SALEM - A one-year initiative to attract economic development on the east and north sides of the city is coming to a close, but the man behind it wants to keep going, announcing at least five possible construction projects in the works.
Larry Kosiba, executive director of the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, told members of the Economic Development Committee of city council that he couldn't divulge any details, but the potential developments included two hotels, a restaurant and a multi-family residential effort on the east side and a comprehensive development involving 50 acres on the north side.
Last month a developer attended city council and announced plans for one hotel to be constructed on property off of Cunningham Road near Advance Auto Parts.
Kosiba was reporting on the status of the TIF Zone Strategic Development Project started last year when council provided $24,500 to the SOD Center as part of a one-year deal to lure new businesses and new construction to the city's two TIF Zones. TIF stands for Tax Increment Finance.
The TIF Zone on the east end includes vacant land along the Pershing Street extension and along East State Street both east and west of Cunningham Road and on Cunningham Road. The TIF Zone on the north side includes the new Salem Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership and land near it.
Part of the idea of getting companies to locate in the TIF zones is to get them to sign TIF agreements so a portion of their property tax money goes to the city to help pay for infrastructure improvements already in place or help pay for any new improvements that need to be done for the development.
Kosiba said the project was to study the TIF zones and come back with recommendations, but he said they've had a lot more success, going from no activity to get businesses there to a lot of activity and talks for potential development.
"We've changed that environment significantly," he said.
He presented the committee with several recommendations which will be included in his final report to council, including: finding a way to fund continuing efforts; developing a common set of signage for the marketable areas and continue encouraging landowners to keep the grass cut; funding a capital investment program for the TIF zones, like a revolving loan fund for businesses; re-evaluating zoning codes and ordinances to be friendlier to new businesses; develop architectural design parameters in the zoning code; fund the development of a list of Ohio-based franchise opportunities for TIF zones, such as Panini's or We're Rolling Pretzel Company; maintain webpage listings of available properties with vacant buildings and vacant land opportunities, along with other information for potential developers; and fund development of a list of Salem-based companies who can support new construction projects, such as general contractors.
One key he said he has discovered is that Salem is off the beaten path, which changes the way a developer looks at the city and requires a little more work on the city's part to attract business.
When asked about traffic counts, Kosiba said the latest numbers he accessed showed 16,000 vehicles travel State Street both east and west every day, with 4,500 to 5,000 vehicles traveling north and south on state Route 45. He also said easier access to state Route 11 was mentioned by developers as something they would like to see.
During the meeting, Committee Chairman Councilman Dave Nestic explained an idea he had for a new incentive program for people to develop in the TIF zones. He said current programs in place focus on business in general for bringing a business back to life or buying a business. He said they're a bit cumbersome.
His idea was to focus on the TIF zones and as incentive to get companies to build in a TIF zone, track and rebate to them the money the city receives from income tax during the construction. He said the program could require them to sign a TIF agreement and make sure all contractors on the job sign up with the city income tax department.
Kosiba said the city may not want to give the business a 100 percent rebate, but may want to consider a 50 percent rebate.
Committee member Councilman Rick Drummond questioned whether they may annoy some other business owners who want to develop a business not in aTIF zone. Nestic said the idea is to get some business in the TIF zones since they're costing the city money for the infrastructure.
No action was taken, with the idea up for discussion.
In other business, the committee agreed to allow Kosiba to apply for a community-wide assessment grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for evaluation of brownfield areas. He said there would be no cost to the city, but the city could benefit because they could determine if some available sites for development have any contamination, which could help property owners clear the way for a sale of land.
Kosiba said the grant would be sought on behalf of the city through the SOD Center and the no-cost services of HzW Environmental Consultants. He said they would be seeking at least $200,000 from the grant to compile a listing of sites, identify past uses of the sites, determine if there's existing contamination, plan for cleanup and redevelopment and inform the community about what's happening.