By Kimberly Pistone
SIDNEY – Shelby County is in a time of growth and business is booming. Not only is Sidney attracting new corporate businesses and expansions, making it the No. 3 micropolitian in the nation, there are also many new support businesses such as restaurants and other retail establishments popping up all around town. With all this growth, Sidney needs to expand available housing. In order to encourage housing development and revitalization, the city of Sidney is providing some new incentives to both buyers and current property owners.
According to City Manager Andrew Bowsher, every day 11,600 people commute into Sidney for work while only a few hundred people leave Sidney to work elsewhere. Bowsher said, “Per capita, we have more commuters coming in than any other area in the state.” The goal is to have more people living in the community – something Bowsher knows Sidney is capable of handling. The problem is that people can’t live in Sidney if there is not enough quality, affordable housing. Bowsher said, “Housing is almost our number one priority.”
“A city is a living thing, and without a strong beating heart like our downtown, we cease our prosperous nature,” Bowsher said.
This is one of the reasons that there is a lot of change currently in downtown. From additions like the new arches, to events like the farmer’s market every summer, the downtown square is an attractive focus point for investors.
This has all been part of the discussion for the last 20 years, but in the past everything has focused on “the stick”- punishment for owners who aren’t meeting basic standards. In the last eighteen months, Bowsher said the city has started to focus more on “the carrot”- incentives to people who want to be good owners and landlords.
To encourage new housing, the city has created a plan with several elements. One of the key elements to the plan is incentives for individuals who want to revitalize downtown housing. These incentives include waiving fees and taxes that were left on a property by a previous owner as well as grants for owners who work to upgrade their property. Some of these grants are in cash as matching funds, and others are in the form of tax abatements.
Jim Hill, with the Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership, is excited about all the pieces coming together downtown. Hill said, “If we want to attract talent for business, we have to have attractive places to live.” A few of the downtown housing updates currently occurring include the Central School, the Ohio Building, the Purity Building, as well as some second, third, and fourth floor apartments above ground level businesses.
One investor is Tim Spencer with Trivium Development. Last fall he acquired the Piper Building which he plans to revitalize into a mixed use building with a restaurant, duck pin bowling, and an event space. Every time he drove to the Piper Building he would pass the Central School. Spencer said, “It called to me. It has a great presence there. It was built really well, but it is underutilized. It has a great history.” It made sense to him that making an investment in housing went hand-in-hand with making an investment in the Piper Building. Spencer said, “People like to live and work and shop in close proximity.”
This upcoming fall, after some repairs to water damage and asbestos abatement, Spencer plans to start creating 15 apartments in the Central School. These one-bedroom apartments will be a great space for young professionals, interns, corporate housing, and an airbnb. There will also be a gym on site and an amenities space for residents.
Amy Breinich, executive director of Sidney Alive, says the goal is to bring foot traffic into downtown for people who enjoy the pedestrian lifestyle. She said, “Better housing means people feel safer.” Sidney Alive specializes in making public spaces feel neighborly; one of their goals is to make downtown comfortable for daily life.
The city is working to create an atmosphere that encourages investors to revitalize the downtown housing. In order to better communicate what housing is available, www.sidneyhousing.com recently launched. This site was designed to better communicate housing opportunities with both investors and homeowners.
Hill said, “The bottom line – if you want a sustainable downtown district, you have to have vibrant housing.”