For years, Westerville residents have seen plenty of planning, preparation and infrastructure work that promised to bring new economic opportunities to the city. Many of those developments now are coming to fruition, as a variety of projects have been completed or launched.

For years, Westerville residents have seen plenty of planning, preparation and infrastructure work that promised to bring new economic opportunities to the city. Many of those developments now are coming to fruition, as a variety of projects have been completed or launched.

"It's exciting," says Economic Development Director Jason Bechtold. "It's a team effort. They're all community-based projects where it takes a lot of great people to make it happen. From business to developments to the community, that alignment that we have is really special, compared to other cities even across the country. That alignment and focus on economic development is something that's very attractive to businesses, and we're seeing a lot of great interest in coming to the community because of that alignment."

Businesses and initiatives are springing up throughout the city, from the north side near Polaris Parkway, through the historic Uptown and into the south side. As districts develop, business leaders' unique approaches and focuses have allowed these areas to thrive through a combination of guidance and organic growth.

City officials aren't focusing on large- or small-scale companies, but on fitting the pieces together. The momentum of each project has helped create what local officials say is one of central Ohio's strongest business landscapes.

Here's a look at how three areas of the city are evolving.

Uptown

Westerville's historic district has been in the midst of a renaissance.

Boutiques and businesses that were run more as a hobby than a career have largely been replaced by entrepreneurial owners and up-and-coming stores and restaurants that fit more in Columbus's Short North than in older versions of Uptown.

Between 2015 and 2016, Uptown Deli and Brew, Koble Greek-Italian Grill, Asterisk Supper Club and 8 State Bistro all debuted, adding a nightlife element that brought extended hours at other businesses and a more pedestrian-friendly experience.

Council Chairman Craig Treneff says Uptown is "nothing like" when he moved to Westerville in the late 1980s -- in a good way.

Bechtold says the new mix of businesses has changed the culture of the area. "When you see the balance of retail and restaurants integrated in the historic district of Uptown, it's about feet on the streets," he says. "When people drive by, they see people walking to different shops and amenities, going to dinner or picking up ice cream or popcorn and doing some shopping. Your staying power for that customer lasts a lot longer when you have a balance for people to shop and eat."

Uptown has been attractive to Northstar Cafe co-owner Darren Malhame for some time. The restaurateur says he's had his eye on a Westerville location since 2009, largely because of what Uptown offers.

For him, the area is a model community. "They are, in a very real way, creating the world that we all want to live in," he says. "No one that I know has this image of living next to a power center or something like that. That's the reality of life and perhaps some sort of efficiency, but it's not someplace anyone pictures themselves. Uptown is a place everyone wants to picture themselves."

Northstar will open its fourth central Ohio restaurant at 109 S. State St., joining locations in the Short North, Clintonville and Easton. Part of the new eatery sits on the site of the former Kyoto Tea House and Shinto Shrine. An opening date has not been set.

Malhame says Northstar's commitment to communities and local sourcing fit perfectly with what Uptown has created. "It was nothing as sophisticated as demographic analysis," he says. "It was much more sort of the way we operate our restaurants and select menu items. It's a place we want to be."

Bechtold praises city officials' work on the Uptown Plan and their commitment to facade improvements, both of which have resulted in a districtwide willingness to invest. Making business owners aware that the city is willing to help them succeed has been important, he says. "You can see that continued reinvestment," he says. "The foundational piece was, 'What's our strategy? What's our plan to make it an effective incentive program?' "

Malhame and other business owners have seen the benefits of that cohesive strategy. "It's clear that the people of Westerville have worked really hard at maintaining the character of that place," he says. "Everybody I know who lives in Westerville loves it. It's a great place to live and have a family and go to college. It's just a really cool retail district with people who actually walk around."

The North Side

From a collection of fields and empty land has sprung what could be Westerville's most dramatic economic focus. The city is working to develop large areas off Polaris Parkway, essentially connecting the popular commercial corridor and its many amenities with the booming Medical Mile along Cleveland Avenue.

The 941-acre Westar district, which was annexed into the city in 1995, will be divided into several sections, including the 62-acre Westar Place on the site of the Altair business park. The latter will be anchored by a Marriott Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center that will serve as the area's crown jewel. In the same sector, the city -- which still owns the majority of the property -- hopes to capitalize on the infrastructure support of the hotel as well as nearby retail and dining to lure new businesses.

"It's on course with the vision," Treneff says. "The vision was always primarily office jobs. You need supporting restaurants and some retail -- I don't know how much retail, we'll see -- but there's increasing interest now in offices, which is really the vision."

Bechtold says he sees momentum growing from west to east. A variety of businesses have opened in the Westar Neighborhood Retail Center, which sits at the edge of the city limits on Polaris Parkway between Worthington and Olde Worthington roads. The Ravines at Westar apartments are under construction nearby. From there, progress has spread east toward State Street and south toward County Line Road.

"You have the Ravines at Westar, the retail, the apartments; there's a lot of great business coming into that development, as well as a great opportunity for new residents in our community," Bechtold says.

Just south of Polaris Parkway, one of the Medical Mile's premier tenants already has taken advantage of the new space. Mount Carmel Health System has partnered with HealthSouth Corp. to build a 60,000-square-foot rehabilitation hospital at 597 Executive Campus Drive, for which ground was broken in April.

Richard Streck, Mount Carmel's executive vice president and chief clinical operations officer, credits the system's relationship with the city as one of the important factors in its continued investment, along with favorable demographics and a growing population. "Mount Carmel St. Ann's is the anchor health-care provider in the Westerville community, and as the Westerville community and surrounding areas continue to grow, we're seeking to meet that growing health-care need," he says. "As the community grows, we'll grow with it. It's just been a phenomenal series of developments over the last several years that has contributed to the growth. ... It's an interesting time."

Bechtold says health care is a natural fit because of the Medical Mile (see "Hot Spot," page 18). "We want to make sure our residents and people who work here have access to health care within close distances, so we very much want to promote that," he says. "And those momentum pieces you see ... all in this corridor, having four great medical service providers in our community, really speaks volumes that this is a place to get access to that kind of care."

Retail and restaurants along Polaris Parkway also are booming, with businesses such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market and Mutts & Co. already at Westar Neighborhood Retail Center and 101 Beer Kitchen on the way.

Co-owner John Lane opened a new Winking Lizard Tavern at 496 Polaris Parkway in April, and says the franchise has been a big success. He says the site was attractive even before he found out about Westar developments. "We've been known to go into spots and be able to see what's going to happen in a few years and get in on the ground floor when there's going to be big opportunities in the future," he says.

Even as other restaurants are drawn there, Lane says he's happy to be in an up-and-coming area. "I always think competition is good," he says.

Campus

The economic development occurring elsewhere in Westerville doesn't stop at Otterbein University. While the city and its partners work to attract and retain companies and jobs, the university is working to bolster the business community by aiding startups and keeping young talent nearby.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a region serious about economic development that is not looking for ways to retain talent," says Otterbein President Kathy Krendl. "If you look at the central Ohio region, we generate a lot of talented students who come out prepared to go to work. We try to make (Westerville) a place where students want to stay -- where they want to live and develop their careers. ... Our students are predominantly from Ohio; they want to stay in Ohio. Many of them remain in central Ohio."

University officials hope the new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Innovation Center will help foster collaborations throughout the city. The center, under construction at 60 Collegeview Road, will offer startups the chance to use its space and technology, while working with partnering companies to give students real-world experience and connections. According to a feasibility study, the center is estimated to create 200 jobs with a $16 million payroll and a $3.6 million local and state tax impact in five years.

Krendl says the concept grew from the Columbus 2020 initiative, Westerville's push for an innovation corridor and the university's existing plan to expand its systems engineering program.

Bechtold calls the STEAM Innovation Center "the grand slam of economic development." He says the center will be attractive to businesses that want to use a 3-D printer, get off the ground with office space or work with future members of the local workforce.

"The integration of Otterbein students and connecting them with Westerville companies or startup companies, whether through interning or getting their first position after college, that's something that will be very exciting," he says. "That's a playbook that we look forward to working with Otterbein on and partnering on, and it can become an economic development engine for us to spur more companies and develop more competition and attract more companies."

Troy Bonte, director of facilities management and planning for the university, says the connection with Westerville is something on which Otterbein prides itself. "Building a model community is very much ingrained in the university's values and culture," he says. "That's one of the reasons the partnerships with Westerville and the business leaders in the community are so important."

Krendl says the university has innovation in its blood. She says Otterbein has always emphasized partnerships, and she believes the benefits of the STEAM Innovation Center will go far beyond the businesses and students who are directly involved.

"The collaboration with the city is a commitment we have in terms of (improving) this region, this city, this location," she says, "and improving quality of life to make it a more attractive place, not just to business and industry, but to the residents themselves."

Andrew King is a reporter for ThisWeek Community News.

This story appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Westerville365.