Grove City in 2021: Focus is on planning, not just for this year but for next 20-plus
For many people, the primary focus for 2020 was to just get through the trying year of the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic downtown, social unrest and a contentious presidential election, making it a year they'll likely always remember but want to forget.
Meanwhile, Grove City officials are entering 2021 with a focus on planning for the next 20 years and beyond, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.
"We're usually in a constant state of long-range planning," he said. "We've survived the pandemic year quite well as a community financially and in the impact on our economy."
The city was helped by being one of the most diversified in central Ohio, offering a mix of housing and job opportunities and a blend of businesses, he said.
"That diversity is shown in the mix of housing and job opportunities we have," Stage said. "It's the blend of all the industries we have in Grove City, from high tech to logistics and lots of things in between."
No amount of planning could have prepared the city for something as unexpected as the pandemic, however, council president Christine Houk said.
Both the council and the administration were dedicated to providing support that residents and businesses needed, she said.
"That was on the front burner for the nation and for our community," Houk said. "We will continue on that front, but I can't really make a crystal-ball projection" regarding what form that support will take in 2021.
The pandemic did force the city to reprioritize its 2020 plans and delayed progress on a number of projects that should get started or ramp up over the next 12 months, Stage said.
That includes the Columbus Street extension that will serve to connect Grove City's Town Center with the new Beulah Park Living development.
"We hope to start construction before the end of January, and it will be a four- or five-month project," Stage said.
The Columbus Street project originally was expected to get underway in 2020, but the pandemic and the process of the city negotiating with the owners of 18 properties affected by the planned expansion to buy a portion or all of their parcels lead to pushing the starting date back, Stage said.
The city also expects to take the first steps toward developing the 30-acre park that will be in the middle of the Beulah Park development area, he said.
It's still to be determined the entire slate of amenities for the new park, but during 2021, "our goal is to make it begin to look like a park," Stage said.
The initial work will include completing additional grading, placing a path around the perimeter of the park and planting trees, he said.
An amphitheater is planned as a centerpiece, but a timeline for development of one still is being finalized, Stage said.
The city has applied for $1 million from the state's capital budget to help fund the $3.5 million amphitheater project, he said.
Beulah Park is one of three public recreational-space projects the city has preliminary concepts for, but details still must be worked out, Houk said.
The other planned projects are the redevelopment of the old Grove City Public Library parcel on Park Street and an adjacent city-owned parcel into a park site and the creation of a new in the Pinnacle development.
"All three of them are in the concept form right now, but we have not yet committed to what the amenities are going to be in those parks," Houk said.
The decisions regarding the parks at Beulah and the old library site will be shaped in part by the recommendations in the Town Center conceptual framework, which is expected to be adopted this year, she said.
"Both the City Council and the planning commission were presented with a draft version of the framework in 2019, and we're expecting to receive the document in its final form early in the new year," Houk said.
The framework will help provide guidelines to develop a vision for the new parks, she said, but 2021 also likely will include an effort to determine cost estimates for potential amenities that could be included at the sites.
"Those cost estimates will help us determine what we think we can afford and want to do at the parks, what some funding opportunities might be and prioritizing the order in which we want to try to get these projects completed," Houk said.
Last February, council approved a resolution that Houk and Stage had originated to form a substance-addiction and mental-health action-plan committee for the Grove City community.
Creating an opioid action plan was one of the goals council had set for 2019, Houk said.
"The committee is a partnership with ADAMH and a number of local partners in our community," she said. "The first goal was to get a community roundtable discussion organized to include representatives from South-Western City Schools, mental-health clinicians and health-care providers to talk about the issues they are seeing involving addiction and mental health."
The pandemic's rise made it difficult to get everyone together for the public discussion, but the committee has begun meeting on a regular basis, Houk said.
"The stress of the pandemic has affected a lot of people's mental health, and some people are coping through addiction," she said. "We need an effort like this even more than before."
The pandemic forced the temporary closure of the city's Evans Senior Center, and the facility remains closed because of concerns about the higher risk of contracting COVID-19 among older adults.
The closure has allowed the city to complete some planned sprucing up in the building, including upgrading the restrooms, repainting walls and ceilings, making the building more handicapped accessible, installing new carpet and reconfiguring some rooms to provide more space for activities, Stage said.
Exactly when the Evans Center will be able to reopen is unknown, he said, but when the public is able to return to the center, "they will find a more enhanced facility," he said.