NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – By population standards, Jackson Township is small. Just over 2,000 people reside there, according to the latest census figures.
Yet over the past five years, nearly $80 million of new commercial and industrial investment has poured into the mostly rural community, which comes to about $40,000 per resident.
These investments underscore the potential of accelerated development in this part of Mahoning County, say stakeholders, who envision a future of retail, service, commercial, light industrial and distribution hubs.
The industrial and commercial corridors of North Jackson are generally designated along Mahoning Avenue, Bailey Road and state Route 45 in the township.
“Where we’re situated, I believe there’s pretty good opportunity to continue to attract industrial, light manufacturing and distribution activity,” says Bill D’Avignon, Jackson Township zoning inspector. “And residential as well.”
In the last three years, Mom’s Meals and its parent company, PurFoods, has pumped in more than $27 million alone to increase capacity for its food service business at its plants on Bailey Road, D’Avignon says.
Other major projects include a $29.9 million expansion at the Macy’s distribution center, a $15 million addition at Universal Stainless Corp. along Bailey Road, a $2 million upgrade at aluminum producer Extrudex Corp., and the development of FirstEnergy Corp.’s American Transmission Systems’ new operations center.
More recently, in late September, Sheetz opened its new restaurant and service center, an investment of an estimated $5.4 million, including land acquisition.
D’Avignon says vacant buildings – such as the Things Remembered distribution center that closed this year – also are gathering some interest, although no sale or tenant for that building is imminent.
Meanwhile, the estimated nearly $80 million in new investment that landed in the township since 2018 is on target to increase substantially with the development of North Jackson Commerce Park.
Ground was broken Oct. 5 for the multiphase development that’s designed to provide Class A manufacturing and distribution space to tenants seeking buildings with modern amenities.
“There’s not a lot of Class A spec building space in the Mahoning Valley,” says Greg Toporcer, whose company, Top Property Holdings, is developing the North Jackson Commerce Park.
“We’re trying to attract regional and national companies to move in this area and bring jobs and additional tax revenue,” he says.
The 45-acre park site is along Mahoning Avenue just west of the Mahoning and North Bailey Road intersection.
Initially, Top Property Holdings plans to invest $7.5 million to construct an 80,000-square-foot building that would be leased in increments of 20,000 square-feet, Toporcer says.
Another four buildings could follow over the next five years, depending on demand.
Construction on the first building is set to begin by the spring of 2024. The park’s entire build-out would cost approximately $30 million when finished, Toporcer says.
“There was a lot of interest in that site because of its location,” D’Avignon says.
The North Jackson Commerce Park project required a zoning change, and would be positioned along a corridor that will see major improvements in the near term.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it had awarded a $2.4 million grant to support the Mahoning Avenue Industrial Corridor Upgrade project.
The project involves improvements along a two-mile stretch of Mahoning Avenue from state Route 45 to Duck Creek Road, and a portion of Rosemont Road. That grant would be matched by a $3 million local contribution.
Key to future development is available land, and North Jackson possesses a healthy inventory of appropriately zoned property for commercial and industrial development, D’Avignon says.
According to a land survey recently undertaken by the township, Jackson Township has 982 acres of vacant land that is zoned industrial while 620 acres are classified as industrial improved – that is, land that includes a structure.
Another 186 acres are designated commercial vacant property, and 430 acres are registered commercial improved.
Valuation is also holding its own across the township, data show.
Industrial vacant land is currently valued at $5,725 per acre, according to assessments the township compiled from the Mahoning County auditor’s office.
Industrial improved parcels are assessed at $153,984 per acre.
Commercial vacant land is valued at $9,522 per acre, while commercial improved land is valued at $57,247 an acre, the survey shows.
Nevertheless, D’Avignon says approximately 400 acres of industrial zoned property in the township does not have access to sewer or water, which is the biggest hurdle to future development.
“The area hasn’t run out of land. But there’s slim pickings for good land,” says Jim Grantz, broker and agent for Edward J. Lewis Inc., a real estate firm that is marketing land in the township.
A 24-acre parcel at the corner of Bailey Road and Mahoning Avenue, just across the street from where the Mom’s Meals expansion was finished, is on the market for $600,000 and is fully served by sewer and water.
“It’s generated a lot of activity and quite a bit of interest,” Grantz says. Although the property is zoned commercial, he says industrial interests have inquired about the land as well.
Another building at 12356 Mahoning Ave. sold in May for $900,000. A new tenant, Kanaan Communications, has moved into that space.
Grantz says that land condition presents some drawbacks to commercial and industrial-zoned property in the township.
“There’s a lot of land that’s wet,” he says. “We’ve lost some deals that haven’t come back to the buyers’ liking. That’s of some concern.”
Shovel-ready LAND VALUE
In other parts of the township, major national chains have proven willing to pay a premium price for land that’s shovel-ready – that is, cleared, clean, served with utilities and already vetted by a stack of environmental studies.
“I think the value of real estate here has gone up for truly shovel-ready parcels,” says Clark Leonard, vice president of Leonard Industrial Park.
Leonard’s company owns approximately 400 acres south and north of the Bailey Road/Interstate 76 interchange, a major traffic hub in Mahoning County. Most of this land is served with water and sewer.
Earlier this year, Sheetz purchased 15 acres of vacant land just north of the I-76 interchange at the Leonard Industrial Park for $2.4 million, public records show, or $160,000 per acre.
American Transmission Systems, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., is constructing a 20,000 square-foot service center on land at the park. In 2019, the company purchased 10 acres for $660,809, records show.
“National clients – they understand the value and are willing to give a premium dollar,” Leonard says. “That’s a lot more than they would normally spend, but they saved close to $1 million in environmental site work. All of that’s been done.”
Leonard says land north of the I-76 interchange along Bailey Road is suitable for transportation and trucking companies, while south of the interchange is perfect for commercial and retail opportunities.
“I’m currently working with a hotel that would have catering services and a convention center in it,” Leonard says. “The future development south of I-76 is going to be more toward convenience customers – more retail, fast food,” he says.
Still, Leonard says Jackson Township has made it more difficult to attract new development since it abandoned its enterprise zone program more than five years ago.
“It seems to be an encumbrance,” he says.
Moreover, the township lacks a vibrant residential base that could support a robust retail sector over the long-term.
According to the township’s land survey, just 17% of township is zoned residential improved.
Although a planned expansion of a residential development – Jackson Meadows – is in its early stages, the population of Jackson Township is insufficient to support a thriving retail sector.
“It’s difficult because Jackson doesn’t have the rooftops,” Leonard says.
Pictured at top: Developer Greg Toporcer, second from the left, is joined by local leaders to break ground for his project.