State of the City Address

The following is the Whitehall State of the City Address, presented by Mayor Kim Maggard on March 15, 2016:

Tonight, I want to tell you a story. This is Whitehall’s story – OUR story. Our story is one of growth and change in a deep-rooted, hardworking community.  It is a story of an entire community working together to better lives. 

Whitehall’s story officially began sixty years ago next month, when we became City. It’s no secret that in 1956, Whitehall – and the world – was extremely different. We communicated differently, traveled differently and did business differently. In many ways, those were simpler times. Those of you who were around Whitehall 60 years ago can attest to that.

Since the start of my first term in 2012, my administration and I have been focused on how our City’s story will develop for future generations of Whitehall residents, stakeholders and employees. This is something I’m extremely proud of.

Tonight, I want to tell you about Whitehall’s future and how this chapter of our story is about a place on the cusp of great things. It’s a future where all Whitehall residents and those who work and travel through our community are happy, safe, healthy and financially secure. I’m proud of the progress we’re making in these areas and I’m excited to talk to you this evening about a few more steps we’re taking on these areas of focus.

To develop plans, policies and priorities for that future, we need to better understand what our community wants and needs. That’s why the City is embarking on a community-wide survey in 2016. We’re working with Saperstein Associates, one of the best known public opinion research firms, to really understand YOU. We will be working with all of our departments to craft a survey to provide data that will really help guide us through the next few years and allow us to check our progress for years to come. This data will enable us to know what YOUR priorities are so we can set aside funding for projects at the right time. So I’m asking this from you – if you receive a phone call for the survey, please take it! Weigh in! You’ll be seeing more information about this in the coming weeks.

Understanding what Y OU want has led us to create a new splash pad at John Bishop Park. The $1 million dollar splash pad will be located near the parking lots of Rosemore Middle School and Kae Avenue Elementary and will be a gated water feature open only to our residents and accompanied guests. We envision a concession stand, play areas for both older children and toddlers and shaded areas to relax. Within the next two weeks, we will be awarding the construction contract and will break ground shortly after to have it ready to enjoy this summer. We know having an amenity like this has been a priority of our community’s for quite some time, and I’m excited to see the splash pad take shape in the coming months.

Last fall, I heard a lot about your priorities while on the campaign trail. One of the things I heard most often was about how much litter there is in our City. Well, YOUR priorities are my priorities. Last night at City Council, Keep Whitehall Beautiful was officially chartered by the national organization Keep America Beautiful. By being a chartered community, we are open to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of beautification and litter prevention grants as well as receive supplies for clean-ups and other programs. One of the things I love most about this organization, though, is the commitment to not only cleaning up litter but changing behaviors about littering. It’s one thing to pick up a piece of trash but it’s another to teach the person who threw it on the ground how his actions impact his community. Education about taking pride in the appearance of your home and community starts at a young age, and Keep America Beautiful provides some great curriculum and programming resources to schools. We’re excited to have our assistant Whitehall City Schools Superintendent Mark Trace on Keep Whitehall Beautiful’s board and explore the different opportunities available to us through this nationally-known organization.

Another way the City is working on beautifying the community and tackling our litter problem is by hiring two permanent, part-time employees. By the end of the month, these two employees will be hitting the streets to address litter in targeted areas. Having a litter-free community speaks volumes to those driving through our community, and we believe these two new staff members will add to our effort on an ongoing basis.

We’re also working on a number of other projects to help beautify our community. I’m sure you’ve noticed the new median on Main Street near our western border. This provides a fresh look for the community and helps let visitors coming from the west know that they are in our city. In the next month or so, we will start construction on a similar gateway feature along Hamilton Road near Community Park. The gateway and additional street repair on North Hamilton Road will also include refacing the current railway underpass and a multi-use path connecting Community Park to Broad Street. This will allow this great park to be more accessible to our residents.

Data currently is driving a lot of work in our public safety departments, also. Two new positions were created late last year primarily to better capture and understand data. At the fire department, our new EMS Coordinator is mining data from EMS runs to make sure that the Whitehall Division of Fire is always on the cutting edge with training and services provided to our community. That position is looking at the big picture and helping to develop quality assurance standards. At the police department, the creation of a data analyst position is helping us better understand where certain crimes occur most in the city, allowing us to use our resources more efficiently. Sometimes, the business of everyday life gets in the way of looking at the overall story. The creation of these positions and the steps we are taking to mine our data are other ways we are looking toward the future.

And that’s exactly what we are thinking about as we proceed on the path to purchasing the Commons at Royal Landings complex at the corner of Broad and Hamilton. Some of you may remember this development as Fairport Gardens. As you all are probably aware, the area around the complex has been a constant source of problems and resulted in nearly 400 calls for service from the police department in the past six months alone. We have been focused on this area for some time. Last August, we tore down the former Shumaker Place apartment building directly adjacent to the complex.

It’s clear that this area is not a safe environment for our residents, and we’re taking steps to improve it for the overall health of our community. We are working long and hard to make sure this is the right and best option for our community and that we’re doing it in the best way possible. The purchase of this property will be done through Tax Increment Financing funds and will have zero impact on the general fund. City Council will vote on April 5th to authorize me to officially enter into contract for the 17-acre property. The selection process of a developer to transform that intersection into a better, safer option for our community will begin soon. Though nothing is finalized, we hope for mixed-use development -- one that that would feature a combination of commercial office space, retail and quality housing that will attract the next generation of Whitehall residents - the kind of housing that speaks to young professionals and empty-nesters, two demographics that today we simply do not have any inventory to attract. 

Late last month, Kroger took the first steps and announced preliminary plans to expand its current Broad Street location through relocation across the street to the west end of Town and Country and the former Big Bear site. That end of the shopping center has sat empty for more than a decade. We’re so excited that Kroger is committed to the Whitehall market and is exploring expanding its store here. We think that redeveloping the entire western portion of Town and Country will make a visible impact for those driving east on Broad Street into our City. If completed, rest assured that we will work closely with the owner of the current Kroger site to identify new tenants for the area.

And, if you’ve driven north on Hamilton Road near Poth Road lately, you’ve likely seen the massive concrete walls going up for a 140,000-square-foot industrial building at the former site of the Oasis headquarters. This building, which is being constructed faster than I even can believe, will be home to a number of tenants, the first being Continental Auto Parts, an auto parts distributer. On the other end of Poth by Yearling, construction is wrapping up for Creative Palette, the commercial art and interior décor company that announced its expansion to Whitehall early last year.

These developments are just some of the most recent projects allowing us to gain economic development momentum both locally and nationally. And with those new jobs and payroll, we become even more capable of accomplishing our goals and funding YOUR priorities. We are really beginning to hit our stride as more and more start-up founders, established business leaders and developers are looking to Whitehall to seize their opportunities. I’m very happy to announce to you tonight that we caught the eye of one of central Ohio’s best companies and an industry leader.  

Heartland Bank has chosen Whitehall as home to its new corporate headquarters.

Heartland was founded more than a century ago and provides full-service commercial, small business and consumer banking services as well as other investment and financial products. In addition to moving their corporate headquarters, with nearly 100 employees and $5 million dollars in annual payroll, the Heartland team also plans to open its 15th branch here to serve our community as well as partner with the City on a number of projects --- (pause) more about that in a few minutes.

Heartland chairman, president and CEO Scott McComb has joined us tonight to say a few words about why Whitehall is the right choice for Heartland. Scott…

Please see video for Mr. McComb's remarks.

Heartland’s new headquarters will be located along North Hamilton Road at the site of the current Parks Maintenance Complex. As called for in the Parks Master Plan adopted last year, the current facility is moving to Country Club Road at John Bishop Park after the old armory is torn down later this year.

Heartland’s commitment continues the momentum we’ve been building and is the first phase of a multi-phased plan to bring financial independence to our parks and recreation system while increasing the usable public acreage. 

In addition to Heartland, the  administration, with the support of City Council, has  chosen not to renew the lease for the Four Seasons Golf Center, the golf dome located across from the Columbus Country Club on Broad Street and adjacent to Whitehall Community Park. The City has owned this 37-acre property since the late 1990s and has leased the dome and driving range to the golf center. It is no longer financially responsible to continue leasing this property, as the City would actually lose money over the coming decades.

Instead a portion of this site will be transformed into a multi-phased office campus that we believe has the potential to produce 500 additional jobs and generate $20 million dollars in new payroll, while at the same time allowing for Whitehall Community Park to grow by as many as 18 acres.  

In addition, I will be proposing that 100% of ALL income tax collected from these two sites be used to establish and fund a Parks Improvement Endowment Fund to pay for necessary improvements in our parks. To ensure park goers see improvements in the parks sooner rather than later, as part of this improvement plan, we will take a bond in the amount of $1.3 million dollars to do immediate improvements in Whitehall Community Park as called for in the Parks Master Plan that was approved in late 2014. These improvements include better accessibility to the building, additional walking trails, new shelters and other similar projects. I am confident that once fully phased, this endowment fund will generate over a half a million dollars annually for the Parks.

This plan will be transformative for our entire community and especially for our parks system, and I want to publicly thank Director Steve Carr for his, and the Parks Commission’s, support, cooperation and hard work on this plan.

Bringing jobs to Whitehall allows us to write a positive story for future generations of Whitehall residents. The influx of new tax dollars is good for our schools, our public services like police, fire and street maintenance, and, with employers like Heartland (gesture to Scott), good for our Parks system.

Not resting on our success, over the past few months, our Community Affairs Coordinator and Development Director have been working hard on new ways to introduce Whitehall to business leaders who might not know our community. We’ve strengthened relationships with regional partners like Columbus2020 and the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange. Now, we’d like to show you  a short video we’ve been working on to help market our community to businesses. Please click here to view the video.

This video, as well as other tools in our box, will help extend Whitehall’s story and show companies outside of central Ohio - and even the state - what Whitehall has to offer them.

Nearly 14,000 people work in our City each day, and we’ve been working hard to make sure our current employers have opportunities to succeed and grow. Last July, the City created a new position in the Economic Development Department. In just the last six months of 2015, the City’s new Economic Development Specialist made 85 business retention and expansion – or BRE – visits. This position and these BRE visits are designed to foster stronger relationships between the City and our current employers and to connect employers to each other and resources available to them.

Another result of these BRE visits has been data-gathering. The economic development department found that 87% of businesses visited reported that their business income was increasing or consistent. Additionally, nearly half of the businesses visited were in the process of hiring or adding jobs. An estimated 50 jobs were created in 2015, just thanks to our existing businesses expansion. Our goal is to conduct a total of 200 BRE visits by the end of this year.

And here’s another great number: 50. In 2015, the City was able to help 50 Whitehall homeowners with home projects through both the Home Reinvestment Program and our partnership with local non-profit Rebuilding Together Central Ohio. Rebuilding Together came into Whitehall last May and worked with dozens of homeowners in our Country Club Village neighborhood. We were so happy that Rebuilding Together’s board chose to come back to Whitehall this year. The first weekend of May, hundreds of volunteers will descend on the Norton Field area to our help residents there. If you’re interested in being a volunteer on Team Whitehall, log on to the City’s website for more information.

And we’ve again set aside $100,000 dollars for our Home Reinvestment Program to help residents with home projects. Like the past two years, the program will focus on exterior projects as a way to increase curb appeal and inspire others to take pride in their properties. We will be running the program this year through a lottery system. Applications will be available beginning Monday and will be accepted through June 1st. Check out the website for more information about this program, too.

A little bit ago, I mentioned how Heartland Bank planned to partner with the City on a number of projects. Through Heartland, we hope to bring new, committed homeowners into Whitehall. In 2012, we launched a down payment assistance program to help residents looking to purchase and live in homes here in Whitehall. The City invested $250,000 dollars in the program and helped 72 families find homes in Whitehall. We’re proud to team up with Heartland to create a similar program – the Helping Hands Mortgage Program - to help make home ownership in Whitehall a reality for even more families. Heartland has designed a loan portfolio specifically for this program that features waived private mortgage insurance, a minimal down payment and no origination fees. Heartland plans to work with local real estate agents to educate them on this program and then officially roll it out next month.

We have created and supported some great programs like these to help our current homeowners and attract new homeowners, and this year, we want to extend that helping hand a little further. For the first time ever, we are launching a grant program for our local, Whitehall non-profits to empower them as they continue to make a difference in our community. Organizations like the Whitehall Community Celebrations Association, Kiwanis and the Whitehall Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, are eligible to apply for small project-based grants. Funding is limited and is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The application and guidelines will be available soon, and information will be sent out to leaders of some of our local organizations.

In an effort to be better connected about programs like this as well as City events and important community notifications, we are working on rolling out a bi-weekly e-newsletter. As you can tell from all the information we talked about tonight, we have a lot going on and we want to make sure that we’re getting you this information as best as possible. The newsletter will go out on Fridays and will keep you informed about City happenings, such as our upcoming Community Shred Day on Saturday, April 9th and our Community Health Expo on Saturday, April 16th at Rosemore. To sign up to receive this newsletter, visit the City’s website or log on to our Facebook page and click where it says “Sign Up for Emails.” Of course, the information in these newsletters also will be on our Facebook page, Twitter, Nextdoor and our website, which we are in the process of redesigning. Our updated website will be more user friendly and more mobile-phone friendly, so look for that to launch early this summer. In today’s ever-connected world, we want to make sure we’re sharing our great stories with you in the right ways.

As you’ve heard and seen tonight, Whitehall has embarked on a pivotal chapter in its story. My administration is working hard each and every day to make sure we’re moving Whitehall forward and thinking about future generations of residents and employees. We don’t always know what’s ahead for us, but we DO know that we will do the best job we can to put ourselves in the BEST position to tackle what the future has in store.

Thank you for allowing me to share Whitehall’s story with you tonight.