As the country emerged from the "Great Recession" in 2012, the city of Westerville saw an uptick in private development and sought to invest and improve its infrastructure.

As the country emerged from the "Great Recession" in 2012, the city of Westerville saw an uptick in private development and sought to invest and improve its infrastructure.

Here's a look back at the Top 10 city stories of the year from the pages of ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion:

Kyoto Tea House demolished

In January, the city brought about the end of an era as it demolished the former Kyoto Tea House and Shinto Shrine in January.

The tea house was built by the Henderson family in 1958 as an homage to Japanese culture, and a Shinto Shrine -- built in Japan and assembled on the Uptown property -- was added in 1964.

For decades, the house and museum bought groups of children through the converted Westerville home to expose them to Japanese culture.

However, the property fell into disrepair after the Henderson family sold it in 2005. It changed hands twice before going into foreclosure.

The city purchased the property in 2010 for $125,000 and determined the property was too badly damaged to be restored.

City staff continues to work with developers and a community committee on how the Uptown property could be redeveloped.

The Shinto Shrine, which was removed from the property in 2005, remains in storage at the Franklin Park Conservatory.

City launches data center

Westerville became the first municipality in the country to own its own data center.

The 16,000-square-foot WeConnect Community Data Center, 35 Collegeview Road, was dedicated March 1.

Aimed at providing data-storage and Internet services to local organizations and businesses, as well as the city, the data center includes 8,000 square feet of secured storage space that can house up to 230 cages for data storage.

The $5.4-million center was paid for with an advance from the city, but WeConnect was established as the city's fourth utility, meaning that it will be supported by its revenue, not by city subsidies.

The data center connects to Westerville's fiber-optic network, and private Internet service providers can link into the center to provide Internet access through the city's fiber network, meaning customers won't need to pay for fiber hookups each time they contract with a new Internet company.

In addition to providing for the city's data-storage needs, the center is meant to serve as an economic-development tool for the city, providing small and medium-sized businesses with high-speed Internet and data storage services at a lower cost.

Children's Hospital expands

Nationwide Children's Hospital opened its third building in Westerville in April.

The hospital's first off-site surgery center, the 46,000-square-foot ambulatory services facility at 455 Executive Campus Drive offers outpatient dental, dermatological, orthopedic, ear-nose-and-throat and plastic surgeries.

The surgery center features 12 private pre-operative rooms, four operating rooms, two stages of recovery areas, a waiting room for parents and a drive-up area where parents can pick up their children after surgery.

As the surgery center becomes more established, Nationwide Children's officials anticipate that about 5,000 operations will be performed there each year.

The building's second story houses pediatric specialty suites providing services in gastroenterology; orthopedic surgery; ear, nose and throat; pediatric surgery; plastic surgery and urology.

With the Children's Close to Home and sports medicine facility that already existing in Westerville, the opening of the ambulatory surgery center made Nationwide Children's Westerville campus the Columbus hospital's largest off-site campus.

Hospital officials acknowledged that they could look to add a fourth building to the site in the future.

OhioHealth opens second building, emergency room

OhioHealth also expanded its Westerville Medical Campus in 2012, opening a 48,000-square-foot emergency department at 260 Polaris Parkway in June.

The full-service emergency department houses two triage rooms, 16 patient beds, a resuscitation room, labs and a pharmacy, as well as on-site radiology and cardiology services.

The center is staffed by 25 doctors and 30 mid-level providers, such as nurse practitioners, with a total staff of around 100 people. It operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

With only 10 percent of emergency-room patients being admitted to hospitals on average, those running the OhioHealth stand-alone emergency department said they expected to be able to handle the vast majority of patients, with a goal of getting patients in and out of the door within 90 minutes.

For patients who do need to be transferred to hospitals for admittance, they will travel with all of the information on their emergency-room assessments, meaning they would be able to bypass the emergency department at another hospital.

The emergency department was constructed so that more rooms could easily be added in the future, if demand warrants it.

City grants encourage Uptown improvements

Westerville's historic Uptown district got a facelift in 2012, as the city provided matching grant funds to businesses through its Uptown Facade Improvement Program.

Ten Uptown business and property owners received grants totaling just more than $100,000 in grants to improve buildings to help restore some of their historically significant features.

With businesses and building owners putting forward some of their own funds toward projects, the total investment in Uptown improvements through the project was projected to be $422,000, with grants ranging from $550 to $15,000.

New Walmart and renovation at Westerville Square

The Hadler Cos. broke ground June 14 on improvements and an expansion to its Westerville Square Shopping Center.

Plans for the center involve tearing down three storefronts totaling 90,500 square feet to construct a smaller-than-usual 108,000-square-foot Walmart. The rest of the center's facade is being renovated to match the new construction.

In addition to the expansion and renovation, the $16 million investment in the center includes the construction of ornamental walls, the creation of more green space and the installation of public art.

The renovations were expected to be completed and the Walmart is expected to open in spring of 2013.

The Hadler Cos. plan to expand the center generated a lot of controversy in 2011, which included lengthy, heated public debate between the city and the developer at city council meetings and planning commission meetings.

The controversy culminated in a citizen-driven effort to place a referendum before Westerville voters to overturn city council's decision to allow the renovation and construction of a Walmart.

Ultimately, that attempt failed when the Franklin County Board of Elections determined that residents failed to collect enough signatures to place the referendum on the November 2011 ballot.

City dedicates improvements to South State Street

Westerville celebrated the improvement of its southern gateway in October as city officials dedicated South State Street.

From Huber Village Boulevard to just south of Schrock Road, Westerville spent more than $7 million to bury overhead utility lines, widen the road, replace traffic lights with mast-arm signals, widen sidewalks, add streetlights and enhance landscaping.

The city rebuilt portions of Heatherdown Drive and Huber Village Boulevard and created brick features at the intersection.

Where the city ended its improvements to the south, the Ohio Department of Transportation continued with project that improved state Route 3 from Huber Village Boulevard to state Route 161 and reconstructed the ramps at Interstate 270.

The city plans to extend the improvements north, through the Schrock Road intersection to the entrance to the Westerville Square Shopping Center on South State Street.

That project is being designed now, and with the city planning to work on right-of-way acquisition in 2013, relocate utility lines in 2014 and construct the roadway in 2015.

City, Blendon Twp. collaborate on economic development

Westerville and Blendon Township expanded their relationship this year as they created a joint economic development zone.

With the zone, which was approved by Blendon Township voters in the Nov. 6 election, Westerville will apply its 2-percent income tax to Blendon Township's commercial properties and undeveloped residential properties.

Some of that money will be retained for tax collection by Westerville and for the administrative costs of the board that oversees the joint economic development zone.

Of the remaining money, which is projected to be about $2.5 million a year, Westerville will retain 30 percent to provide economic development services to Blendon Township.

Blendon Township plans to use its portion of the money to make infrastructure improvements to Westerville Road and its park system, as well as potentially offer tax incentives to businesses.

As its voters approved the joint economic development zone, Blendon Township also was granted home-rule authority by voters.

Under that, Blendon Township now will be able to create its own water and sewer districts and strike incentive agreements with businesses.

City approves large-scale apartment complex

As 2012 came to a close, Westerville City Council took the next steps to developing the northwest corner of the city.

In November, council approved a proposal by developers Trivium and NP Limited to construct a 504-unit apartment complex on 54 acres west of Alum Creek between Polaris Parkway and County Line Road.

The development, dubbed the Ravines at Westar, generated controversy from residents along County Line Road and Taylor Way, as it exceeds the city's code for density.

With the development of the apartment complex, the city plans to create a new north-south roadway between Polaris Parkway and County Line Road -- an extension of Worthington Road -- as well as east-west connector to Olde Worthington Road at Orion Place.

Presidential elections come to Westerville

While economic development dominated much of the city news for Westerville in 2012, the community couldn't avoid getting wrapped up in the 2012 presidential election.

During the course of the election, the city was visited by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as well as other presidential campaign player, such as Republican primary contender Rick Santorum.