Bob Bianchi

Bob Bianchi, the City of Mansfield engineer, discusses with City Council earlier this year the planned conversion of Diamond Street to two-way traffic in downtown Mansfield. (Richland Source file photo)

Part of what local newsrooms do is keep an eye on government and hold it accountable. That's often interpreted in a "stick-it-to-the-man" vein and -- sometimes -- appropriate and deserved. 

Sometimes though, government does things that deserve kudos. This is one of those times. We are thrilled to see local elected officials move ahead with positive economic steps, even during a pandemic that continues to hammer away at all of us.

Let's face it. We could all use a little good news. Thanks to public-private partnerships between visionary investors, resourceful public employees, and local elected leaders who looked to the future, Richland County got some this week. 

Let's start in Mansfield where Mayor Tim Theaker and City Council have announced additional steps in line with the Mansfield Rising downtown reinvestment plan, a long-ranging and multi-pronged plan aimed at helping to revitalize and rejuvenate the community.

City Council on Tuesday approved the conversion of Diamond Street to two-way traffic in the first half of 2021, a move which follows a similar move on Mulberry Street in 2019. 

One part of the Mansfield Rising plan, developed by local residents, suggested the city adopt and implement a "complete streets" policy downtown, designing traditional streets to enable cars to move quickly and efficiently. The move had been widely discussed in the first two months of 2020, but was then temporarily shelved when COVID-19 swept across the state.

Mansfield city engineer Bob Bianchi has said the idea behind the conversions was to improve "to" traffic while not affecting "thru" traffic.

Jodie Perry, president and CEO of the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development and a member of the Mansfield Rising team, said the Mulberry Street conversion has helped to do just that.

"Diamond Street is really the pair to Main Street," she said. "It has seen significant new investment over the past five years or so through The Phoenix Brewing Company, Hudson & Essex, Axe Social Lounge and more. A public investment such as this will spur continued private investment, as we have seen time and again."

Jennifer Kime, CEO of Downtown Mansfield Inc. and a Mansfield Rising team member, also expressed support for the Diamond Street conversion project.

"The conversion plans completed through the city’s engineer’s office are well thought-out, strategic and embody the vision many of us have for that corridor," Kime said.

The Diamond Street conversion project is estimated to cost $552,000. In a time of tight budgets, it's important to note no general fund money will be spent on the conversion. Instead, funds will come from the permissive sales tax, the street fund, the road resurfacing fund and the Downtown Improvement Fund, which began when council approved a $5 increase in motor vehicle registration fees in May of 2018.

The positive step came on the heels of the City Council vote to invest $25,000 annually for four years to the Façade Improvement Grant Program through Downtown Mansfield, Inc.

The purpose of the Façade Improvement Matching Grant Program is to further economic development, rehabilitate historically significant properties and incentivize property development in downtown Mansfield.

The recapitalization of the grant program comes as part of the Mansfield Rising plan, and was identified by the Richland County Foundation as a priority in 2020 amidst its five-year, $1.5 million investment in Mansfield Rising projects during its February meeting.

Kime said the façade grant program will help economic development efforts as DMI recruits new ownership, seeks new merchants, retains current merchants and leverages additional private investment.

"We believe it's been a great impetus to change a community's development," Kime said. "The end result is to increase community development downtown, incentivize new businesses, new merchants and improvements on buildings currently downtown."

The positive news has expanded beyond just downtown Mansfield, including new economic development at Mansfield Lahm Airport and the City of Ontario.

City Council approved a tax incentive package a couple of weeks ago that will lead to the construction of a 160,000 square-foot industrial building/warehouse at 1750 Airport West Road.

The "spec building" project by Airport West I, 1310 W. Fourth St., involves an estimated building investment of $9 million on 15 acres, with work scheduled to begin Nov. 15 and an estimated completion date of June 20, 2021.

The project is expected to create an annual payroll of $158,080 in the first year, rising to $299,520 in the 10th year. Tim Bowersock, the city's economic development director, said a warehousing tenant would bring three full-time and seven part-time jobs, while an industrial tenant would bring five full-time jobs and 20 part-time jobs.

At the same time, Niss Aviation said the company is proposing investing $2 million into Mansfield Lahm Airport in the future, offering services including a self-serve fuel station, building a new hangar and improving parking.

"The plan is to have a first-class operation at Mansfield Lahm Airport," said attorney Bud Vetter. "This family is very community-minded and charitably inclined, and I think this is a very good relationship for the city of Mansfield and this family."

City Council also recently voted its support for the "master plan" for the city's parks, and made the correct decision to divest itself of 10 park properties, allowing greater focus on improving the 22 remaining parks.

The latest good news came Wednesday night when Ontario officials announced the first real sign of economic life at the former General Motors site.

The first stage of Ontario Commerce Park redevelopment, the former General Motors property site, is about to begin. Charter Next Generation will be the first company operating on-site, beginning in March, bringing anywhere from 400 to 700 new jobs.

Ontario City Council approved the development agreement between the city and Industrial Commercial Properties (ICP) of Solon. With the agreement, Mayor Randy Hutchinson said Ontario will sell six acres of the land and the former Press Prep building to the developer at $525,000.

“This town was built basically on GM. So, when they left, that was a huge blow for Ontario and of all Richland County and the surrounding areas,” Hutchinson said, correctly noting the new company will benefit the entire county.

It's easy to be be negative these days. We understand that emotion. But these kind of recent, local economic announcements remind us there is a post-pandemic world ahead and moves like these show we are positioned to regain lost momentum.

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