Middletown in 2019: A year of leadership changes, big projects, national attention

Middletown had a busy year in 2019 that included changes in administration and national attention in multiple ways.

There was movement in the economic development and housing areas around the city, a 120-year-old major employer sold to a Cleveland company, as well as filming on location for an upcoming Ron Howard film based on “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” written by J.D. Vance, a Middletown High School grad. Middletown police also placed in the top five in a national lip sync competition.

Here’s a look at some of 2019’s top stories, in no particular order:

ExploreCity Manager Doug Adkins terminated

An October outburst at the Triple Moon Coffee Company by former City Manager Doug Adkins about the complaints about the homelessness problem at the downtown cafe resulted in a one-day unpaid suspension. Two weeks later, the city council opted to begin process to fire Adkins, which finished with his termination on Dec. 17.

Adkins was the first city manager terminated by Middletown City Council under the city charter removal provision.

ExploreMiddletown police place fifth in national Lip Sync competition

Middletown police placed fifth in a national lip sync video competition and were featured on the September CBS special “Lip Sync to the Rescue,” which was aired locally during a watch party at Middletown High School.

Middletown placed fifth in the nationwide competition that drew more than 1,000 videos from police and fire departments in the United States and Canada. The video, shot and produced by Average Joe Films, a Middletown company, brought national positive attention to the department and the city and was supported by Lady Antebellum, the country group that sang “Need You Now.” The video had more than 2.4 million views the first 24 hours it was online and has since gained more than 10 million total views.

ExploreMiddletown goes Hollywood

Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard and 150 people on the production crew spent a week filming “Hillbilly Elegy:A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” in a Middletown neighborhood in August. The film shooting on Harrison Street includes Amy Adams and Glenn Close who spent four days on location in Middletown.

Crews arrived a week before the Middletown filming and stayed a week or two later putting everything back together. The film is projected to be released in 2020.

ExploreMuterspaw retires early, cites internal issues with city manager

After five years as the city’s police chief, Rodney Muterspaw opted to retire early, citing ongoing issues with Adkins. He told Adkins he had about six weeks of unused leave and opted to make his last day on the job on Oct. 4 instead of early November. Emails obtained by the Journal-News showed tensions between the men over several issues. Adkins is upset with Muterspaw for airing dirty laundry on social media.

ExploreManchester Hotel 

In October, the developer of the Manchester Hotel and Snider Building projects, William Grau, said he hoped to reach a settlement with Middletown and resume to develop both buildings “in the very near future.”

Last December, the city invoked a reverter clause in the 2014 Sale and Development Agreement, claiming Grau did not fulfill the agreement or make sufficient progress. Grau purchased the properties for $1 each from the city by agreeing to redevelop the buildings. He said he was going to invest about $10 million to redevelop the Manchester as a boutique hotel and the Snider Ford building into a microbrew and pub.

The improvements to the Manchester Hotel, which closed in 2011, were to be completed by Nov. 15, 2016, and the Snider Building was to be brought in compliance with applicable state and local building, zoning, and building maintenance codes within 24 months of closing, according to a letter the city sent Grau in October 2018. The issue remains pending in Butler County Common Pleas Court.

Recently representatives from both sides went inside the old hotel and found to have been vandalized. Two people were issued summons and fined in court.

ExploreOpioid use sees reduction in 2018 over 2017

In January, Middletown reported a 49 percent decrease in opioid use in 2018 over 2017 and after 15 Heroin Summits created initiatives that contributed to reducing the number of heroin overdoses in Middletown almost by half, leaders are switching gears and concentrating on “quality of life” issues.

While the number of overdoses were down, addiction continues to create problems throughout the city, said Doug Adkins, former city manager and the driving force behind the summits. He encouraged the 40 community members at the meeting to consider ways to address homelessness, mental health and addictions.

ExploreKettering approved for overnight patients

Kettering Health Network received permission to have inpatient/overnight stays at its Middletown facility in early January 2019. Middletown City Council approved a rezoning request that will allow the change, which was opposed by Premier Health, owners of the nearby Atrium Medical Center.

Premier argued that the change would create a duplication of services and increase healthcare costs. KHN said it sought the addition of overnight stays so patients could avoid transport to another network facility after being at the Middletown facility for 23 hours and 59 minutes.

ExploreMiddletown Regional Airport

The ongoing dispute and negotiations between the city of Middletown and Start Aviation-Start Skydiving has yet to be resolved and caused three people affiliated with organization to run for public office.

Nicole Condrey, John Hart II and Perry Davis took out petitions for Middletown City Council, but Condrey was the only one of the group elected. City officials want the skydiving operation to move to the west side of the facility as the city works to develop an education hub with Butler Tech and Cincinnati State. The city is moving forward with its plans to take over as the fixed-based operator to provide aviation services and fuel starting Wednesday.

ExploreOakland Historic District

Two development consultants, Dan Barton and Dan Mayzum, continue their push to transform a part of Middletown that will impact hundreds of homes and businesses in hopes to spur new development and investment. The proposal to rehabilitate the Oakland neighborhood into an urban renaissance incentive district which now in its second of five phases has been completed with the demolition of the former Middletown Middle School.

Moving forward with the project will allow investors to transform a low tax-value historic district with the potential for rehabilitation and substantial improvement. The project will also provide new infill housing development opportunities in the Oakland neighborhood around the former Carnegie Library and former middle school site.

2019 Elections: A new mayor, and new council member

The city’s first directly elected mayor, Larry Mulligan Jr. is out after 12 years in office. Condrey, who has lived in the city for less than three years, was elected in November as the first woman directly elected as mayor. Condrey, of Start Skydiving, takes over Wednesday. She is joined by Monica Nenni who was elected to a council seat while Vice Mayor Talbott Moon was re-elected to a new four-year term.

Moon and Nenni led the field of five candidates. There were questions if council candidate John Hart II dropped out after questions continued to be raised if he would be able to serve due to a federal felony conviction. Councilman Steve Bohannon opted to step down after one term.

ExploreSawyer Mills back on track

Middletown City Council approved numerous ordinances and resolutions to get the Sawyer’s Mill residential housing project back on track and re-energize home construction in the city. One part of the project is to move forward with 16 or 17 additional new homes on 25 acres on the east side of the Sawyer’s Mill development near northwest of the intersection of Dixie Highway and Manchester Road because of a financing agreement approved on Tuesday. As many as 260 new homes are being proposed for the project over the next three years.

ExploreAK Steel sold

A merger agreement announced in early December that would see Cleveland-Cliffs acquire AK Steel for $1.1 billion as questions continue to be raised about the sale. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2020, subject to approval by the shareholders of both companies, regulatory approvals and other conditions. The companies said that the Research & Innovation Center in Middletown would remain open. Cleveland-Cliffs will maintain its headquarters in Cleveland while keeping a “significant presence” at AK Steel’s current offices in West Chester. The local union, International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 1943 found out about the sale with the rest of the world.

ExploreKidnapping/carjacking foiled by quick thinking

On April 25, Dalvir Singh, 24, of Middletown allegedly entered a car at Atrium Medical Center in which Chance Blue, 8, and his 10-year-old sister, Skylar Weaver, sat.

Their grandmother had gotten out of the car to help their aunt into the hospital.

According to police, Chance helped his sister escape the car as Singh tried to drive away with them in it. Their grandmother, meanwhile, was dragged on the other side while trying to stop Singh, police said.

The family was featured on multiple national television shows in the event’s aftermath.

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