development challenges and generate redevelopment opportunities. It is intended for local and regional leaders, land bank practitioners, nonprofit community development organizations, as well as private sector representatives.

The summit will provide opportunities for input into policy reforms that arm local leaders with new tools and that align policies with local community development needs. Sessions will feature local practitioners, financial institutions, and state and national level redevelopment experts. The Institute’s goals—training and education, coalition-building and policy advancement—are vital to productively revitalize Ohio’s communities.

For questions or sponsorship opportunities, please contact Kate Hydock of Thriving Communities Institute (khydock@wrlandconservancy.org or 216-515-8300) or Christina Burke of Greater Ohio Policy Center (cburke@greaterohio.org or 614-224-0187).

Agenda and online registration information to come.