Pickerington could boost development by offering tax abatements, marketing available land and being more welcoming to businesses and builders, according to a Columbus Board of Realtors group.

Pickerington could boost development by offering tax abatements, marketing available land and being more welcoming to businesses and builders, according to a Columbus Board of Realtors group.

Some of central Ohio's foremost figures in real estate and development toured Pickerington on Aug. 26 and offered advice for developing Diley Road and other key city corridors.

The meeting with city officials, including development director Susan Crotty, city manager Bill Vance and city engineer Greg Bachman, marked the start of a renewed effort by the CBR's Board of Consultants to provide residential and commercial development expertise to Columbus-area suburbs.

The CBR was represented by its president, Sue Lusk-Gleich; Greg Hrabcak, an agent with Real Living Business/The Commercial Partnership; Gary Parsons, CBR past president and a Realtor with Cam Taylor Co. Ltd. Realtors; Donald Roberts, first vice president of CB Richard Ellis Inc.'s central Ohio offices; John Royer, president of Kohr Royer Griffith Inc.; Charlotte Van Steyn, co-owner of RE/MAX central Ohio offices; and Robert Weiler, chairman of The Robert Weiler Co.

In addition to touring undeveloped land along Diley Road and throughout Pickerington, the CBR board offered advice for city leaders seeking to generate new revenue through development.

Chief among their suggestions was to begin offering tax abatements and other incentives to prospective developers.

"Incentives are what it's about today," Royer said. "If you don't have the ability to offer abatements, it's tougher to compete."

Last month, city council approved legislation to allow Pickerington to extend performance grants to companies in the health care, research and development, technology and financial services industries that decide to move, locate corporate headquarters or expand in the city. The policy allows the city to extend cash grants to businesses in those industries that meet negotiated performance expectations related to job creation.

CBR board members said those incentives are a good start, but they're also more difficult to explain to developers than more conventional tax abatements, tax increment financing deals and other incentives currently being offered by other municipalities.

They noted other incentive packages also help drive infrastructure construction because new and expanding businesses often agree to build roads, utilities and other infrastructure in lieu of paying property or income taxes over a designated period.

"It used to be 'location, location, location,'" Royer said. "Now it's incentives, incentives, incentives."

Another step the city could take, board members said, is to place signs on large pieces of property it hopes to market to potential developers. During a van tour of Pickerington, various members noted the city has developable land, but prospective developers might not know that because the properties don't have signs indicating their availability.

Additionally, board members echoed sentiments frequently whispered in recent years by local business owners that city officials could be more business-friendly by providing incentives and tools for expansion, as well as assisting new and existing businesses through various permitting processes.

"The big thing with development is going where you're wanted," Weiler said. "There was a time when Pickerington was closing down housing and I think you need a new image.

"Instead of it being, 'Why are you coming here?' ask, 'What can I do for you?' It needs to be to the extent that you're not delaying (prospective developers). You're not hassling them and you're not tabling things five times."

Board members said Pickerington has a number of attractive parcels and a solid school system; plus, its access to Interstate 70 and U.S. Route 33 are key development strengths.

While most CBR members approved of the city's plan to build on health care and other medical-related offices in the Diley Road corridor, they cautioned city officials about maintaining a narrow development focus.

"I'm all for doing great plans, but you've got to let the market drive you," Royer said. "If somebody comes in with something that makes sense, you've got to go with it."

They also said officials should reach out to existing cornerstone companies such as RG Barry Corp., the American Motorcycle Association and Volunteer Energy, to help promote Pickerington, as well as discuss expansion of their businesses and future development projects.