Delaware News

Delaware will keep carrying development flag in 2014

Leaders predict economic growth will continue; fire station, dog park in works

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

City of Delaware officials plan to continue to push economic development efforts in 2014, starting with a staff reorganization.

Under the reorganization, economic development staff will fall directly under City Manager Tom Homan's purview.

"That will give us the ability to have a point person reporting directly to me," he said.

Dan Whited, former assistant city manager, will head a unified public services group that combines the public works, public utilities and community development departments. Jackie Walker, former administrative services director, will become the new assistant city manager.

Homan said the reorganization will improve workload-sharing and cut down on redundancies without layoffs.

"(The departments) work quite well together now, but we think we can improve the way they work," he said.

City spokesman Lee Yoakum said the city followed up on 121 economic-development leads in 2013 in the sectors of manufacturing and industry, retail and restaurant, and technology and office. That led to 15 projects, expected to create 234 new or expanded jobs and $2.8 million in new or expanded payroll after the projects are completed.

Homan said the city exceeded its economic-development expectations in 2013. He credited some of that growth to the city's relationship with Columbus 2020, a regional economic-development agency with the goal of adding 150,000 new jobs throughout 11 central Ohio counties by 2020.

"They filled a void we had in economic development at the regional level," Homan said.

The city's downtown is one area Homan said he expects will continue to see an increased amount of interest in 2014 from shoppers and potential business owners.

"You can't go through downtown and not see new businesses going in," he said.

Homan said the city will continue its efforts to foster downtown growth with revolving loans for businesses and maintenance on streets and streetscape projects.

He said the city also plans to take action on parking downtown in 2014. He said the city does not plan to add new lots or decks, but officials do want to make sure residents and visitors are aware of where they can park through education and improved signs.

He said the idea that the city's downtown has a parking problem is not completely true.

"I think some of it's perception and some of it's reality," he said. "We have more available parking than (many) people realize."

New tenants and improvements downtown are just a portion of the good development news for Delaware, officials said. City records show increases in income-tax revenue, as well as the amount of commercial and residential permits issued, in 2013 compared with 2012.

City officials forecast more growth in 2014.

The city issued more single-family home permits in 2013 than any year since the recession began.

Homan said developers who had paused projects because of the economic climate of the last five years now are coming back to the city.

"We're seeing projects we were granting extensions for ... are getting final approval and ready to get ahead," he said.

Delaware officials said the city's infrastructure-improvement efforts also served as a message to businesses and residents that the city is preparing for the future.

Homan said work on the city's $30.4 million water-treatment plant expansion and renovation, which he said is "the largest public-works project the city has ever undertaken," will continue in 2014.

The project, paid for in part by a three-year water-rate increase from 2010-12, will allow the city to serve a growing customer base and meet updated Ohio Environmental Protection Agency standards.

"Infrastructure is always an important part to not only serving our community but businesses as well," Homan said.

Yoakum said the first phase of the project -- the installation of a new membrane filtration plant -- should wrap up this summer. Then, city workers will start dismantling and rehabilitating the city's current treatment plant.

He said the project has been lengthy due to its size and the city's need to continue operations during construction.

"You can't shut (operations) down completely," Yoakum said. "You have to be able to continue to make and distribute water."

The entire project should be completed in 2015.

The city may follow up another major improvement completed in 2013 with a sequel in 2014.

Homan said the city's administration and fire department officials will be "planning actively" for a fourth fire station in the southeastern section of the city.

The city opened its third fire station, on West Central Avenue near Grady Memorial Hospital, in September 2013.

"We'll be coming up with a game plan for the design, construction and opening" of the fourth fire station, Homan said.

He said construction could start late this year.

The city also will continue to expand its network of bike paths and plan for a city dog park in 2014.

Homan said the city could undertake more improvements in 2014 if not for a reduction in state aid. He said the city will continue to operate on about $1 million less in revenue per year because of cuts to local government funding and the elimination of the inheritance tax.

In his 2014 budget message to Delaware City Council, Homan said the city needs to continue to push state officials for the restoration of some of that funding in 2014.

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