As 2014 begins, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said he is optimistic about the year ahead for Grove City.
"I continue to be extremely optimistic about the future of our community," Stage said. "We will continue to work and continue to maintain our hometown, neighborhood culture. We want Grove City to be a neighborhood."
In 2014, Grove City can expect a number of private projects to continue moving forward, including the opening of the Mount Carmel Health System emergency care facility and medical office building on North Meadow Drive, which is expected some time this month.
Also in the pipeline for 2014 is what Stage said is the "renaissance of downtown" Grove City. Demolition work is currently underway at what will be the site of the new Grove City Library, at the intersection of Broadway and Grant Avenue. Ground is expected to be broken this year on construction of the new library at the site.
"I'd love to have a ground breaking by May or June," Stage said.
The city and the Pizzuti Cos. are currently in negotiations over a financial and development agreement for the other component of the Town Center redevelopment: the repurposing of the City Hall building at 4035 Broadway for restaurant and office space, and the construction of four new, three-story, multifamily buildings on the site that would house 120 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Stage in December said the city was expecting a more detailed proposal from Pizzuti by the end of 2013.
Another component of future development impacting the Town Center is Beulah Park. Stage said the city would continue to work with Penn National and whoever might step up as a developer for the Beulah Park property, currently up for sale. The horse racing track will hold its final races this spring.
"That really is a whole gateway into the Town Center," he said. "We do want to preserve part of it for the community ... (and) we do want it to be mixed use."
Stage said a number of potential developers have sent out "feelers" regarding Beulah Park but nothing is definite at this point.
"We've all shared with them our framework because that really is our guide at this point," he said. "In the best world, it's a joint project between the developer and the city."
Grove City also anticipates development plans for the planned new Byers Auto dealership sometime in the spring.
"That brings a whole new retail world," Stage said. "We have not seen a development plan yet. ... I suspect sometime in the spring."
To help make Grove City a full-service community, it needs a place of higher learning, a goal that has not gotten the attention it requires, Stage said.
"That is a goal for next year," he said. "We need that and want it."
Stage said there are ongoing talks with Ashland University and Columbus State, and the city is looking for a low-rent facility to fit the bill.
"We're keeping the lines of communication open, but we've got to get somebody focused on it," Stage said.
Another goal for 2014 is to expand the "world of culture" at the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum, Stage said.
"We want to give that a boost," he said.
Stage said the city intends to work with the newly formed Grove City Historical Commission to have someone man and operate the museum full-time, be supported by volunteers and help promote performing arts.
The No. 1 concern for Grove City, Stage said, remains sustaining income.
"We know we've been very fortunate to sustain our revenue sources," Stage said.
Grove City will continue its opposition to Ohio Substitute House Bill 5, a measure passed by the Ohio House of Representatives in November that proponents have said is needed to create uniformity in the state's municipal income tax system and ease compliance burdens for businesses in Ohio.
"We're still fighting it," Stage said. "It's an additional drain on our income, and therefore we're going to object to it."
City Council formally passed a resolution opposing the bill on Nov. 18, on the grounds that the bill is not revenue-neutral for municipalities and intrudes on home rule.
"We think think local government is the still the best government and most efficient -- the most responsive," Stage said. "We have concern about the infringement from the state on home rule. We will actively monitor that."
From the federal level, Stage said the city will watching how the Affordable Care Act impacts businesses in the community, particularly small ones.
"The medical insurance is a concern, not necessarily for the city but for our employers," he said. "Being able to hire and grow jobs is an imperative for us."
Two other major projects in 2014 are the Demorest Road Dog Park and the Little League Dream Field at Windsor Park that would be accessible to children of all abilities.
Chamber of Commerce
Shawn Conrad, executive director of the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce, expects to have a busy 2014, in part by working to develop personal relationships between the chamber and its members.
"I'm looking to meet with as many of the business members (of the chamber) as I can," she said, adding that the chamber has more than 500 members.
The chamber also is currently developing a strategic plan to "more cohesively" align its efforts with it mission statement, Conrad said. That includes codifying procedures, policies and other steps. The document, Conrad said, is anticipated to be ready some time in the first quarter of the year.
"We are going to look to expand some of our member benefits," she said. "We want our members to know whether it's business support, education or community support, we want to be there for them to go to."
Conrad has officially been on the job since Oct. 1, when she filled the vacancy left by the previous director, Bill Diehl, who retired early in 2013.
"It's very challenging, and it's very exciting," she said. "I love the learning part of it."
This year, Grove City Town Center Inc. is "thinking outside the box" as the organization seeks to expand benefits for its members and find a method to self-fund, said executive director Andy Furr.
"We're reaching out," Furr said. "This year could be a pivotal year for the Town Center."
In December 2012, City Council approved an agreement with the Town Center group to provide up to $75,000 in reimbursements a year from 2013 through 2015 to help stimulate economic development and market the historic downtown area, and Furr said it will be a priority in 2014 for the organization to seek other financing options.
"We operate on a small budget," he said. "There are grants out there that are available."
In addition to compiling a list of grants to apply, the organization will be drive up its membership, extending it beyond the Town Center as well as outside Grove City, Furr said.
"Currently, we have 72 business members and 18 individual members," he said. "To us, there would never be a maximum. The more the better."
This effort will be geared more toward larger corporations and businesses in the region, Furr said.
"One thing we do not want membership that would be in competition to the member businesses that have supported us," he said.
Targeted new benefits for members likely will include seminars on social media and advertising, energy saving programs and Q-and-A sessions with city employees about such topics as the sign code and business block watches with the police.
Along with the return of established event such as the Wine and Arts Festival and the Sidewalk Craft Sale, the Town Center will look to add more events to attract people downtown and promote the businesses there, including a possible Jimmy Buffet-themed Parrothead Party.
"That's one thing we've been in discussion about," Furr said. "We definitely appreciate the support of the businesses in the community, and we look forward to an exciting, wonderful year."