Canfield Seeks Consultant for New Comprehensive Plan

CANFIELD, Ohio — City officials are looking for a qualified and experienced consultant to help with the development of a comprehensive plan that will take the place of the recently updated 2014 City of Canfield Fact Book and 2004 Strategic Vision Plan.

On Friday afternoon, the city posted a request for qualifications, or RFQ, on its website. It states that the comprehensive plan will be “forward thinking and address anticipated growth and redevelopment in a way that preserves and develops the small town character, maximizes infrastructure, enhances multi-modal opportunities,” while providing the means for enhanced quality of life, and economic, social and environmental stability.

Consultants will also be expected to provide a corridor study for East and West Main Street that runs through the city. The study will address congestion, safety issues and aesthetics with regard to economic development and travel.

The comprehensive plan was among the announcements at the Quarterly Mayor’s Business Forum Friday morning at the municipal building. Some 35 business owners and community leaders attended the forum to hear from Mayor Richard Duffett and Wade Calhoun, city manager, as well as provide some input into what can be done to improve the business community and make the Village Green more vibrant.

“Our goal is very clear,” Duffett said. “To strengthen the relationship between the city and you [business owners] on how we can help.”

Wade Calhoun, city manager, said the comprehensive plan will focus on improving economic development efforts in the city while making the Village Green more vibrant.

Calhoun started the meeting by introducing city staff that business owners tend to directly work with, including Christine Clayton, finance director, Jizelle Karas, utility billing clerk, and Kristin Dahlberg, income tax administrator.

Karas and Dalhlberg were hired this year because some of the city’s past practices “weren’t 100% focused on customer service,” Calhoun said, which was a topic of discussion at the last mayor’s business forum.

“Since I’ve started, that’s kind of been that culture change,” he says. “We don’t want our businesses to feel like they don’t have a voice. You’re no different than our residents.”

Calhoun reviewed a report from Town Center Associates of Beaver, Pa., a consultant firm that assesses the vibrancy of downtown areas in cities and small villages. It’s done work in Beaver, as well as Salem and Lisbon. The group visited Canfield in early September and did a downtown conditions assessment, which included business mix, available space, building facades, signage and general vibrancy, as well as suggested improvement strategies.

The city received Town Center’s report in late November and reviewed some of its findings at the forum. Findings are put into a side-by-side comparison with what the company defines as the “ideal” situation for each category, based on the international property management code, Calhoun said. Currently, Canfield doesn’t abide by that code.

“We’ve got our own property management code that we enforce,” Calhoun said. “We are cross-referencing between the international property management code and ours to see if there’s opportunities to implement some of the things in that international code.”

The facade assessment for the city was “for the most part, really good,” Calhoun said. The report states that 52 of the 71 total units in the city are in good condition, 10 are fair and just nine are considered poor. Maintenance violations were found in 27% of habitable units.

In the signage assessment, 16 units were considered good, 18 fair and 25 poor. Four business units have no sign.

“It basically shows that Canfield takes pride in what we do and all of our businesses on the Village Green are keeping our facades looking nice,” Calhoun said. “Now we just need to focus on other things, such as signage and business mix.”

Business mix is broken down into several categories, including retail, food/drink, personal service, government/community, office, miscellaneous and others. The report shows that Canfield’s seven retail storefronts make up 7% of the downtown’s total, below the ideal 40%. Food/drink makes up 3%, below the ideal 20%, personal service makes up 5%, below the ideal 15%, government/community makes up 10%, above the ideal 3%, and office makes up 34%, above the ideal 3%

Calhoun and Duffett opened the floor to each business owner to state their thoughts on moving forward. Calhoun wrote the ideas on a whiteboard as people spoke during the brainstorming session. Duffett encouraged ideas on ways to increase business, concerns and criticisms. He also wanted to provide an opportunity for business owners in the room to network, he said.

“Maybe there’s business that can go on between you,” he said.

Those in attendance took the opportunity offer ideas, concerns or kudos to the city for its economic development efforts. Among the ideas suggested included citywide Wi-Fi connectivity for all businesses, a directory of Canfield businesses and their services hosted on the city’s website, a central open-use office space where home-based business can use office equipment or meet with clients, and a discount program for Canfield residents who do business with Canfield-based companies.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Duffett said. “Buy Canfield.”

Gene Bonanno, owner and digital marketing consultant for The Bonanno Group, suggested the shared office space, saying that his time at the Youngstown Business Incubator was a benefit in helping him get his business off the ground.

“Everybody needs a little help when you get started,” Bonanno said, adding that it would keep younger people here who want to start a business in Canfield.

Kevin Sheldon, founder of USA Rolls at 451 W. Main Street, suggested establishing enterprise zones to help draw more manufacturing to the city. When Rolls was initially looking for a building a decade ago, other communities in Mahoning County had enterprise zones where companies were offering tax rebates.

“That’s who you’re competing against,” Sheldon said. “If you have manufacturing areas in Canfield, which we do, it would behoove you to look at making them enterprise zones so you can compete with Austintown and North Jackson.”

Many businesses had suggestions specific to the Village Green at the center of town. Dave Wilkeson, CEO of Tech Advisor, said establishing more businesses around the Green, particularly retail, is important to give those companies added exposure. Eric Johnson with the Johnson & Johnson Law Firm suggested identifying key properties around the Green that are for sale “and bundling these up in an easy to read package that you can share with commercial realtors,” he said.

Mandy Forlina, owner of Global Health and Wellness, suggested offering a lower lease price on commercial property for first-year business-owners. Currently, Canfield commercial properties are typically leased “$19 to $21 per square foot,” she said, compared to Boardman “where it’s $15.” Lowering the cost per square foot to $16 for startups would help draw businesses.

Bob Davis, partner at Fairway Ford, asked city officials to consider coming to his dealership to purchase city vehicles. Until recently, the city had gone to the former Bob and Chuck Eddy Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge in Austintown.

“The only thing I would like is an opportunity, because we are the only new car dealership in Canfield,” Davis said. “If there’s a city purchase or something needed, I’d like an opportunity for that.”

Marc Masternick of Windsor House Inc., said the Girard-based company was planning to build an assisted living next door to the Windsor House at Canfield skilled nursing community at 6445 State Route 446. The skilled nursing center opened in November 2017 as a result of the Joint Economic Development District, or JEDD, between the city and Canfield Township. “Hopefully we can amend the current JEDD” to allow for the new construction, Masternick said.

The next Quarterly Mayor’s Business Forum is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 8.

Pictured: Mayor Richard Duffett took suggestions on how to improve the business community in Canfield from some 35 business owners and other community leaders.

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