Middletown focusing in on downtown living

A project to bring more market-rate housing to downtown Middletown is moving forward, but without one of the original two developers.

Revitalizing downtown is one of the key strategies city officials are pushing in an effort to return Middletown to vibrancy.

City officials have invested hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the purchase of vacant buildings that they’ve turned around and sold at a reduced rate, and in some cases given away, to investors and groups to redevelop.

Almost 2½ years after Middletown signed an agreement with two companies to redevelop Goetz Tower, located at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and South Main Street, council approved an update to the contract without one of the entities.

Grassroots Ohio has been removed from the original agreement to renovate and restore the former Middletown Building and Deposit Association Building at 1000 Central Ave. with a mix of retail, office and apartments.

Under the original agreement, the city granted a 100 percent tax exemption to improvements to real property for 12 years. The agreement specifies the project was to begin in December 2016, with completion of “all acquisition, construction and installation” by Dec. 31, 2017.

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Gone from the project is developer Mike Robinette, who signed on behalf of both Historic Goetz Tower LLC as its president and also as the president of Grassroots Ohio in the original agreement.

According to the amendment of the Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) Agreement, Historic Goetz Tower LLC now will invest $3 million, plus or minus 10 percent, in improvements to the building.

Robinette said via email he no longer is part of the Goetz Tower or Rose Furniture (at 36 S. Main St.) projects in Middletown. He is, however, still developing two other properties downtown for a micro-distillery set to open this spring.

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The Goetz Tower project is still an exciting, positive move, said Vice Mayor Dora Bronston, noting that it can increase the vitality of downtown.

By adding more downtown living space, she said during a recent council meeting, more impetus for additional shops and businesses will be created.

Middletown’s draft strategic plan for the downtown corridor noted the need for more downtown residents in order to lure more businesses.

Jennifer Ekey, the economic development director for Middletown, said she believes trendy urban living inside the Goetz Tower will be a large part of downtown’s revitalization.

“This will be our first foray into market-rate housing in our downtown,” Ekey said “That’s why this is such a critical piece for us in, sort of, the revitalization of downtown Middletown.”

It’s critical because the city doesn’t just want to bring people downtown — it wants to keep them there.

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But it seems the vision is getting some resistance. City Manager Doug Adkins wrote in his blog that “downtown seems to be the economic development area that irritates people or part of this city’s rebirth that the residents don’t fully understand.”

The key to winning people over may involve getting them to stop looking at Middletown’s past, and get them instead looking toward its future, according to Ekey.

“People remember Middletown the way it used to be, and it’s never going to be the way it was in the ’30s or the ’40s or the ’50s or the ’60s, but that’s OK,” Ekey said. “We’re here to create something new.”

Triple Moon Coffee Company owner Heather Gibson, who opened her downtown business about two years ago, agreed.

“I think the more that we do down here and the more people that come down here, it’s going to happen, it’s just going to take time to get that old mentality out,” Gibson said.

Officials hope to have the Goetz Tower renovation done in a year with 16 units. From there, the city hopes the future holds as many as 180 more units as part of the continued rebirth of downtown

Journal-News media partner WCPO contributed to this report.

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