Ohio hands out final round of demolition grants

By: - January 31, 2023 4:45 am

Woman Working with Rebar – Natalie Fobes/Getty stock photo

The DeWine administration is handing out $54.5 million to fund demolition projects around Ohio. The money comes from a $150 million revitalization program set up in the 2021 budget.

Friday’s announcement covers nearly 600 sites in 15 counties. The majority of those projects are vacant single family homes — many in Montgomery and Trumbull counties. But there are a handful of major commercial demolitions as well.

The Ohio Department of Development managed the program. Director Lydia Mihalik described it as a way to remove “nuisance” properties.

“Tearing down these problematic, rundown properties will move Ohio forward and make room to build and develop for the future,” she said.

In Franklin County, state funds will go toward demolition of the former Westland Mall. In Summit County, they’ll help tear down the abandoned Rubber Bowl stadium. Grants in Hocking County will pay for demolishing the old jail, and Montgomery County will use dollars to clear out condos damaged in 2019 by tornadoes.

“Many of our communities have truly transformative ideas for these properties, and I’m pleased that we’re able to help remove these barriers to development,” DeWine said in a press release.

So what is next?

Local leaders around the state are using the demolition funding to spur development in several different directions. In many cases, the plan is to simply remove an eyesore. But in others, officials have plans for specific uses.

The latest tranche of funding, for instance, will help support the expansion of an organic farm in Henry County. Money from state grants will clear out an old house, corn crib and grain bin on the former Sandy Hill Farm to allow for the growth.

In previous rounds of funding, dollars have helped prepare sites for advanced manufacturing, mixed-use housing development and a new retail center anchored by Meijer.

Alison Goebel from the Greater Ohio Policy Center applauded the projects as potentially “transformative” for grant winners.

“It’s going to demonstrate unequivocally these dollars are achieving what they’re supposed to, they’re leveraging other dollars, there’s a clear return on investment for the state,” she explained. “But definitely there’s going to be a continued, unaddressed need if we don’t continue to provide some sort of funding.”

The stakes

Hope Paxson serves as vice president for projects and housing at the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation, or COCIC. Land banks like hers try to get vacant properties back into productive use. In doing so, they contribute to the local tax base and increase nearby property values.

The problem is developers often balk at paying for demolition on top of what they’ll pay to improve a site.

“These projects across the state have been stranded,” she said. “Without the help of this funding the numbers aren’t really feasible for an economic development or revitalization project to go forward whether it’s for housing or some kind of economic re-use.”

Paxon said demolition grants for single family homes have come along in the past. The current program’s inclusion of larger, commercial properties is a boon for land banks, she explained.

Goebel argued the funding is particularly important for small and medium sized legacy cities. She rattled off examples like Toledo, Akron, Marion and Zanesville, and explained compared to larger cities, their real estate markets are relatively fragile.

“It basically costs the same to demo a property no matter where you are in the state, it definitely costs the same to build it anywhere in the state,” Goebel said. “In central Ohio the market is strong enough that the market can probably cover those costs. It is not that strong in these other places.”

The most recent set of grants zeroed out Ohio’s Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program. In all, the program paid for 3,699 projects. It awarded funding to 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties — Preble County was the only one not to request funding.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.