6 big projects facing Middletown’s new city manager

Now that Jim Palenick has completed his first week as Middletown’s new city manager, he’ll be moving into focusing on several other projects and issues stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Palenick has spent his first week meeting with employees, business leaders and other community stakeholders. He also received updates on projects. Palenick said initially wants to focus on economic development, redevelopment, downtown, housing and the Middletown Regional Airport.

Here are a few major projects the city is working on:

The Oakland redevelopment/neighborhood revitalization project

The Oakland neighborhood was targeted because of its high disinvestment rate. The former middle school site on Girard Avenue has been razed and cleared for redevelopment, and the land was purchased by the city in February 2020.

The five-phase project for the Oakland Renaissance Incentive District is designed to revitalize the entire neighborhood to attract new residents, and expand the tax base, and develop single-family and multi-family housing around the former middle school and Carnegie Library sites, according to developers Dan Mayzum and Dan Barton.

“COVID has slowed us down,” Barton said. “We can’t have meeting with neighbors and stakeholders to make decisions due to health orders so we need to find a place so we can have safe distancing.”

Barton said he has a meeting scheduled with Palenick next week to discuss the project.

“In addition, we’ve shown lots to prospective developers and there is a lot of interest in the project,” he said. “We’re progressing with the city to finalize incentive terms and amounts for the project.”

The neighborhood revitalization project would be similar to the historic district development areas, such as Grafton Hills, South Park, Wright-Dunbar areas in Dayton, and the Over-the-Rhine district in Cincinnati.

“It feels like we’re stuck in the mud, but we’re slogging through,” Barton said. “We’re not ready to give up.”

Middletown Paperboard facility cleanup

The site of the former Middletown Paperboard facility remains an eyesore as people travelling north on Ohio 4 can see the debris and damage on the 11-acre site from a large New Year’s Day blaze.

Before the COVID-19 shutdowns, the city received bids for security fencing at the site. The city acquired the property in January following a tax forfeiture case.

A full evaluation of the site is needed to demolish and clear the site along with environmental remediation prior to reuse. Officials said those costs have not been determined.

Middletown Regional Airport

The new year marked the beginning of the city of Middletown resuming the fixed-base operator role at Middletown Regional Airport from Start Aviation. However, the dispute between the city administration and Start Skydiving has continued for the past few years over unresolved hangar lease issues and the city’s desire to move the parachute landing areas away from the runway and taxiways. The complaints and issues have been sent to the FAA.

In May, council agreed to move the parachute landing zones so the city’s consultant could finalize the new airport master and airport layout plans before they are forwarded to the FAA for final review and approval.

Last month, Start Skydiving co-owner John P. Hart II, filed a lawsuit alleging the seven volunteer Middletown Airport Commission members violated the Ohio Open Meetings Act for inaccurate meeting minutes.

The Manchester Hotel/Snider Building agreement revocation still in court

This case has continued to plod through Butler County Common Pleas Court for more than a year as developer William Grau sued the city and city officials in 2018 for invoking the reverter clause in the 2014 purchase agreement to redevelop the buildings.

Grau’s company purchased each building for $1 as part of a redevelopment deal. The city feels that the rehabilitation project should have been completed already and opted to revoke the redevelopment agreement. Both buildings have been vacant for several years. The city and Grau has been in court mediation and the case could go to trial in August.

Goetz Tower redevelopment

Another project stalled by COVID-19 is the $3.5 million Goetz Tower project. The plan remains to develop 16 market-rate apartments ranging from 800 to 1,100 square feet inside the seven-story, Art Deco building.

Earlier this year, Developer Steve Coon had hoped to complete the project in late 2020. He said pandemic and and architectural issues have stalled the project about nine months to redevelop the 90-year-old building at the corner of Central Avenue and Main Street.

Possible income tax increase for streets

Council will be discussing the possibility of placing a 0.25% increase dedicated to street paving to Middletown’s current 1.75% income tax.

In addition, council is looking at shifting the costs for street lighting to property owners, a possible bond issue, and adding an additional $5 permissive tax when renewing license plates each year.

The total cost to repave all city streets is about $160 million. Middletown has 621 lane miles of streets and roads to maintain.

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