Ohio Cities Boost Downtown Revitalization with Waterfront Parks

November 13th, 2015

By Sheldon K. Johnson, Urban Revitalization Project Specialist

In 2010 the Greater Ohio Policy Center, along with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, published Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy. This report is a comprehensive blueprint for transitioning Ohio into an economy that is export-oriented, lower-carbon, and innovation-fueled. Ohio’s metropolitan areas— encompassing urban, suburban, and rural places— are home to the necessary resources that will lead the state into the next economy. GOPC’s Restoring Prosperity agenda is focused on advocating for state and local initiatives that will leverage these prosperity drivers.


One recommendation from the Restoring Prosperity report was to create a state-level “Walkable Waterfronts” initiative that supports local efforts to revitalize urban riverways and lakefronts. In recent years two Ohio cities celebrated the opening of waterfront parks that seek to boost their downtown revitalization initiatives. In May of 2012 the first phase of the John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park opened in Cincinnati and this past week the Scioto Greenways Park opened in Columbus.

These two projects are fantastic examples of leveraging Ohio’s natural resources as prosperity drivers. Numerous studies show that urban greenspaces are important amenities that have the potential to yield economic benefits in addition to tremendous environmental and social benefits.

Cincinnati and Columbus are only two of the metropolitan areas in Ohio with idyllic waterways. Cities ranging from Toledo to Marietta to Hamilton to Youngstown are built on waterways that present opportunities for recreational use, quality of life enhancement, and economic development. GOPC celebrates the progress being made, but will continue to advocate for walkable waterways throughout the state.

Steubenville Summit Generates Ideas to Reinvigorate Historic Downtown

November 6th, 2015

Guest Post by Evan Scurti, Executive Director of the Jefferson County Port Authority

This past October, the City of Steubenville, Board of Jefferson County Commissioners, and the Jefferson County Port Authority took the first step in a long-term journey of sustainable growth and reinvestment in historic downtown Steubenville. “Investing in the Ville–A Real Estate and Business Development Summit” was created through the collaborative efforts of the three local governments, a steering committee of passionate citizens, and sponsorship money and services from local merchants. The event exceeded expectations by welcoming over 100 local and regional developers, investors, building owners, and interested citizens. Organizers agreed that this successful inaugural event is only the beginning of a series of interconnected strategies focused on reinventing the CBD of a historic city that is striving to reposition itself in a new global economy. While the old steel mills employing tens of thousands on both sides of the Ohio River no longer exist as an anchor to support bustling downtowns, there is currently great potential for Ohio Valley growth as new industries like oil and gas extraction emerge. Steubenville’s leaders are focused on guiding that growth back to the historic and large urban core of the city.


Aerial shot of Steubenville, Ohio

The event featured Keynote Speaker Franzi Charen, Executive Director of the Asheville Grown Alliance, a nonprofit supporting grassroots development and local entrepreneurship efforts in Asheville, North Carolina’s downtown. Franzi’s message resonated with the Steubenville crowd, as Asheville has also had to adapt to industrial economy changes in sectors like textiles. Through the vision of creative local developers and entrepreneurs, Asheville has diversified its economy and strengthened its tourism trade, which are both goals that Steubenville is beginning to adopt as its own. To help make downtown Steubenville a renewed destination for locals as well as visitors, the City administration has developed an exciting streetscape and civic plaza vision for the heart of the CBD. Consultants’ overviews of these plans followed Franzi’s address. The event culminated in an inspiring address by a longtime downtown business owner and resident who emphasized the safety and strong potential of the CBD and a walking tour of prime development opportunities that are ripe for new visions.

Event organizers have agreed that this should be the beginning of an annual effort to celebrate successes, invite and brainstorm building reuse ideas, track the CBD’s vacancy rate, and reassess the overall downtown plan. Downtown Steubenville is a special place with a large, impressive built environment. Local leaders are showing great commitment to current and future generations by engaging in the best kind of smart economic development–rebuilding and reusing the infrastructure and wonderful buildings erected by past generations. We firmly believe in, and will work toward, this event growing into a regional movement to renew one of Ohio’s most unique places with enormous potential.

GOPC Offers Testimony in Statehouse

October 28th, 2015

By Lindsey Gardiner, Government Affairs Manager

Throughout the month of October, Government Affairs Manager Lindsey Gardiner has been on the move within the House and Senate offering interested party testimony for various legislative bills that would impact Ohio’s revitalization policies. From establishing Downtown Redevelopment Districts and collecting data to track the effectiveness of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, to extending and expanding the Local Government Innovation Council, there is a lot going on within the chambers of our Legislature.

On October 14th, GOPC submitted written interested party testimony for HB 340, which proposes to extend the Local Government Innovation Council (LGIC) through December 31, 2019. Currently, the LGIC is scheduled to sunset by the end of December this year. GOPC was extremely supportive of the LGIC when it was established nearly five years ago and we have been impressed by the Program’s positive impact in hundreds of communities across the state. Our testimony to the House State Government Committee affirmed that this program effectively encourages Ohio governments to work more efficiently and that extending the LGIC would enable the continuation of the programs that have benefited communities in innovation, efficiency, and public safety.

LG testify

Lindsey Gardiner, Manager of Government Affairs, offered interested party testimony on numerous bills this month.

HB 233, which proposes to authorize cities to create Downtown Redevelopment Districts (DRDs) and Innovation Districts to promote economic development, is another bill GOPC has strived to place in the spotlight within its respected committee. Earlier this month GOPC offered testimony that supported the overall objectives of the proposal and shared with members of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee of our endorsement of the bill. Testimony stated that our Policy Committee decided to endorse HB 233 as it champions revitalization and incentivizes much-needed investment and redevelopment in Ohio. Additionally, since offering testimony for this bill, HB 233 was amended before ultimately being passed out of Committee. GOPC is happy to report that the bill was amended to include a provision requiring the collection of necessary data to track the performance of revenues resulting from the Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HPTC). As you may recall, the HPTC has played a vital role in the rehabilitation of historic buildings throughout Ohio and has proven to bring economic benefits to the state in more ways than one. This new provision will help the preservation community and members of the Legislature gain a better understanding of why the HPTC is so important.

For more information on GOPC’s testimony, the endorsement of HB 233, or to ask any questions pertaining to our legislative efforts, please feel free to contact Lindsey Gardiner at LGardiner@greaterohio.org.


The Detroit Story: Are there Lessons Learned in Revitalization of Ohio Cities?

October 23rd, 2015

Lavea Brachman, Executive Director of Greater Ohio Policy Center, recently published a book review on the website The National Book Review. The review, titled “Detroit was a Golden City Once – And It Can Be Again,” explores Detroit’s recent revitalization strategies and describes practices that legacy cities in Ohio could replicate.

GOPC Legislative Update October 2015

October 23rd, 2015

By Lindsey Gardiner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

The following grid is designed to provide you with insight into the likelihood of passage of the legislation we are monitoring. Please note that due to the fluid nature of the legislative process, the color coding of bills is subject to change at any time. GOPC will be regularly updating the legislative update the last Thursday of every month and when major developments arise. If you have any concerns about a particular bill, please let us know.

October Leg. Update Grid

Bills Available Online at www.legislature.ohio.gov

Updates on Key Bills: greater-ohio-flag

greater-ohio-flag  HB 134 UPDATE: HB 134 has been on the move within the House Judiciary Committee and appears to have re-gained traction as it has continued through the legislative process. Earlier in the month, the bill had its first hearing and received supportive testimony from a representative of the Ohio Recorder’s Association. During its first hearing, the sponsors offered a substitute version of the bill which included changing criteria for vacant and abandoned properties. There were no objections to the changes, and the substitute bill was accepted. HB 134 continued to maintain the focus of the House Judiciary Committee, and on October 13th, the bill was unanimously reported out of the Committee, where it now awaits approval to be sent to the House Floor before it is sent to the Senate for review.

greater-ohio-flag HB 233 UPDATE: HB 233 has taken a similar track as HB 134 as it has continued through the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. Earlier this month, five organizations offered testimony in support of HB 233 including Greater Ohio Policy Center. Lindsey Gardiner, Manager of Government Affairs, announced GOPC’s endorsement of the legislation and shared reasons why HB 233 would benefit local communities across the state. On October 20th, a substitute bill was accepted by the Committee, which adds provisions requiring the State to track information necessary to anticipate the tax revenue impact of the historic preservation tax credits in current and future fiscal years. HB 233 unanimously passed out of the Committee and is headed to the House Floor pending approval from the Speaker.

greater-ohio-flag HB 303 UPDATE: HB 303 had its first hearing with the House Financial Institutions, Housing and Urban Development Committee on October 20th. Sponsor Representative Dever shared that his D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed concept surfaced during his time working as a defense attorney during the time of the foreclosure process. Dever shared that he noticed there weren’t many options for families facing financial hardships with foreclosure of their homes and found room for improvement with pre-existing policy. Co-sponsor Representative McColley called the use of the program soley permissive and said banks would not be required to enter into the program. The D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed program is the first of its kind within Ohio and GOPC is looking forward to learning more about the potential impact and benefits it can have for families and communities across the State.

greater-ohio-flagHB 340 UPDATE: Out of all the economic development and revitalization legislation GOPC is actively tracking, HB 340 appears to be moving at lightning speed. The LGIC is scheduled to sunset or expire on December 31, 2015 and GOPC is happy to see members of the House work together in an effort to extend the program. GOPC was extremely supportive of the program when it was established in 2011 and we have been impressed by its positive impact in hundreds of communities across the state. Earlier this month GOPC continued its support for the LGIC and submitted written testimony to the House State Government Committee. We’re happy to report that on October 14th HB 340 was successfully reported out of the Committee and is expected to be voted on the House Floor in the near future.

greater-ohio-flagSB 201 UPDATE: From an economic development standpoint, GOPC believes SB 201 will help address blight within our urban and rural neighborhoods by strengthening an existing tool local government officials already use to deal with problem properties that are hazardous. SB 201 is currently being vetted by the Senate Civil Justice Committee, which completed a third hearing on the bill in mid-October.

NEW Bills & Explanation of Bill Impact on Economic Development within Ohio:

HB 126 is sponsored by Representatives Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and David Leland (D-Columbus). This bill would accomplish much of the same objectives that SB 201 contains (see below). HB 126 expands the definition of a “nuisance” in the Ohio Revised Code to include “an offense of violence”. HB 126 is designed to give the Attorney General and city prosecutors an additional tool to deal with nuisance problem communities face throughout Ohio.

HB 340 is sponsored by Representative Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) and proposes to extend the operation of the Local Government Innovation Council (LGIC) through December 31, 2019. The LGIC was created in 2011 as a means to offer communities financial assistance to create more efficient and effective services to their constituents (HB 53-129th GA). The Local Government Innovation Program and the Local Government Efficiency Program have proven a success and GOPC believes that the addition of the Local Government Safety Capital Grant Program will continue such success. HB 340 encourages Ohio government to work together more efficiently and will enable the continuation of various programs that overall will benefit communities in innovation, efficiency, and public safety.

For more details and information on legislation that GOPC is tracking, please visit our September Legislative Update.

Recrafting Vacant Properties into Assests: Panel at HeritageOhio

October 19th, 2015

By Ellen Turk, GOPC Intern

I recently attended a panel at the HeritageOhio annual conference where Alison Goebel, Associate Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center along with Doug Lewis, Painesville Assistance City Manager and Josh Harmon, President of the Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association, discussed utilizing “Vacant Properties as Assets”.

Goebel explained that since the 1970s Ohio’s population has incrementally declined while land use for commercial purposes has remained stable. In addition to this decline, Ohioans’ demographic makeup has continued to age at a rapid rate. Vacant properties across the state have remained at about 10%, costing an estimated $15 million in city services each year with $49 million lost in taxpaying revenue. Eight cities in Ohio spent $41 million servicing vacant properties. To this end, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s guidebook, “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities,” functions as a resource for anyone seeking to redevelop and reuse vacant properties in downtown areas of towns or cities to promote economic growth.  Motivating business people and owners to invest in downtown properties and updating them can help attract visitors and generate revenue for communities.

But how do you encourage title owners to maintain their property or business owners to invest in local downtowns?

One method described in the guidebook and implemented successfully by Painesville Assistance City Manager Doug Lewis is through passing a Vacant Properties Ordinance. In Painesville, vacant properties can be owned by a variety of titleholders, including irresponsible owners and corporations not inclined to sell or maintain. The Ordinance requires owners to submit a Vacant Properties Plan whereby proprietors who do not comply with the rules of the Ordinance and proprietors who do not file the plan on time face fines. If the property is no longer deemed vacant, 30% of the building must be used and the first floor must be utilized.

Another way to curb irresponsible property ownership is through the courts. In Cleveland, the court system has stipulated that you can conduct no business within the court until you have paid off any outstanding fines to the court. This is very useful for incentivizing owners of multiple vacant buildings with fines to sell or generate revenue on the properties. Also, a Court Community Service program ensures minor offenders are placed in the community to perform manual labor and bring properties back to building code compliance.

According to the guidebook, another essential tool is hard data demonstrating the economic effects of revitalization. Josh Harmon spoke about the importance of data as a tool to show communities the detriments of having vacant properties. Census counts recording the number of vacant properties in an area is important. Often, showing residents a vacant property can act as a drain to city resources encourages them to support Vacant Building Ordinances. In Franklin County alone the last time that vacant properties were assessed was 2006! To mitigate vacant property problems, Greater Ohio Policy Center recommends targeting resources, forming alliances in the community, and defining the most effective way to allocate funds and assets.

GOPC participates in Roundtable on Small and Medium sized Legacy Cities

October 13th, 2015
By Alison Goebel, GOPC Associate Director

Last week, GOPC participated in a Roundtable on Leveraging Local Assets in Small and Medium Sized Cities, sponsored by the Center for Community Progress.  This small Roundtable brought together leaders from a number of sectors who work in Flint, Dayton, Youngstown, and Syracuse. Through a neighborhood tour, presentations, and conversations over meals, GOPC learned about cutting-edge strategies that these medium sized legacy cities implement to accelerate their revitalization and return to vibrancy.

At the beginning of the Roundtable, GOPC presented preliminary research findings generated from analysis of current conditions and trends of a number of small and medium-sized cities in the Midwest and Northeast. GOPC also described promising and innovative urban stabilization and revitalization strategies has found through collaborative research with CCP Senior Fellow Alan Mallach.  One of the most valuable components of the Roundtable was learning firsthand of incredible work underway in these four representative cities.

Flint has recently completed an amazing master plan, Imagine Flint, which includes 13 different zoning districts that acknowledge the reality of current land use and prepare the city to maximize its assets for the future.  The plan is sensitive to the current market and responds to what residents want for the future.  For example, during our neighborhood tour we visited a newly zoned site consisting of work and residential buildings.


Habitat for Humanity-Flint is helping a family rebuild a new home and retail space where people can play tabletop games, like Dungeons and Dragons.

Syracuse described a highly successful partnership between St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Care, a workforce development program, and community revitalization program.  Through St. Joseph’s leadership, the surrounding neighborhood is being revitalized, hospital employees are living in the neighborhoods, and the hospital is achieving an unprecedented retention rate among local residents who participate in the workforce program.

Dayton discussed the advantages of utilizing a non-profit, CityWide Development Corporation to direct redevelopment around key anchors in the city—including a new elementary school and a hospital.  CityWide, as the lead entity for this public-private partnership, is spearheading three major redevelopment projects that are tied to key anchor institutions.


Downtown Flint is revitalized and populated. The Flint Weather Ball is also visible in this picture.  It turns red when the temperatures are predicted to rise and blue when the temperature is expected to go down. The night of the picture, the temperature was remaining steady and so the ball was yellow.

Roundtable participants were excited by a new strategy Youngstown is piloting, which they call micro-planning.  The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) has identified key schools, churches, and other community facilities that can potentially be a catalyst for neighborhood regrowth and YNDC is now directing its resources to the blocks that surround these smaller institutions.

The challenges these cities have faced—and the ability to master and leverage these challenges into opportunities—was inspiring and reaffirmed the resiliency and strength of these places.

flint 3

Ridgway White, CEO of the C.S.Mott Foundation was our host for the Roundtable.  Over dinner we swapped stories and received advice and suggestions from peer cities on different revitalization strategies.

Boston Professor Discusses Fundamental Importance of Affordable Housing

October 1st, 2015

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Dr. Megan Sandel, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University spoke this week to the Columbus Metropolitan Club about the importance of housing as a solution to many health and educational concerns. Sandel and EJ Thomas, the chief executive of Habitat for Humanity MidOhio, spoke for about an hour underscoring the idea that access to affordable, decent housing is the most critical foundation for leading a healthy life and should be prioritized in discussions of solving related problems. At a time when many people are struggling to pay rent, Greater Ohio Policy Center recently studied national models emerging in Ohio that seek to rebuild neighborhoods tainted with abandoned homes. GOPC’s assessments of projects in Columbus’ Weinland Park and Cleveland’s Slavic Village show that Sandel and Thomas’ vision of rehabilitating blighted properties into safe and affordable housing can be successful.

Sandel explained that the link between housing and health is not at all a new concept; in fact, a report was published in 1911 confirming housing’s vital role as a basis for good health. In the modern era, this relationship still exists but historical worries such as fire hazards and threats of tuberculosis have subsided thanks to modern building codes. Instead, the affordable housing gap between wages and rents is the most pressing cause for unease. Even in a state where housing is generally considered cheap, a quarter of Ohio residents pay at least half of their income on rent alone. Moreover, of the 54,000 families in central Ohio, there are 1,500 people experiencing homelessness.

These stats make for grim reading but Sandel and Thomas believe pulling together ideas and resources from nonprofits, policymakers, and business leaders will allow communities to more successfully and cost-effectively identify housing needs and enable struggling families to afford a roof over their heads. GOPC’s report found that collaborative investments in Weinland Park totaling $80 million by philanthropy groups, government agencies, and other stakeholders have contributed to the area’s increased stability. In fact, housing values in Weinland Park are more evenly distributed between low and high prices than before intervention, while subsidized housing helps protect vulnerable residents from being priced out of the market.

During her talk, Sandel emphasized that interventions should embrace devoting resources to entire neighborhoods at a time, rather than individual homes. GOPC documented that the Slavic Village Recovery Project strategy targeted a “critical mass” of over 300 properties to renovate and demolish, which reflects Sandel’s more holistic approach to revitalization. Finally, Sandel said her response to people who are unconvinced that communities can afford greater investment in reasonably priced housing is: “can you afford not to?” As a result of shrinking availability of affordable housing, we are already paying too much in terms of health services, special education, and fighting crime.

Cleveland & Lucas County Awarded Revitalization Assistance

September 18th, 2015

Congratulations to the city of Cleveland and Lucas County, Ohio for receiving the Technical Assistance Scholarship Program (TASP) from the Center for Community Progress! Via a competitive application process, Cleveland and Lucas County were two of the three communities to receive support in this round of technical assistance. Criteria for receiving this assistance were based on a number of factors including potential for innovation and demonstrated leadership to implement reform.

CCP will offer 200 hours of technical assistance to Cleveland and Lucas County in order to combat challenges such as property vacancy, abandonment, and tax delinquency currently facing these areas. Specifically, a team of national experts will lead staff trainings, provide legal and policy analysis, and publish tailored reports for improvement. The bulk of TASP’s leverage is made possible by JPMorgan Chase’s grant funding support. In this collaborative effort, JPMorgan Chase has shown a strong commitment to neighborhood revitalization through its support for the Center for Community Progress and local communities.

GOPC Staff Attends the 2015 Urban GOP Leadership Conference

August 17th, 2015

It is without a doubt that the first Republican Presidential Debate was the headlining event within the City of Cleveland last week. Along with the debate, the first Urban GOP Leadership Conference co-hosted by the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County (RPCC) and City GOP made quite a stir in the city as well.

The Conference brought together GOP Committeemen, State Chairs, and party activists and provided a platform to discuss opportunities to develop and grow their party in urban communities. One of the more notable discussions relevant to GOPC was the discussion during the “Youth Engagement Panel”. During the panel, it was good news to hear that both sides of the aisle will be fiercely competing for urban voters as we get closer to the 2016 Presidential Election.

Urban GOP Leadership Conference "Youth Engagement Panel"

Urban GOP Leadership Conference “Youth Engagement Panel”

Panelists acknowledged America’s urban cores are places of increasing in-migration and reinvestment. It was also noted that millennials in particular, adults between the ages of 18 and 34, have been the primary population responsible for this “reurbanization.” These changing demographics impact policy with ramifications in housing, transportation, and many other aspects included within economic development policy.

GOPC is excited to hear that urban voters are a top priority for both parties and is looking forward to learning their plans to improve the lives of those living in urban centers. It will be interesting to see how each party plans to win the hearts of urban voters and respond to economic development challenges so many cities in  America encounter.