Does Granville have an image problem with potential business investors and developers?
It does with some in the eyes of Denison University President Adam Weinberg.
Granville’s reputation as a potential site for business or development efforts “is not good,” Weinberg opined during Denison’s 40th Annual Denison Business & Industry Leaders Breakfast held Feb. 7.
He ventured that assessment with area business and industry leaders assembled within the university’s new Eisner arts center – the first DU campus structure facing downtown Granville's main street.
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After praising business, industry and housing development efforts he’s observed around Licking County – “embracing of all of the kinds of growth we need,” as he put it – Weinberg turned his focus to Granville.
“I do worry a little bit, about our little corner of Central Ohio – Granville,” Weinberg said. “I’m not sure I want to say much, except that we seem to be really good in Granville in articulating what we don’t want, in stopping things from happening. We’re not sure what we do want.
“We continue at Denison to talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, developers and restauranteurs, many of whom actually move out to Granville and live here who have really cool things they want to do in Granville, that would be awesome for Granville and the people who live here, but our reputation is not good.”
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Granville Mayor Melissa Hartfield called Weinberg's assertions “unfortunate.”
The Denison President’s remarks are stirring fresh debate and reflection on the part of Granville-area public officials and business-focused stakeholders, not just about that supposed reputation, but how it squares with reality.
While some were left stung by Weinberg's remarks, his comments have kick-started fresh discussions among key players.
‘What we aspire to be’
“I just think we need to think about that in Granville. How do we change the perception so that this is some place that attracts the kind of projects that most of us who live here would like to see come and would be good for the community?” – Adam Weinberg, Feb. 7
At a Granville Village Council meeting held two nights before the Denison breakfast, two speakers urged council to move on developing three contiguous downtown properties currently occupied by Granville Township Fire Department.
One of those lobbying was Steve Matheny, Granville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.
The other was resident Jeremy King, whom, anticipating remarks made by Weinberg said, “Granville has spent a long time, decades, playing defense, talking about what we don’t want to be. This is an opportunity to talk about what we do want to be.”
In a joint interview at the chamber office, Matheny and Steamroller Bagel’s owner Jay Snyder, currently serving as chair of the chamber’s economic development committee, discussed Weinberg’s comments, and what they perceive as that Granville “reputation."
Snyder's restaurant is on North Prospect, just doors down from the downtown fire station building that will be vacated upon a new South Street station’s completion.
Snyder said, “We have historically existed in a realm where we could maintain what we are with the simple answer of ‘no.’ But in terms of having a plan of what we want and implementing that? We’re entering a period that is critical.”
Granville in ‘precarious position’?
That critical period, in Snyder’s view, is propelled by Granville’s more driven, development-focused neighbors, chiefly New Albany and Newark.
“We are in a precarious position,” Snyder said. “We do have to adjust these things quickly because nobody is waiting, either side of us. New Albany has a plan, Newark has a plan, and if people who have a plan get together and exclude us with us in the middle…?”
Matheny said, “I think there’s an effort or growing momentum toward trying to identify what we want and what we aspire to be, because that’s been lacking, or at least, it hasn’t been evident what it is. I think others are beginning to realize the same thing. We hope that local government will also recognize that and join in the effort.”
Parking and approval processes
“When we go to events with people who partner with DU, they say, ‘Why would I want to do business in Granville? There’s so much uncertainty in getting anything approved. We can work in the rest of the region without the risk of putting a lot of work into something that may not happen, or if it does happen, it’s going to require a lot of effort and even if we get it approved, at that point we’re going to feel like we’re not wanted…'” – Adam Weinberg, Feb. 7
The perception for some is that Granville is hard to deal with, whether you’re pitching a large-scale residential housing concept, or, a mom-and-pop operation.
Snyder said, “From little things like the (“Seek-No-Further Cidery” nearing completion in an ivory barn-garage downtown) that seems to be an issue, or our business,” said Snyder of his Steamroller Bagels, “ours was a contentious vote to get approval for use of that building. Those are small-scale, small-business examples.”
The aforementioned cidery was at odds with the village over matters tied to permitting and parking before eventual council approval was granted, and challenges by a neighboring business were put to rest.
On a snowy Thursday morning, Chris Crader and partner Trent Beers were in the barn with contractors, watching electrical wiring being strung and discussing construction logistics.
The cidery, first publicly pitched to council in January 2019, is now scheduled to open sometime in April.
Crader said the process to establish the cidery actually dates further back: “We started talking to the village about the feasibility of it in the third quarter of 2018. What’s the road map look like? Are we crazy? How high is the hill we're pushing the rock up?”
Crader has dealt with other communities for other enterprises he has launched, including Dublin, German Village and Clintonville.
The experience with Granville was comparable to those with other communities in most respects, Crader said.
“The staff was very professional and great to work with… They were very open about the cans and cannots of the process," he said.
Crader added, “Trent and I have talked about it: I actually welcome a gauntlet and a multi-tier approval process where you have to pass muster. But if you’re usage is appropriate and compliments the neighborhood, once you pass through that filter, it should be, ‘Congratulations.’”
Where the process differed in Granville from other communities where he has established businesses is in the appeals process granted citizens, Crader said.
“In this case, you have 30 days each time for the appeals process. When council meets twice a month, and alternate weeks is the planning commission, and you have 30 days in appeals each time…? That’s how you rack up time.”
That said, Crader and Beers agreed they chose Granville for particular reasons, and those reasons endure: “Great schools, rolling hills communities and a beautiful downtown,” as Crader put it. He said he is still interested in pursuing other projects in the village.
But he does worry about that alleged “reputation” alluded to by Denison’s president.
“This goes to Adam Weinberg’s point,” Crader said. “What happens when the veneer and luster wears off and all this protection and ‘no’-ism wears off, and people stop moving out here to pay these taxes?”
Granville Mayor: DU President’s comments ‘unfortunate’
“Although the comments were unfortunate, the village will continue to strive to enhance and build on the relationship we have forged with Denison for close to 200 years,” Mayor Melissa Hartfield stated in comments released Thursday.
She acknowledged the perception on the part of some regarding Granville and matters of development, but indicated those perceptions lack context.
“I would point to efforts such as our Memorandum of Understanding with Granville Township for a Cooperative Economic Development Agreement (CEDA) which opens the door for extension of utilities into the Route 16 corridor; our Middleton TIF which will support improvement to infrastructure along Weaver Drive and River Road; the pending annexation agreement with the River Road shops to extend water and sewer to them; the new HPLEX orthopedic sports medicine complex – also supported by a TIF to provide infrastructure improvements.
“These all represent development efforts that required forethought and extensive planning,” Hartfield continued. “Additionally, the village staff has provided full collaboration on more than twenty projects for the Denison campus over the last two years alone.”
Hartfield stresses village officials welcome input and ideas from residents and business, and other Granville stakeholders.
Trustee: Weinberg's words 'had an impact'
Bryn Bird, chair of the Granville Township Trustees, said she wasn't present for the DU breakfast meeting, but she heard about what was said almost immediately.
"Within minutes, I knew something had been said," Bird said. "It’s definitely had an impact. I know the village was surprised by the comments, and they want to better understand where they’re coming from."
But Bird said the DU president's observations have also had a galvanizing effect.
"I do think we're all talking more now. I met with (Granville Village Manager Herb Koehler) today, and we talked for two hours."
Bird concluded, "I’m happy and excited it’s moving the conversation forward."