By Jeff Gallatin
City officials believe a business tool that has proved useful elsewhere can help build an even stronger business community in North Olmsted.
Mayor Kevin Kennedy’s administration selected the area around Westfield Great Northern Mall for the first use of a Tax Increment Fund. In a TIF, tax revenues generated from reinvestment projects in the area would be specifically designated or earmarked toward improvements in the TIF district area.
Thinking specifically of the mall, Kennedy said for example, funds from reinvestment projects in that area could go toward infrastructure improvements in that area.
“Since the mall is looking at putting in a multiscreen movie theater into the complex, we could use tax funds from the work generated by that and funnel them back into improvements in that area,” Kennedy said. “We’d have the benefit of making the area better not only with the project, but by using the taxes to work in that area to help improve it even more. It’s something that can really help businesses a lot for a lot of years.”
North Olmsted planning and development Director Kim Wenger said TIFs have been used successfully before in Ohio. Westlake also included a similar plan in the work done around the American Greetings projects in Crocker Park.
“Tax increment financing is not a new economic development tool, but it is new to North Olmsted. The increase in commercial activity beginning in 2011 in the city made this a good time to explore how we could leverage private investment to support public infrastructure,” she said. “A number of studies focusing on the Great Northern area have recommended improvements such as signal upgrades, potential street and interchange modifications, and streetscape enhancements. We continue to seek grants for these projects, but in almost any funding scheme, there is some matching commitment required of the City. The question has been, where do these matching funds come from?
“With the TIF in place, businesses will pay the same taxes they would have otherwise, but once adopted, an increment of revenues will be directed to a special fund to make infrastructure improvements benefiting the area. These funds will be earmarked for infrastructure and cannot be used for another purpose. The schools will continue to receive the funds they would have otherwise been entitled to without the TIF in place.”
Robert Matson, treasurer for North Olmsted City Schools, said the schools are glad to see any project that would benefit the city.
“It’s good for all of us if the business community and city as a whole are being made better,” he said. “All of us will see benefits from projects which improve the city.”
Matson said the district also appreciates that the city is making sure the school district does not suffer lost revenues.
“We’ve always had a strong working relationship with the city,” he said. “They’ve been good working partners with the district in many areas for years. Whenever they’ve worked on business and development, they’ve always worked at making sure the school district’s needs are taken care of.”
Westfield Great Northern Mall officials declined comment on the district.
Paul Barker, chairman of City Council’s finance committee, sees the TIF as a strong development tool, saying that made it a natural for support from council.
“It shows businesses that we’re willing to work with them and find ways to benefit them as well,” he said. “Making the areas around businesses stronger will help bring people into the business and that area. That benefits the business and the city, and makes us all stronger in the long run.”