Program’s goal: More business for Belmont

LIBERTY – Hoping to spark an economic boom, township Administrator Pat Ungaro has spent the past decade lobbying for new business incentives committed to the heavily traveled Belmont Avenue.

That vision is close to becoming a reality, as Liberty awaits approval from the Ohio Department of Development’s Community Reinvestment program.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for more than 10 years and, finally, with the current trustees, everyone has agreed this is the time to do it,” Ungaro said. “I’ve brought it up many times over the years.”

The program offers many incentives, including tax exemptions of 50 percent lasting up to 10 years for commercial and residential properties within the designated area. Last week, county commissioners approved the program’s boundaries as a 3 1/2-mile stretch on Belmont Avenue from Gypsy Lane to Tibbetts Wick Road.

“We want to be significantly more aggressive in development around the community,” Ungaro said. “We are looking forward to a lot of new development in the years to come.”

With direct access to Interstate 80 along the roadway, Ungaro is confident the program will be a major success for the area. “That interstate availability is one of the keys,” Ungaro said.

If approved, James Rodway, township housing inspector, would serve as the program’s housing officer. His responsibilities would include general oversight of the project.

“Basically, I will be the initial contact person for those interested in taking advantage of the program,” Rodway said on Friday. “I would make sure all of the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.”

In addition to the housing inspector, the township would create a housing council and tax incentive review council to oversee any potential property investments. If everything goes according to plan, Rodway estimates investors could have incentives available within the next month.

Dave Dubinga, community planning coordinator, said that while residential properties can take advantage of the program, the main focus will be on the commercial aspects.

“There are those provisions for the residential buildings,” Dubinga said. “But this particular program is more about the business side of it. There are other programs which are quicker and easier for residential properties.”

Meanwhile, Ungaro said he has already received interest from investors, though he declined to disclose specific names of groups or businesses.

“We will start talking publicly about that soon, but we are obviously waiting to get everything approved at this point,” Ungaro said, but he made it clear he is thinking big. “This will be a positive thing for the whole community. Rather than have a piece of empty land generating $50,000 in property taxes, I’d rather have a $15 million project.

“If you build a new motel, half of your taxes can be abated for 10 years. That is a pretty big incentive. We want to make this area as appealing as possible for new businesses to bring in new structures and help these areas,” he said.

Remodeling costs must meet or exceed $5,000 to take advantage of the tax incentives. Ungaro said school expansions could also be a major beneficiary.

“They would get that tax abatement of 50 percent on anything like that, too,” he noted.

Ungaro cited improving economic conditions as the major reason this was the year to go forward with program.

“I talk to a lot of people around the area and the last few years have obviously been very slow,” Ungaro said. “Projects have maybe been put on hold for that reason. Now, I’m starting to see things pick up again. We hope this gives the local economy a push.”

For township trustee Jodi Stoyak, the decision was an easy one.

”By businesses being able to have a tax abatement it will be more desirable to come and build in Liberty Township,” she said.

Stoyak said that in recent years the township has seen small businesses come to the township. She said Phar Mor and Hills have left, but Walmart has moved in. Other large available properties in the community reinvesment area boundaries include the old Kmart building and the former Ramada Inn.