EAST LIVERPOOL - While several City Council members recently opposed a proposal to build housing on the former Riverview Florist property, they seemed more receptive this week to a proposal to construct housing in the downtown area.
The change in attitude was evident during a meeting Friday between members of council's finance/labor and licensing/economic development committees and a representative of Better City LLC, the firm hired by the city to formulate an economic development plan.
Adam Hughes of Better City participated in the meeting via video and explained a proposal to re-develop the Brooks building at the corner of West Fifth and Market streets into workforce rental housing.
The apparent difference in council members' attitudes about this latest proposal seemed to be in direct response to assurances that this housing would be aimed at those who have jobs and earn a living, rather than being subsidized by the government.
Hughes said that Better City believed the proposal for the Riverview property would be detrimental to what is being planned for developing the downtown area but that, in approaching another developer, found someone who is "very excited about East Liverpool."
Wallick-Hendy Development of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, is the developer in question.
Hughes said, "(The developer) has seen some good things: job growth, income growth and a strong apartment market."
With New Castle School of Trade planning to locate downtown and Kent State University, Buckeye Online School for Success and East Liverpool City Hospital already in place, there is a need for such workforce housing for students and employees, according to Hughes.
"People are coming (downtown) during the day and leaving at night. You're losing all that purchase power at night," Hughes told officials.
Better City views the Fifth and Market street area as the "core of downtown," according to Hughes, who said that area needs corrected before other development occurs.
"This project fits within that core strategy to fix Fifth and Market," he stressed. "Creating housing downtown creates foot traffic to support local business."
He estimated the project, which would involve 415-419 Market St. and 104 W. Fifth St., rehabbing the Brooks building and razing others, would mean a $2.7 million investment downtown.
It was noted those earning 60 percent of the average median income county-wide, or $54,600 for a family of four, would be the standard used for renting the units.
Councilman Sherrie Curtis asked how long that standard will apply to the development and whether it would apply if the property were to be sold, with Hughes saying the federal government requires 15 years and the state, 15 years for a total of 30 years and that the standards associated with tax credits remain in place if it is sold.
Hughes pointed to the Odd Fellow Temple Apartments next door to City Hall as a similar example of the housing being proposed, saying, "We saw that it was not like other buildings in the city. That was a good project for your community. It has maintained its condition while the rest of the downtown has become distressed."
Curtis, however, said she was taken aback by Hughes' reference to the Odd Fellows project, which resulted in that building being refurbished in 1999 to provide housing for those 55 and older at 50 percent of the median income.
She said that, while the building appears to be maintained, when that project was started, it was aimed toward senior-approaching residents but that, "somewhere along the line, they were forced to accept Section 8 housing. I don't think the Odd Fellows (project) is necessarily a good example of what we want to attract."
Councilman Ray Perorazio agreed, saying the Odd Fellows project "does not contribute to what we need to make the city grow." Nonetheless, Perorazio said the Brooks apartment project "needs to go forward because it's the only game in town."
Hughes said the proposed project will "build momentum," noting, "We need to show hotel, restaurant and theater developers we can do this downtown."
Service-Safety Director Ryan Estell told committee members that, the first questions asked by potential developers include, "What else is coming in?" and "What else do you have?"
Saying he was initially skeptical, Councilman Chuck Wade said Friday's presentation convinced him the project will be positive for the city, with Councilman Russell Dray saying it appears the project will "move forward."
The first step toward starting the project will be applying for housing tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, with a Feb. 20 deadline for that application.
Hughes emphasized the tax credit program is very competitive but there will not be as many applicants in the workforce housing category.
The proposal will also come before the Board of Zoning Appeals on Feb. 13 when a variance for parking will be sought in relation to the project.
The committee agreed to forward for council's review at Monday's meeting a resolution of support for the tax credit application by Wallick-Hendy Development.
Council meets at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.