Desire more? Aspire more.

“Have you seen the article in the Times about the schools?”

By the time this text came through late Wednesday morning, I’d read the article and knew it was time to share the Port Authority’s vision for the site of the former Little Hocking Elementary. But before I proceed with sharing our vision, I would like to extend our sincerest appreciation to Mr. Kyle Newton, Superintendent of Warren Local Schools. If it were not for Kyle’s interest in pursuing other uses for the sites of Little Hocking and Warren Elementaries, the Port would not have had an opportunity to create this vision. Due credit also goes to my predecessor, Mr. Andy Kuhn, who laid the groundwork for the proposal that the Port ultimately presented to the Belpre Township Trustees. Both of these individuals deserve a lot of credit for aspiring for more on behalf of the greater good. 

A final point of clarity before I share the facts as I know them to be: My intent in sharing this information is to help educate readers as to what the Port has to offer in terms of job creation and business attraction. I also want to educate folks on how, and why, economic development does, and does not work. No blame is being cast; I will allow you to form your own opinion as to whether our vision is indeed the highest and best use for a site like Little Hocking, or if ballfields that “just need some attention” are the highest and best use for prime development sites in our county. This is a complex, nuanced issue that may not have a truly right, or wrong, answer. All I know, is that we tried to serve our mission and the next time someone asks “why aren’t we doing what they’re doing in Muskingum County?”, I can point them to this post and say: “We’re trying.” 

Here’s a newsletter that highlights the most recent win for Muskingum County Zanesville Receives $3.1 Million Site Development Grant. That’s what they’re doing. This is what we’re doing…

Letter of Interest

In late March, just two weeks into my new career as Executive Director for the Port, I signed my name to a Letter of Interest (which can be read here – SeOPA LOI) and I did so with great pride. You see, as a lifelong resident of the Barlow-Vincent area, I was a BV Bobcat who played basketball and baseball against the Little Hocking Yellowjackets “back in the day” and I have some great memories from inside that gym, and on those ballfields. To me, it’s a great honor to have an opportunity to help communities that are near and dear to me as a lifelong Warren Warrior, to grow and prosper. When you look at the site of the Little Hocking School, and you evaluate all the boxes it checks from a development standpoint, you’ll see that it quickly rises to the top of the list of Washington County properties with significant potential for high-impact economic development projects. Here are just a few things that it offers:

  • It’s flat
  • Out of the floodplain
  • Presumed clean environmentally
  • Visible and accessible to a major highway
  • Located equidistant from Marietta and Athens
  • All major utilities present w/ sufficient wastewater treatment on site
  • An opportunity to attempt our first-ever Joint Economic Development District
    • Zanesville’s Port is developing their 4th JEDD and has generated hundreds of jobs and millions in tax revenue using this development tool

The Little Hocking site is arguably the single best site in Washington County for an economic development project that creates measurable, lasting results for the economy of this county. As stated in our LOI, “… finding a solution that puts the site to its highest and best use for each stakeholder, we have the potential to increase the tax base for both the district and the county, while preserving a community asset, potentially creating jobs, and providing the fire department the opportunity to construct a new firehouse.”

A Win-Win-Win-Win

When attempting to appease a variety of interested parties, you must Satisfy the WIIFM Principle and our proposal does its best to do that for the Community, the Township, the Port, and the Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Department (LHVFD). Early in our conversations about this project, it was made clear to me that the LHVFD was a key stakeholder in the future of this site and as someone who knows firsthand how important the LHVFD is to not only the community of Little Hocking, but to all of western Washington County, I wanted to do my best to serve their interests as well. Knowing the Township would ultimately control the site, it was incumbent upon me to make sure there was something in it for them also. Knowing dozens of Little Hocking residents, and having grown up walking to Mason’s Corner Store as a child visiting my grandfather who owned the Sawyer Curtis House, I wanted to offer something positive to the community despite the immediate perception that “development is bad”. And with the Port’s mission focused on collaborative, innovative partnerships that support a growing and vibrant economy, this was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that with actionable projects that generate real results. 

On Monday, July 13th, I met with Superintendent Newton, Trustee Asa Boring, and Trustee Dan Mason to present the Port’s proposal, which can be viewed here – SeOPA LH Site Proposal. To sum up my interaction with the Trustees, it was disappointing, but not surprising. Our conversation was effectively over before it began and it was made very clear to me that Belpre Township, particularly Little Hocking, is off-limits to economic development activities such as this. 

The nuts and bolts of the agreement are as follows:

In exchange for 6.4 acres, more or less, at the nominal consideration of $1.00, the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority is willing to provide the following compensation to Belpre Township and it’s constituents:

  • $25,000 to move the trailers to a location south of the proposed Business Park
  • $25,000 towards a new playground to be located on the adjacent community space
  • $25,000 for site planning and engineering on the remainder of the site
    • Design of a community space, fire department relocation, township facilities, etc. 
  • 5 years of grant writing assistance to include research, planning, writing, seeking required match, etc.
    • Targeting community space, fire department relocation, township facilities, etc.
  • Facilitated exploration of a Joint Economic Development District in partnership with the City of Belpre
    • Potential to generate new/additional tax revenue for Township and City
  • Willingness to adopt covenants/restrictions that preclude certain types of industrial development
    • E.g. No blending or compounding, no hazardous chemical processing, etc. 

Not only did we include something for everyone, we preserved two of the ballfields, which is most certainly sufficient for a small community with a declining population. When I first floated this idea publicly, I was criticized for not showing more empathy towards the “destruction” of the ballfields. I find that ironic for someone who has experienced the loss of every ballfield I grew up playing on in Barlow. Our tee ball field? Gone. Pigeon League field? Gone. Minor, Major, and Pony League fields? Also gone. But I’m not sad and bitter about it. I recognize that progress requires sacrifice and if I held “dirt” and ballfields to be of greater value than progress, my children would be going to old, decaying schools rather than the new, state-of-the-art facilities they’ll now benefit from. 

So now what?

We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done and expect to have more, and better, for the next generation. What do you desire for the next generation of Warren Warriors? Dirt and grass? Or jobs and economic vitality? Only you know that answer, but I hope you now understand the types of activities the Port is involved in and why we don’t have what Zanesville has. But we do have ballfields, so grab a glove and go kick rocks, kid…