1,400 New Retail/Service Jobs

When I approached this, I wanted to create a mathematical model that made it possible to reach our $3.8 million new revenue goal by 2020.  If we can do that, we can pave and do all the other city services needed each year in a sustainable fashion.

In the prior We Need New Revenues post, I laid out several sources of new revenues that would start rebuilding our ability to provide all city services in a sustainable, year to year fashion.   So now we are up to new Retail and Service positions.   I hope to create, over the next five years, 1,400 New Full Time Equivalent Retail/Service Jobs averaging $10/hr.  That, in turn, would bring in an additional $509,600 per  year in new income tax revenue.

So how do we get there?   One bite at a time.   What if, by 2020:

The Towne Mall was 70% full instead of 70% empty?    Towne Mall has added Gabes, Burlington Coat Factory, and now Planet Fitness.  We will get the benefit of those new jobs starting in 2016.   We will be announcing two new Mall businesses starting construction soon, one a large restaurant and the other a mid-sized business with multiple locations around the country.

If you drive by the mall, you’ll see that the outside ring has been paved and they are installing a new sign for the Mall entrance.   We have engaged Buxton to help us recruit retail throughout the City and we will be working with the Mall owners to help them fill the remaining mall storefronts and the outlots.  Given all of the new investment and new business within the last year, I don’t believe it is a stretch to set a goal that the mall will be at least 70% full by 2020.

Downtown was 70% full instead of 70% empty?  I keep hearing “why do we care about downtown?”  Three answers;  First, because there is a lot of potential for new business downtown; second, because downtown is one of the many city areas, like the mall, like the airport, like our open industrial and commercial areas, where there are opportunities to expand jobs and new business in the City.  To ignore any one of them leaves us operating at less than our best; and third, because most resurging older cities are seeing tremendous interest in downtown, urban living.   I try to stay up on what other cities are doing successfully across the country.  There is a renewed interest in community and downtowns around the country.  Places like Liberty Township, who don’t have a downtown, are trying to capture that interest and create a downtown feel with Liberty Center, an area with walkable streets, outside shops, and apartment living on the Center grounds.

Downtown already has a nice start.  Let’s let them finish what they’ve started.  Downtown Middletown Inc., will be completing a new Master Plan for downtown in 2016 based on the Main Street Concept.  Google it if you get a chance.  In 2015, a housing study was completed for downtown that demonstrated demand for over 1,000 new residential housing units in the next 10 years.  I’m not sure I buy into that number, but even if it is a couple hundred new condos/apartments, etc., over the next decade, there is going to be a demand for resident neighborhood services nearby.

The Butler Metroparks River Center is still on path to start construction this spring.  The $1.2 million center will offer meeting rooms and amenities along the bike path.   Speaking of the bike path, we want to look at connecting the bike path to downtown and we have gathered most of the funding to complete the bike trail between Middletown and Franklin in 2020.

Windamere Events Center is open and booking weddings.

What if Sorg Opera House got open during the next five years and was having concerts on a regular basis?

Central Tap & Pint is under construction.  Cincinnati Pizza by the Slice has bought the old Buck’s Tavern with plans to open a new location.  Liberty Spirits is planning to be open before the end of 2016.  One Bistro restaurant is seeking a permanent location downtown.  Downtown business is slowly starting to creep up Central Avenue towards University.

We have the first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area in Ohio and hope to be utilizing it well over the next few years with music and events downtown.

The Manchester Inn and Sonshine building continue to struggle to come to fruition but I still believe there is potential to bring these projects to construction within the next few years.  I hope it will be much sooner, but these are risky projects and getting sufficient investment to start construction is taking more patience than I’m happy with, but it is what it is.

Most of this is now happening with little City support.  We started the investment by partnering with BeauVerre on their building.  We added Cincinnati State, Pendleton Arts Center and now  Windamere through city owned buildings.  Now that many of those places are established, we can get to more of a support role instead of leading the pack.

I think it is reasonable to set a goal of having downtown storefronts 70% full by 2020, with the supporting retail/service jobs associated with those new businesses.

I have one other concept for the residents to think about on downtown and other areas of town with dilapidated buildings… what do we, as a city, do with absentee owners who do not or can not take care of their buildings?  I keep hearing “let the private market take care of the situation.”  OK…then what do we do as a city when the private market fails?  Look at the old Middletown Journal building, the old library on First Avenue, and the Reed Klopp building on Central Avenue.  They are all in severe states of disrepair.  There is reason to believe that none of the existing owners have resources sufficient to stabilize and redevelop the buildings.  That means I can 1) ignore the problem until it becomes another Orman building or Rose Furniture and collapses, and then we have to take action as a public safety issue; (after billing for demolition, we foreclose and likely own the vacant lot); 2) I can abate the nuisance, bill the owner and then take ownership of the building when the owner can’t/doesn’t pay the taxes… (oops, we are owning buildings again);  or we can take action to seize the building while it is still in ok shape and try to put it back into play after spending tax dollars to stabilize, repair, etc., (oops, owning buildings again.).   I don’t have any interest in owning and redeveloping buildings.  However, there comes a time when the market fails and the city is the only one left to take action.  The question really is “when is the right time to take action and under what conditions?”  We struggle with that question often.

East End

There are 600 acres on the East End by Interstate 75.  As we add new businesses near AK Steel’s Research and Innovation Center, there is going to be a growing need for support services such as the new gas station going in at the old Putt Putt lot and a need for additional restaurants, etc., in support of Atrium, AK Steel, and other new businesses.

Commercial Shopping Centers

Finally, we have many shopping centers around town in various stages of repair and vacancy.  I will be reaching out to the owners and property managers over time with an invitation to partner with owners to make repairs and clean up of those properties in return for the City using Buxton to assist them in filling empty spaces.  There are certainly opportunities all over town to add local, regional, and national retailers to those properties.  The City of Columbus has a nice program to assist local business owners and we’ll be looking at how we could adapt that program here.

Just between Gabe’s, Burlington Coat Factory and Planet fitness you have a couple hundred new jobs. Getting 1,400 new jobs won’t be a sprint.  It will be a marathon.  15 jobs here.  50 jobs there.  Every large restaurant helps.  Every mom and pop shop helps.  Every retailer recruited to fill an empty shopping center helps.  We take advantage of opportunities and do the right thing every day and we can hit this number.

Have a great day!


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