April 17, 2014

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Northeastern municipalities tout growth

From left, Linda Hamann, president of the North Coast Chamber of Commerce; Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka; Avon Mayor Jim Smith; and Sheffield Mayor John Hunter pose Wednesday at the Mayors Luncheon in Avon. (CT photo by Steve Fogarty.)

AVON — Four mayors each touted their respective community’s economic achievements while putting positive spins on each city’s future at the annual Mayors Luncheonon Wednesday at Tom’s Country Place.

The audience heard similar reports, banter and jokes from mayors of Avon, Avon Lake, Sheffield and Sheffield Lake, but it was Avon Mayor Jim Smith who got a standing ovation after he delivered his final luncheon remarks as mayor.

Avon

“It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of heartaches,” Smith told the noontime gathering as he reflected on his city’s growth over the past year and its continued economic development.

Smith, who was elected mayor in 1994, has said for some time he will not seek re-election.

“I’ve walked my dog at 1 in the morning, and the police have seen me go into City Hall at 3 a.m. in my PJs,” Smith said. “I worry, and it’s time for me to quit worrying.”

As he finished his remarks, the crowd rose to its feet, applauding him loudly.

Minutes before, Smith again spoke of the long struggle to accomplish the single toughest job he faced as mayor, getting the $28 million Nagel Road interchange built and opened on Interstate 90.

That struggle ranged from resistant property owners who thought they would be assessed for the project, to opposition from Cuyahoga County officials, including those in Westlake, who felt the interchange would siphon businesses away from their communities.

“Blood started to pulsate out of the corner of my eye,” Smith said when he read a recent newspaper account in which Northeast Ohio Area-wide Coordinating Agency officials cited the interchange as among the agency’s top five achievements. “They did everything they could to delay us and now they take credit for it.”

Smith also touted the results of working to attract new business as well as keeping existing businesses happy with measures, including tax abatements.

“Everybody was afraid to try it, and I was blasted in the papers for doing it, but we did it anyway,” Smith said, citing retention of L&W Engineering, a 65-job firm, to landing the new Joe Firment Chevrolet dealership on Chester Road. “You can’t let companies get out of your grasp. You may only have one shot at them in this day and age.”

Sheffield

Sheffield Mayor John Hunter said about 15 new businesses opened or are soon to open in his community, including a new Panera Bread on Abbe Road.

Hunter said the village is also planning for a new Holiday Inn and is mulling bringing a Homewood Suites to town.

Hunter also used his time to note pending construction projects that will widen Abbe Road in the area of Detroit Road and Lorain County Community College and the replacement of the Abbe Road bridge over Interstate 90. Both are expected to get under way this spring and be finished before the end of the year.

Sheffield Lake

Both Hunter and Sheffield Lake Mayor Dennis Bring took note of the recent groundbreaking for a new seventh- to 12th-grade school serving both communities through the Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools.

Funded by a 4.94-mill, 31-year bond issue, the $31 million project will see construction of high school and middle school wings, new gyms and shared music facilities, media center and combined cafeteria-auditorium.

Bring also said his community is expected to benefit from competing cable TV companies with Wide Open West starting to battle with Time Warner Cable.

Other improvements include a grant for a 2,900-foot extension of a bike path along Lake Road to link with an existing school path, the swearing-in of the city’s first female police officer and two new rescue boats being added to the department.

Bring said he hoped to be able to make a big announcement involving future development.

Avon Lake

Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka spoke about the experience his city gained from the cleanup after superstorm Sandy in October, which struck the city the same day that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke at Avon Lake High School.

City crews dealt with power outages around town that lasted up to six days, Zilka said.

“We learned a valuable lesson and gained practice in dealing with a major weather event, and proved we could do it,” Zilka said.

Zilka also said the initial success of the city’s new business tax incentive program that rewards businesses for boosting the amount of income tax paid to the city.

Firms received 25 percent rebates of the amount of increased income tax paid in 2012, which ranged from $185 for a local bicycle shop to more than $76,000 for Ford Motor Co.’s Ohio Assembly Plant.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.