More than a decade ago, there was little activity in downtown Middletown.
While the city has endured negative publicity because to the opioid epidemic, Middletown continues to rebound through proactive efforts in dealing with opioids as well as seeing a number of new businesses open downtown, officials said.
Local historian Sam Ashworth said that throughout Middletown’s history, resurgence comes to the downtown and the community about every 25 years . He believes Middletown is in a “renaissance” with the new investment that has come to the downtown district.
As the city entered the 21st Century, the former City Centre Mall that enclosed portions of Broad Street and Central Avenue was on its last legs as many businesses had left for the East End.
In the 1970s, the city received federal money for the City Centre Mall project as well as to build the Middletown City Building and Senior Citizens Center.
“It was supposed to kick things up a notch,” Ashworth said. “It never caught hold.”
He said society changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s as shopping trends and patterns moved customers to malls. It was also a time when many factories were closing in the city.
In 2002, the wrecking ball came and the roof was removed, restoring downtown to what it was before 1973.
Some say that was when things started to change, but it would be a long journey that included a slowdown during the Great Recession that started in 2008. Ashworth said that after the after the roof was removed, the arrival of BeauVerre-Riordan Studios in 2002 was the starting point for downtown development. That was followed a few years later by Pendleton Arts Center and the opening of the Cincinnati State branch.
“One by one, investors took a chance to open businesses and small coffee shops,” he said. “It’s exciting to see the changes since they tore the roof off of the mall.”
During this time, Middletown started to focus on eliminating blighted buildings, which also opened up land for new development.
Ashworth said technology has also helped new businesses take advantage of social media to build their business and client lists.
“There have also been some young people who have come back to town and put their money into projects and invest in downtown,” he said. “We haven’t had that for a long time… They’ve sparked an interest for younger people in their 30s to invest and think of what they can do.”
Ashworth, who has been involved in various community organizations since arriving in 1964, said, “we always felt if we could get the downtown core going from Main (Street) to Verity (Parkway), that momentum would spread up Central Avenue to the railroad tracks. That’s what’s happening now. It’s taken a long time and a lot of patience. I’m really glad it’s happening.”
Adriane Scherer, a downtown entrepreneur, pointed out that Jay and Linda Moorman had a lot of faith that something would happen in downtown Middletown when they moved BeauVerre Riordan Studios to the corner of Central Avenue and Broad Street.
Scherer also noted that various events such as the 13-year-old Broad Street Bash concerts have also helped to bring people downtown and spark some of that interest. She noted this is the first year that two businesses that started out with only a business plan have outgrown their downtown locations and moved.
Mayor Larry Mulligan said the city is on an upswing. He said downtown can offer unique retail shopping and there is plenty of support for entrepreneurs through the efforts of Downtown Middletown Inc. as well as public/private partnerships tools that can be used.
The city has been working to assist potential business owners and entrepreneurs through various incentives and tax abatements. In the past few years more than 35 new businesses have opened up in downtown Middletown that include restaurants, distilleries, microbrews in addition to having Ohio’s first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area.
Some entrepreneurs are also transforming some of the building stock into new downtown businesses.
BMW Motorcycles of Greater Cincinnati is redeveloping the former Middletown Senior Center at 140 N. Verity Parkway into a regional BMW Motorcycles dealership, a destination location as the other nearest stores are in Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville.
Owner Mike Allen said he came to Middletown because of its potential. He and his family, who own the BMW Motorcycles dealership in Columbus, like what Middletown has to offer.
While the project has been delayed due to needed additional structural changes to the building, Allen expects to be open in June. He is confident enough that the new dealership will sponsor a demonstration weekend of BMW Motorcycles.
The city has granted CRA tax abatement is for 12 years at 100 percent in real property improvements; and the $50,000 is for the Small Business Economic Development Job Creation Grant. He is seeking to extend that deadline to Dec. 31 due to the unanticipated building issues. The building has been empty for the past decade since a new senior center was built on Central Avenue in 2007.
The project includes an investment of $1.273 million in construction and upgrades to the facility, including separating all utilities from the city’s municipal building, and will create 12 new full-time jobs and $375,000 in new payroll. If the extension is approved, Allen said the new jobs will be in place by Dec. 31, 2021.
“ Middletown welcomed me with open arms,” Allen said. “I like the building because its in a central location to Cincinnati and Dayton.”
Allen said there were people on social media who have questioned and mocked his decision to locate in Middletown. Some of the comments said Middletown was “Harley-centric” and that there was a lot of negativity.
Allen said he did plenty of research about Middletown.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” he said.
The former senior center building is being remodeled and includes a large showroom window and entrance which is under construction. A garage door has been constructed on the north side of the building for the new service and parts department on the lower level. A lift is being installed to take motorcycles from the first floor to the lower level.
Once completed, the new dealership will have a 22,000 square-foot showroom for sales with an apparel shop and cafe on the first floor, a service and parts department on the lower level and a residence for the general manager on the upper level. Allen’s son, Kirk, will be the general manager for the new dealership.
“I’m glad I ended up with this,” Allen said.