December 19, 2014

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UPDATED: Lorain mayor says city continuing to improve

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenaur gives the State of the City address at DeLuca's Place in the Park on Thursday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenaur gives the State of the City address at DeLuca’s Place in the Park on Thursday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — Despite hard economic times and less state money, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Lorain is improving.

“That’s the spirit of Lorain,” Ritenauer told some 200 people Thursday in his third annual State of the City address at DeLuca’s Place in the Park. “We battle. We work through it. We grit. We grind. We get through it.”

Ritenauer said the road won’t be quick or easy. However, roads will be smoother in Lorain. Thanks to taxpayers’ passage of a levy in 2012, Ritenauer said the city spent $18 million on road improvements in 2013 and will spend up to $9.5 million this year.

Ritenauer said removal of “onerous requirements” made bidding more competitive, saving $2.2 million on roadway projects and $2 million on waterline projects.

The requirements loosened local hiring requirements for city projects and angered union leaders including Harry Williamson, Lorain County AFL-CIO and Communications Worker Local 370 president.

Williamson, who attended the speech, said afterward that he was hopeful he could work with Ritenauer to increase local hiring of union workers. Williamson said he supported Ritenauer’s commitment to infrastructure improvements.

Besides infrastructure, Ritenauer said Lorain’s quality of life is improving, to which he credited police. He said violent crime remained level in 2013 from 2012, but property crime dropped 12 percent and overall crime decreased 11 percent.

To continue improving quality of life and public safety, Ritenauer urged passage of Issue 18, a 0.25 percent income tax renewal levy on the ballot in May. The five-year levy, which raises $2.4 million annually, was passed in 2005 in response to the closing of Lorain’s Ford Motor Co., plant.

“If we want to continue to see investment and forward movement in Lorain, we have to renew this levy,” he said.

Ritenauer’s 33-minute speech also touched on criticism by some landlords and real estate agents regarding new point-of-sale inspections. The inspections began in January and require buyers or sellers to rectify violations before sales are allowed and can involve establishing escrow accounts to pay for repairs. Ritenauer estimated about 25 percent of inspections will result in improvements being required.

Ritenauer said sales of deficient homes has “ravaged” Lorain’s neighborhoods and perpetuated blight. The inspections will help stop blight that has, “wreaked havoc on Lorain for far too long,” he said.

Ritenauer’s anti-blight initiative also includes what he described as an aggressive demolition plan targeting a few hundred properties. About 170 homes have been demolished since Ritenauer took office in 2012.

Ritenauer has tied improved housing and infrastructure to economic development. While acknowledging the effect of market fluctuations, Ritenauer touted recent multi-million dollar investments by Republic Steel and U.S. Steel in their Lorain plants and the upcoming expansion at Camoco, an auto parts manufacturer.

With the recent removal of electrical lines, Ritenauer said Lorain will aggressively market waterfront property to developers and make downtown more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

Anthony Gallo, president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, praised Ritenauer’s efforts and the tone of the speech.

“He’s still giving hope to people that there are better things down the road,” said Gallo whose organization sponsored the speech. “There’s still a lot more in his agenda and still a lot more that is going to come from him.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.