So, over the past few weeks I’ve talked about the revenues we need to return to providing needed public services year after year. We’ve talked about how we might generate those revenues. We need new business and new families and improving property values and a strong quality of life.
The plan I’ve laid out for you up to this point is intended to be the skeleton of the plan. We know where we need to be with revenues and we know the types of things that could reach those revenue goals.We know that we need to pave, maintain water and sewer, and add quality of life back for our residents… about $4 million additional dollars per year.
Now how do we turn the model above into reality and how do we make sure we are moving in the direction that the residents want for their city? A lot of 2016 will be spent trying to answer those questions. The pieces generated this year will lead to a new City Master Plan in 2017. Those pieces include:
The Community Building Institute and Middletown Moving Forward have conducted almost 40 focus group discussions asking residents and business owners “What do you want Middletown to be? What is missing? What would you like to see change or added to the city?” As they finish this process, it should give us a picture of what types of changes would benefit our residents, make them happier, and in turn, make this a better place to live, work and play, which in turn, makes Middletown a more attractive place to bring your family or business. The Master Plan should address what we have to have in revenues, but it must reflect what our citizens expect from their government. We look forward to those results.
Downtown Master Plan
Downtown Middletown, Inc., has been working with downtown property owners to select a consultant to prepare a new downtown Master Plan. The last one was completed around 2008-2009 and contemplated a rail station that never materialized. The recession created problems and opportunities and now the downtown has or will open about 20 businesses that weren’t there just five years ago. The new downtown plan will be based on the Main Street concept and provide details on business support, branding, amenities, style, and housing to make downtown the most sustainable and vibrant it can be moving forward. After it is completed, I expect to change out the street lights (which are at the end of their useful life) with some new style of light, and then add benches, trash cans, and other amenities consistent with the new plan. As we continue to gear up our public relations efforts, we will be marketing city-wide and downtown events to the region. Downtown is one of many areas that will receive specific attention during the next few years.
We have a new City Planner, a new Zoning Administrator and the City will be adopting in 2016 a new zoning code. Our current code was written predominantly in the 1960’s and the style of zoning law in Ohio has changed since that time. The old code does not contemplate things that didn’t exist in the 1960’s. We have an ongoing discussion underway right now about food trucks and whether they can operate in the city. The old code doesn’t define them and never contemplated their use or prohibition. When enacted this year, the City should have one of the most modern zoning codes in the State of Ohio.
Airport Layout Plan
I’ve discussed in previous posts the need to expand airport operations and to generate as much economic development out of the airport property as possible. We have a preliminary plan that lays out additional tourism opportunities, industrial/manufacturing acreage and backfilling of the existing facility when completed. The next step is to update the Airport Layout Plan with the Federal Aviation Administration, laying out the details of the plan. Once that process is complete and approved by the FAA, we can start adding new business to the airport.
I have spent the last few months meeting with local real estate professionals including realtors, home builders and landlords (they own almost 50% of our housing stock) to understand their perspective and challenges in today’s real estate market. Our property values have not rebounded as quickly as other communities. Our effective tax rate is higher than some other communities. We have an older and smaller housing stock than many other communities. We have almost 400 vacant residential lots from demolition during the recession. My goal is to create a housing strategy that over time raises values, aids in recruitment of families, and builds a housing stock that allows families to move up and move down in price and size while staying in Middletown. What is the best balance in today’s market of rental vs. home ownership? The best balance of multi-family vs. single family rentals? The best balance of new vs. old vs. historical? The best balance of two, three and four bedroom houses? What is the best use of the vacant lots? We hope to start answering those questions this year.
This is a fancy term for “how do we move people around town?” How do we improve the way we use automobiles, transit buses, bicycles and pedestrian traffic? How do we make it faster and easier to get from downtown to the highway and back again? How do we improve the health of our community by providing better walking and bicycle options throughout the city? How do we use transit not just to move people, but as an economic development tool to get people to and from work? How do we utilize the latest in traffic signals, etc., to speed up auto traffic throughout the city? We hope to develop viable alternatives through this process.
East End Plan
The City developed a comprehensive East End plan before the recession hit. We will be looking at that plan closely to determine if it is still relevant or whether changes need to be made to reflect today’s market opportunities. The development of Austin Landing, Union Center and now Liberty Center may show us better and more modern approaches to development around the highway than were originally contemplated before the recession.
So… as we complete these items, a vision starts to come together. We know what we need… $4 million extra dollars each year to complete needed city services. We know the types of things that can generate that additional money… new families, new jobs, improved property values, etc. Now we use the information above to create the path to the goal. Not an aspirational plan but a strategic plan designed to bring us back to sustainability using the city residents’ vision of what they would like their city to become. In 2017, we put the whole package together.
Have a great day!