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Downtown development, new construction marked Middletown’s 2017

In future years, 2017 could be remembered as one of Middletown’s brightest in terms of progress and development.

The city faced a number of challenges as it continued in its fight against the opioid epidemic — including a stint in the national spotlight. More than $750 million in development projects are in various stages of construction, with some already completed. There was also new school construction, a new schools superintendent, a new judge and changes on the school board and city council.

“We are truly in the largest resurgence that Middletown has seen in the past 30 years,” said Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins in early December.

Here are some of the biggest stories of the year in Middletown.

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Battle against the opioid epidemic

Middletown has been at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic and experienced a record number of responses to overdose calls in 2017. City officials have worked with the community through its periodic Heroin Summit meetings with various stakeholders to develop strategies and solutions. The city has created a Heroin Response Team that has helped 250 addicts get into treatment programs. In addition, police utilized five canines to help identify drug traffickers and recorded a 40 percent increase in drug arrests in 2017 over 2016.

Middletown also received international attention related to overdoses. Councilman Dan Picard asked if the city could stop EMS responses to addresses where frequent overdose calls have originated if they won’t get help for their addictions, with possible punishments for those who overdose. The comments sparked commentary throughout the globe. 

MORE: Middletown councilman withdraws ‘3 strikes’ proposal for overdoses

The $96 million Middletown High School renovation and construction of a new Middletown Middle School are seen from aerial photos obtained by the Journal-News from school officials. Officials contract for once-a-month airplane flyovers to monitor the project’s progresss from above. Classes for the high school, which will feature 30 new classrooms, open Aug. 22. Work on both schools is scheduled to be completed by August 2018. CONTRIBUTED (Michael D. Clark)

Big projects in the city

Several major projects saw progress in 2017.

• Construction is nearing completion on the $600 million NTE Energy power plant

• Work on the $30 million Kettering Health Network emergency/outpatient facility is underway at the Interstate 75/Ohio 122 interchange.

• Middletown City Schools is nearing completion on $90 million in new construction.

• About $1.1 million in improvements were made at Middletown Regional Airport, with future development planned.

• A new $36 million AK Steel Research and Innovation Center was unveiled in April.

MORE: Middletown approves plans for new $30M medical facility

Jeff Payne is the new executive director of Downtown Middletown Inc. in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

What happened downtown?

Nearly two dozen new businesses have opened in downtown Middletown in the past year, including new restaurants such as Gracies and Blast Furnace Pizza. Plans are in motion for a new BMW motorcycle dealership that will be located in the former senior citizens center in downtown Middletown, which Adkins says will be “a destination location.”

Early in 2017, downtown Middletown was accredited as a “Main Street” community, and the city approved its new downtown strategic plan as well as a new planning and zoning code. After a couple of months of negotiations between the developer and downtown stakeholders, a new O’Reilly Auto Parts store is under construction.

MORE: McCrabb: Middletown’s downtown has turned the corner

James E. Sherron, left, accompanied by his wife, Melanie, is sworn in as Middletown Municipal Court Judge by Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Noah Powers II during a ceremony Monday, Dec. 18 at Miami University Middletown campus. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

Politics and elections

Last week, Judge James Sherron took the bench at Middletown Municipal Court following a contentious three-way race in November to complete the final two years of the unexpired term of Judge Mark Wall, who died in February. Sherron succeeds Judge Melynda Cook-Howard, who was appointed after Wall’s death and who was required to run to keep the seat in November.

Cook-Howard and another person filed two judicial campaign violation complaints against Sherron. While he took responsibility for the campaign mistakes, Sherron was also sanctioned with fines and by the Ohio Supreme Court for the violations.

Ami Vitori and Joe Mulligan won seats on Middletown City Council for the next four years.

Vitori became the subject of ethics concerns in recent weeks due to her Torchlight Pass building that received a Community Reinvestment Area tax abatement and a loan from Middletown Moving Forward, the city’s nonprofit community reinvestment corporation. However, an opinion issued by the city law director deemed the transactions as legal and ethical as both were completed prior to her taking office.

In May, Marlon Styles was also appointed as the new superintendent of Middletown City Schools. Cathie Mulligan and incumbent Todd Moore won seats on the Middletown school board in November.

MORE: New Middletown judge compared to predecessor Judge Wall

Working for higher property values

Housing and property values became a topic of discussion since last spring as City Manager Doug Adkins raised the issue following a housing study that illustrated the imbalance of housing stock in Middletown. Adkins has been making presentations about the need to improve the housing stock that will result in higher property values.

Some strategies being discussed include renovating and reoccupying vacant houses, building new houses for families who want to move up from starter homes, construction of homes where houses had been demolished and utilizing more programs available through the Butler County Land Bank.

MORE: Middletown leader details hurdles to overcome to solve housing issues

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