Ravenna looks to repair downtown properties damaged by chemicals

Mike Crissman

The city of Ravenna is working with the state and local business owners to restore potentially contaminated properties from past or present chemical use called brownfields. Ravenna is using a $50,000 state grant to begin targeting a 9.3-acre area in its commercial downtown district.

Brownfields are abandoned or underused commercial or industrial properties that may possess environmental hazards from manufacturing operations. Ravenna, a blue-collar manufacturing town, has a lot of them – some vacant, others occupied.

Former gas stations, automotive businesses, a funeral home, a laundromat, a printing press and an old concrete plant are among the identified brownfields near downtown Ravenna. The city was one of six others in Ohio to receive $50,000 from the Ohio Department of Development for a Brownfield Action Plan. The goal is to make Ravenna more attractive to potential business owners.

“You say brownfield and people think, ‘Oh my gosh. Two-headed babies and we’re all gonna die,’” said Kerry Macomber, the city’s economic development director. “That is not the case. It’s simply a term used to describe a property that may be less desirable based on its past use.”

Macomber said it’s extremely difficult for a new business to come in and “pick up the liability” of a brownfield property.

“It’s not gonna happen,” she said. “So we have to look to our government to assist.”

City developers have evaluated 12 properties located in the Main Street corridor as brownfields and prioritized each based on criteria including ownership status, development potential, how the property flows with the surrounding neighborhood and urgency.

For example, the largest property in the targeted area, a former concrete plant, separates the more historic, intact part of downtown Ravenna to the east from the commercial area that sits to the west. It has piles of old concrete, scrap metal and a boarded-up vandalized building that Macomber says vagrants have been previously living in.

Because the abandoned industrial property poses a huge fire and safety risk for the city, it will be one of the main benefactors of the Brownfield Action Plan money. Macomber would like to see it turned into a green space.

“I think it would be the perfect spot for a city center park,” Macomber says. “I can see an amphitheatre, a bike lane coming up from our existing hike and bike trail. I think it would give people an opportunity for passive recreation, it would increase our walkability.”

The Ohio Department of Development has encouraged Ravenna officials to be creative with the grant money. Macomber says $50,000 is a “drop in the bucket” for the brownfields but will help the city go for larger state and federal grants down the road.

Phase 1 will be conducting environmental assessments, which could cost up to $4,000 or $5,000 for each property. Macomber also needs city council approval before going forward with any plans.

“There are a lot of opportunities here to start businesses, to repurpose these buildings,” Macomber says. “But it can take a lot of money to do that.”