As the final bricks come down from Ravenna's old high school, there is a lot of talk in the community about what will become of the site.
The possibilities of a medical office or micro brewery have been floated, but multi-family housing and municipal uses are out of the running.
"It's going to take a long time to make a change, but we're encouraged," said Jack Kohl of the Portage County Port Authority's board of directors.
The Port Authority, the county's economic development agent, is working to broker a deal with a developer. As part of that effort, the Port Authority contracted with Weston Development Co., which recently completed a market study of the property.
Weston recently held a focus group with residents in Ravenna, asking them what they'd like to see become of the five-acre site. The company outlined four potential uses, including retail, medical, residential and government.
The study eliminates residential uses from consideration, with the study's summary citing the city's high rental rate and the availability of newer apartments in Kent. Governmental uses were ruled out as well, stating that local governments are "not in a position to seriously consider a major capital initiative at this time."
That left retail uses and medical uses. Retail uses, the study states, must be "demand generator" by "offering unique wares in an inviting atmosphere that lures shoppers to them." Restaurants, including a micro brewery, were cited as the "clear winners" in the study.
Medical uses would work as well, the study states, particularly those that would "feature and embrace health and wellness."
"That industry is flourishing, and the baby boomers are driving it," the study reads. "Demographic analysis ... indicates that the region's share of residents age 55 and older outpaces the state and national trends."
There may a way to combine the uses, featuring uses such as banks, occupational rehabilitation, an organic food store and a senior health component, the study states.
Ravenna Economic Development Director Kerry Macomber said the group asked Weston to do further study and better define the potential uses.
Macomber said she would like to see clean industrial uses on the site, such as medical research or technology "but nobody will listen to me."
"I want an income generator in there," she said.
Although the Northeast Ohio Medical University is doing that kind of work in its new building, "we may get spin-offs. I think we're poised for that."
She said she appreciated that Weston did a detailed analysis of the market area.
"They're really going about it in a stepwise fashion to make sure whatever is developed at that site will ultimately fit into the area," she said.
Kohl said he can see some kind of health-related use on the site.
"It seems like health care in Northeast Ohio is one of the industries that continues to grow and expand," he said.
Ravenna City Engineer Bob Finney pointed out that until the developer determines what will happen on the site, the city is holding off on recommending that Clinton Street be made two-way. If the site requires a traffic signal, he "fully intends" to have the developer pay for it, just as the developer of the building across the street did when it was constructed.
"It would be foolish to remove the signs and then have the developer say they want them put back, or they want to put a boulevard or angle parking in," he said.
A traffic study recently determined that the traffic signal is not necessary. An ordinance to remove the signal was delayed by city council after the owners of the nearby Dairy Queen complained.
"I had somebody stop me on the street today and complain that the signal is not necessary," Finney said. "I told them to contact their council members."
The old high school consisted of the original 1921 building and two annexes, the Coll Gymnasium and Whitaker Hall.
Whitaker Hall, the last building to remain standing, is over half demolished. The entire building is more than 90 percent down, said Superintendent Dennis Honkala
Honkala said all the bricks should be down by the end of the month, and then All Excavating of Youngstown will focus on clearing the site, with a goal of planting grass by May 1. In the near future, the district will announce a procedure to distribute the bricks to residents who request them.
He said he is pleased with the time and effort the Port Authority is investing into the site.
"We're pleased that they view it as a valuable piece of property," he said.
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