On December 21, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted announced the launch of a new grant program to help revitalize local communities through the demolition of blighted and vacant buildings.
They say “the new Ohio Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program will provide nearly $150 million in grants to raze dilapidated commercial and residential buildings and revitalize surrounding properties.” The first part of that claim is accurate enough, but—as with most “blight removal” programs, the revitalization part of the promise seems to be based on hope and faith.
Neither the news release nor the program information page say anything about what—if any—actions the program will fund or otherwise encourage after the demolition. As with the “urban renewal” debacle of the 20th century, the assumption seems to be that removing a derelict building will automatically lead to redevelopment and revitalization.
There’s no mention of any kind of ongoing renewal program or process, and no mention of a revitalization strategy. There’s also no mention of any kind of evaluation process to determine whether a structure is reusable and worth renovating.
“There are dangerous, blighted buildings all over Ohio that are nothing more than eyesores that restrict new development,” said Governor DeWine. “We want our local communities to thrive, and through this new grant program, we will help all 88 counties tear down dilapidated structures to make room for future growth.”
The Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program was created with the support of the Ohio General Assembly, which funded the program as part of the 2021 state biennium budget bill, House Bill 110. The program is administered by the Ohio Department of Development.
“We’re attracting companies to Ohio because of our low taxes and excellent business climate, but they need sites to set up shop,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “Remediating these properties turns the blight into new opportunities to attract investment, business, and jobs.”
It’s good that Husted mentioned remediation, but there’s nothing in the program information about how the remediation of contaminated properties will happen.
“Abandoned and blighted buildings are often hazards in our communities,” said Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development.
“By removing them, we make way for new growth and economic development throughout Ohio,” she added.
Again, it seems to be the old urban renewal mentality of “destroy it and they will come” that left hundreds of American cities with a plague of surface parking lots and a dearth of renewable assets, such as historic buildings.
As required by House Bill 110, funds will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. To ensure that all of Ohio’s 88 counties benefit from the program, each county will be eligible to receive a minimum of $500,000.
Commercial and residential buildings on sites that are not brownfields are eligible for funding. Counties must designate one lead entity to apply for grant funds on behalf of the county. In counties where a county land reutilization corporation has been established, it shall be the lead entity for that county. Other application details are available in the program guidelines.
The Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program is part of Governor DeWine’s Ohio BUILDS Initiative, which focuses on supporting targeted solutions that impact quality of life, such as water infrastructure improvements, broadband expansion, brownfield redevelopment, the demolition of blighted buildings, and more.
Let’s hope that there’s more to the program than simple demolition, which is just a tactic. Revitalization demands a strategy, and a proven process to implement it. Ohio deserves it.
Photo of abandoned factory in Youngstown, Ohio via Adobe Stock.