Whitehall officials anticipate significant economic growth in 2014 while efforts continue to improve the residential parts of the city.

Whitehall officials anticipate significant economic growth in 2014 while efforts continue to improve the residential parts of the city.

"We expect 2014 to be an exciting year for development and economic growth and employment in Whitehall," said Development Director Zach Woodruff.

Priority Designs is expected to open during the third quarter of the year.

The company plans to relocate from Gahanna to occupy the former Bill Swad Chevrolet dealership at 100 S. Hamilton Road, which has been vacant for about five years.

Priority Designs will invest about $2.5 million in improvements to the site and bring 60 full-time jobs with a total payroll of about $4.3 million.

"Priority Designs will be a catalyst for other great projects," Woodruff said.

The city is focusing on such projects for North and South Hamilton Road, Poth Road and the western end of East Main Street.

Woodruff said the city is pursuing several opportunities for development on Poth Road for 2014, but "nothing has the ink dry."

"We think it is the area that holds the most potential," said Woodruff, who estimated there is about 1 million square feet of underdeveloped property on Poth Road, including the former Kroger distribution center.

To bolster commercial development along the westernmost sections of East Main Street in Whitehall, the city is selling bonds to finance a project to construct a landscaped median.

The city will invest an estimated $1.2 million, via the sale of bonds, to convert a section of East Main Street, between Collingwood and Maplewood avenues, into a boulevard with a median containing greenery and a stamped concrete entrance sign welcoming visitors to Whitehall.

The 150-foot median is the first of a series of similar features planned for the city's thoroughfares and meant to delineate Whitehall from neighboring Columbus.

Tax-increment financing revenue will be used to retire the bond debt, Woodruff said.

Whitehall plans to lay the groundwork in 2014 to retain and attract businesses to the city in the future.

"Our technology and development departments will be implementing a plan this year to develop fiber optics," Mayor Kim Maggard said.

Once installed, the city would offer improved access to communication service providers and high-capacity broadband that will make the city more attractive to corporate clientele, city officials said.

Construction of the new Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library will continue in 2014, but the opening likely will not occur until early 2015, Woodruff said.

In step with commercial development in the city, Whitehall officials also plan to take steps to improve residential aesthetics, both through enforcement and assistance programs.

Following the lead of a policy in neighboring Columbus, Maggard said she wants to create a directory of vacant and abandoned properties in the city.

The city's code enforcement office has a general idea of the location of such properties, but not a detailed list, Maggard said.

"Finding the owners can take a lot of work," as some own property under more than one name or entity, she said.

Maggard also plans to craft new legislation in 2014 to increase the penalties for repeat violators of the city's property maintenance codes.

"There are owners who are found in violation and cited (more than once)," she said. "I would like to see stricter penalties for repeat offenders as a further deterrent."

Reducing the frequency of property code violations not only improves aesthetics, but helps to reduce crime, Maggard said.

In another effort to improve aesthetics and compliance with property codes, Maggard wants to establish a public assistance program to help individual private property owners make necessary repairs.

Similar to the existing My Home Program, which provides financial assistance to purchase a residence, Maggard said she hopes to create a program to assist existing homeowners with financial assistance to make repairs and upgrades.

Matching funds likely would be part of the program, but details have yet to be established, Maggard said.