The rundown on Downtown Stow

Last night, city council held the first of many meetings to discuss the possibility of creating a Downtown Stow. We reviewed the studies prepared by our consultant. Click below to view them:

Here are some responses to frequently-asked questions:

  • Do we have enough land? The city center area includes 63 acres, and 16 acres that we are opening for development. It’s plenty of land. The land on these renderings does not belong exclusively to the city of Stow. The church, post office, and a private residence are each located within the map. A private developer would need to negotiate with those parties in the future. If that land is not immediately acquired, the project could proceed in phases.
  • Is this the confirmed layout? No. I can almost assure you that a developer will have his/her own vision for what goes where. The purpose of these renderings is to confirm the feasibility of the project and generate interest among developers.
  • Will the market support it? The market study indicated a very high demand for upscale rental housing/condos. It also confirmed what residents have been telling me for years: there is demand for retail/restaurants. The excellent demand for residential is a great thing. Why? Not because we want to pack a bunch of new housing into this plan. But rather, a developer is going to be much more interested in our project, and more capable of financing it, where there is residential. In effect, the residential makes possible the retail, restaurant, and park elements. Although there is low demand for office, our consultants believe a limited amount of Class A office space would be snapped up if we put together an exciting project.
  • What about the existing buildings? The untouchable buildings are City Hall, the Service Building, the Safety Building, and the Water Tower. Everything else is negotiable. The water tower, by the way, could provide a really unique opportunity to brand the project and our city. We also intend to keep the walking trails, which will be a plus for connectivity.
  • What about SKiP playground? Our consultants suggested the creation of a new playground at the corner of Graham and Darrow, in a plan that would also draw more emphasis to our Doughboy statue. Residents last night seemed skeptical about that idea, and I see their point. Again, these renderings are unlikely to be adopted in their present form by a developer. They are only a sketch, and nothing is set in stone.
  • What’s going on with the greenspace? If this project is going to be successful, it must include a centrally-located park. If you look at the renderings, our consultants like the idea of a long rectangular park, with the water tower on one end and the fire station on the other. (Think: Stow’s version of the National Mall). Regardless of its design, the greenspace won’t just be grass. We will use it for outdoor programming and events for 3 seasons of the year: outdoor concerts, festivals, farmer’s markets, movie nights–you name it.
  • Where is the city going to get its dollars for infrastructure improvement? Ultimately, the city will appraise the land that it is contributing to the project. The city will be compensated for that value, either in cash or in public improvements that the developer pays for. For instance, I could envision the city leasing the land to a developer for $1, and the developer turns around and reconfigures Dirker Blvd., regrades the greenspace, and builds our community/senior center.
  • What are the non-negotiable deal points? There is broad consensus that we need to move forward with this. But there will be much debate going forward on various details of the project, which won’t satisfy 100% of everyone’s preferences. But it’s important to separate the preferences from the deal points. Accordingly, here are the five things that must be present in a Downtown Stow, which are not negotiable from my perspective:  (1) It must be an energetic, walkable retail/restaurant district. (2) Our developer must share our vision for independent, in-demand shopping and restaurants, with the city retaining a veto on tenant makeup. (3) It must include a unique park or greenspace element that can be used for programming. (4) The building materials, architecture and landscaping must be of the highest quality, so that we have a community asset with lasting value. (5) We avoid developing the project with taxpayer dollars.
  • How does the CED play into this? Council had been discussing the creation of a Community Entertainment District, which would allow the state to issue up to 15 additional liquor permits in the area. This mechanism would encourage restaurant development. We do not intend to allow a bar district, which is prohibited by zoning anyhow.
  • What’s next? The city will hold several hearings to listen to resident feedback. The next one is March 22 at 5:30 p.m. In May, council will vote whether to request proposals from developers and whether to approve the CED.

The Stow Turn-Around Project

On the date of my first inauguration in January 2010, Stow was in big trouble financially. Stow was running million-dollar deficits. The city had $31,640,000 in debt. The rainy-day fund was dwindling. In fact, these were the reasons that I ran for city council, as a 24-year-old law student.

Fast forward to February 2018, and the story is much different. Last year, Stow had a budget surplus of $315,000. Our rainy-day fund is at an all-time high of $5.4 million. The city’s debt has been cut in half — to $15.5 million. Our bond rating is excellent.

Indeed, in 2010, Stow’s finances were a disaster. But today, I’m very proud to report that Stow is in exceptional financial health. We have turned around our finances, where almost every other city has struggled.

How did we do it?

  • We stopped shooting ourselves in the foot. First and foremost, we had to stop doing stupid stuff. I started asking tough questions. We ended the echo chamber that was created by City Council’s “go along to get along” attitude.
  • We controlled costs. By reducing our workforce, we closed the deficit. But we did it with prudence. Some jobs lead to revenue (i.e. economic development) and other jobs are critical for city services (i.e. cops). We bolstered those departments while allowing attrition to cut costs in other places where it was appropriate.
  • We became business-friendly. The business community was not happy with Stow when I was first elected. I urged a paradigm shift. Our team needed to accommodate the needs of business, because without business, we have no good-paying jobs, and we have no way to pay for city services. Instead of saying “no” when our employers approached us with a reasonable request, we needed to find a way to get to “yes.” I also urged Stow to out-compete and out-hustle its neighbors in attracting new businesses. As a result of the paradigm shift, Stow has been growing at a great pace over the last five years. 2017 was our best year ever, and 2018 looks even more promising (MAC-TAC and Wrayco buildings being filled with exciting new good-paying jobs).
  • We resisted the urge to raise taxes. Everyone at City Hall knew Stow’s finances were terrible in 2010. On top of that, in the years that followed, the State Legislature choked off two big sources of our revenue (local government fund and estate tax). The question was, how do we deal with these challenges? Some elected officials pushed for a tax increase. I felt that we could accomplish more with less, and believed that a tax increase would hurt our residents and hinder our ability to keep and attract employers. We succeeded in resisting an increase in taxes. If we had succumbed, Stow residents would have less cash in their pockets and our community would have fewer good-paying jobs.

Last night, Council heard a presentation about our 2018 budget. The outlook is great. We must sustain it. But we must also find a way to invest better in our infrastructure. Our roads have improved a lot since 2010, but we still have catching up to do. This year, I want to spend time and thought in finding a way to fund a large infrastructure investment.

Meeting Notes

Press Releases