SIDNEY — The Great Miami Riverway Summit is an annual event that has been held in various cities along the river for the past 16 years and on Friday, April 14, Sidney hosted the 16th annual Great Miami Riverway Summit in the Historic Sidney Theatre.
“We are all here today because, as we all know, the Great Miami Riverway is more than just a river. We are here because of the common bond of our proximity to the Great Miami River. Its history has shaped this region for millennia,” said Sidney Mayor Mardie Milligan in her speech welcoming guests to Sidney and the Great Miami Riverway Summit.
The summit was hosted, in part, by the Miami Conservancy District, local non-profit Sidney Alive, the Sidney Visitors Bureau and the Sidney Parks and Recreation Department with many sponsors from the riverway area. Guests included government officials, tourism professionals, economic developers and river lovers from Hamilton up to Sidney and some cities further north. When planning the summit Sarah Hippensteel Hall, manager of watershed partnerships for the Miami Conservancy District, and Dan Foley, director of the Great Miami Riverway, looked for presenters to discuss new projects, innovative and inspirational ideas to improve the riverway communities and Ohio.
“This is my 16th one (Riverway Summit) because the Conservancy District has been involved since the beginning. We’re the ones who helped bring these cities together in the beginning because we’re better as a team than we are as individual organizations,” said Hippensteel Hall. “I’m most excited because at the end of the day people are super pumped and excited and inspired to go back out and continue doing this work and make their communities a better place to live. It’s just inspiring.”
At the 2023 Great Miami Riverway Summit the agenda features Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development, who discussed tourism and its impact on economic vitality in Ohio. Mihalik’s presentation focused on the current population decline in Ohio and ways the communities on the riverway can help to stop the decline. She also presented different programs from Governor Mike DeWine that have helped spurn economic development and general improvements to the quality of life in Ohio. Highlights of Mihalik’s presentation include why Ohio’s population is trending down, 2050 projections for Ohio’s population, ways to potentially reverse the downward trend, Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grants, demolition grants and programs like All Ohio Future Fund and Broadband Ohio.
One of the main reasons that Ohio’s population is declining, according to Mihalik and ODD, is that the rate of death in the state surpasses the rate of births. Some ways Mihalik presented to potentially curb the decline include convincing individuals and families to move to Ohio with more aggressive marketing of the state’s qualities, addressing housing needs, investing in Ohio and working with each other at local levels through Innovation Hubs to nurture the communities and attract the best business.
“At the state level, we’re doing what we can to build strong communities so that when people come to our state, whether it’s to visit or to call home, we have the infrastructure and amenities to be able to support them,” said Mihalik.
“The work that we do with partners, just like all of you, is so vital to telling Ohio’s story and showcasing all that is great about our state. The investments that we’re making, that I talked about earlier, to attract people to our state and the ones that improve the lives, ultimately, of the people that live here and the people that are going to work here, they all work together to help move Ohio forward,” said Mihalik. “We want to make sure that Ohio is at the top of anyone’s list as a great place to visit and a great place to call home. So, on behalf of everyone on my team, thank you for the work that you do every single day. Let us know how we can continue to be helpful to you in your businesses, in your communities, in your associations. All I have to say is, buckle up, because we’re taking Ohio to new heights and it’s only going to get better from here and together we can do just about anything.”
Sessions presented by Foley and other representatives of the Miami Conservancy District also include topics on regional flood protection and resilience; equity and inclusion; and accomplishments of Riverway communities.
Foley presented some of the accomplishments of the Great Miami Riverway and Miami Conservancy District. Some of the accomplishments include the development of the Great Miami Riverway poster series from the partners of the Great Miami Riverway Coalition that consists of 20 different organizations and cities and continuing to help communities and members to build thriving communities. Foley also presented the goal to continue building trails and communities to bridge gaps between cities and municipalities along the riverway.
“We’re also more than just a river because our elected officials and community leaders are investing in long-term riverfront development plans. Everyone here knows this is not easy,” said Foley. “The fact that we are seeing long-term riverfront investment plans is significant.”
Foley noted recent work and events happening along the river such as the Great Miami Riverway Half-Marathon in Piqua, Great Float, the Small Mouth Bass Fishing Challenge, promoting spaces and events on social media and the new River Ride from Franklin to Middletown on a new section of trails. He also presented ideas he believes would be beneficial for the communities along the Great Miami Riverway to focus on in the next few years; cultivating more investors and developers for potential redevelopment projects, creating new camping sites along the river and trails to help connect cities and municipalities, developing more river access for kayaking and canoeing on the river, developing more housing of all types along the riverway, improving trails to continue connecting the communities on the riverway and developing more working relationships between neighboring cities to discuss projects and provide support to each other.
The next presenter at the summit was Marylynn Lodor, general manager of the Miami Conservancy District. Lodor shared the importance of the flood prevention system and how it has been a foundation for building the riverway communities without fear of suffering a repeat of the 1913 flood. Lodor also presented four goals for the Great Miami Riverway. Her goals include an increased use of recreational, historical and cultural assets of the communities along the riverway; working to attract more visitors; supporting economic development; and strengthening the river corridor communities.
“I think that the whole purpose of Miami Conservancy District is really to support and sustain vibrant communities up and down the river,” said Lodor.
Also invited the Great Miami Riverway Summit were the University of Dayton’s River Stewards who work to promote stewardship of the Great Miami River. The group’s presentation was interactive and allowed the summit attendees to get involved in forming ideas and plans to improve the riverway and riverfront communities by answering questions regarding how to expand the demographic of people who use the riverway and how to make it more accessible.
Andrew Bowsher, Sidney city manager, highlighted recent growth and the city’s economic development strategy, including introducing James Shih, vice president, SEMCORP Advanced Materials Group, whose company is investing over $900 million to build a lithium ion battery facility with 1,200 jobs in Sidney. Shih shared a few words about the importance of advanced manufacturing in Sidney and Shelby County and his hopes for SEMCORP in Sidney.
Finally, a panel discussion with developers who work in Riverway communities including Jason Woodard of Woodard Development, Pat Ford of Frontier Industrial and Andrew Deye representing JobsOhio.
The Summit concluded with special behind-the-scenes tours of the city of Sidney including an architectural walking self-guided tour, a tour of the Historic Sidney Theatre, a tour at the Wallace Family Learning & Innovation Center, tours of the newly renovated luxury apartments at Purity Building Apartments in downtown Sidney, a bus tour of Tawawa Park and a scavenger hunt put together by Sidney Alive. The day ended with a reception held at Murphy’s in downtown Sidney.