Our Towns

Canfield’s Village Green Focus of Growth Plans

CANFIELD, Ohio – Canfield’s new mayor, Richard Duffett, and city manager, Wade Calhoun, envision a more vibrant Village Green, as the city’s center is known. City officials are working toward balancing the downtown’s historic nature with developing a space that regularly hosts family-friendly activities and events.

That area would be surrounded by retail and dining establishments – potentially including a restaurant atop the Farmers National Bank building – to accommodate a downtown that doesn’t shut down after office workers go home.

Developing a plan to promote business throughout Canfield – on the Green as well as outlying areas – is just one component of a comprehensive initiative the city administration and City Council are working on to map the future.

“Previous councils have looked at this and we’re looking at it in more depth,” Duffett says. “Everything the city does will be included in that plan.”

In addition to business-related issues, the plan, which will require council’s approval, will encompass issues such as water and sewer expansions and other infrastructure matters, the city’s safety forces, and single-family and condominium development.

Duffett would like to see the plan completed and approved by City Council within two years, he says. The goal is to make the city as business-friendly as it is citizen-friendly, according to the mayor. He has held the first of what he hopes to be quarterly meetings with members of the business community.

City Manager Calhoun, who was raised in Ellsworth Township and came to Canfield in January when Duffett was sworn into office, spent 12 years in local government in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. Trying to attract business to Canfield is “a little different” than in Texas, which is experiencing a boom, he says. “Here you actually have to go after those businesses.”

Still, he says, his experience dealing with businesses in Texas is applicable to “having those conversations and finding the right business and the right fit for Canfield.”

Canfield is a predominantly residential community, in its former incarnation as a village and its current status as a city. But residents have begun to realize that the city needs to bring in more businesses to provide revenue to support city services, Calhoun says.

“We’re doing this with a plan. We’re getting community input. We’re getting business input,” Duffett adds. “We want to get the exact right fit for the community.”

Among the challenges the city faces is its perception as a “sleepy” community. Another challenge is getting citizens and businesses to see it as “a developable city,” as well as to “protect what we have here” and not overdevelop the community by converting everything into plazas, Calhoun says.

“What fits in Canfield is unique. It gives you that sense of community. It has that quaintness to it, but it still allows for development within the Village Green and outlying areas,” he says.

City officials recently met with Village Green Stakeholders, an informal group of business and property owners, to discuss the downtown. Council is expected to vote in the coming weeks on engaging Town Center Associates of Beaver, Pennsylvania, to conduct a conditions assessment and make recommendations about the Green, he says.

“This is an essential part of Canfield and we’re lucky that it’s remained as unspoiled as it has all these years,” says Bruce Neff, president of LED3, who also serves on City Council.

Town Center Associates is a consulting firm that looks at local real estate and provides suggestions to bring vibrancy and create a destination for shopping, dining and recreation, Neff says.

“One of the things we’ve recognized is that we don’t want to be a town center of just offices because that allows no nightlife or attraction here after the working day,” Neff says.

“If we could bring artisans, an art store that sells supplies, a jewelry maker, even things as esoteric as a blacksmith or anything that is quaint, those would be wonderful additions.”

The mayor emphasizes that the city doesn’t want to bring in business without the benefit of an overall plan. Around the Green, which he describes as “the envy of any city in the state,” the focus will be on attracting restaurants, retailers and artisans.

“Everything kind of shuts down on the Green around 5 p.m.” because there are no “prime-time businesses” such as shops or restaurants open in the evening to bring people or keep them here, Calhoun adds. “That’s the market we’re going after,” he says.

The downtown plan also is expected to involve relocating offices from the first floor of buildings to the second floor – and in some cases adding additional stories to structures – so the ground-level space could be used for restaurants and shops open in the evenings. Duffett and Calhoun also would like to see parking moved to the rear of the buildings.

The mayor has spoken with Farmers Bank executives about the prospect of establishing a restaurant in the upper level of its downtown building that would overlook the Green.

City leaders also envision making greater use of the Green for community activities such as a “Gathering on the Green,” he says.

Studio Oxygen Yoga recently hosted Yoga on the Green. The event featured food vendors, displays and yoga classes for adults and youths.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness of healthier living,” says Marianne Hritz, owner. “Why not utilize this beautiful space? This is the heart of Canfield.”

The Green is just one of the assets the city has to attract businesses, along with its central location, road and freeway access and good safety forces.

The mayor touts the city’s relationships with Canfield Local School District and Canfield Township. The three entities meet quarterly. There also is vocational training nearby at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.

The city and township established a joint economic development district for the Windsor House at Canfield skilled nursing and assisted living center, and the two entities are working on a second JEDD at U.S. Route 224 and South Palmyra Road (See stories pages 10, 12).

Says Alex Geordan, Canfield schools superintendent, “We like to say we’re a three-legged stool with the city and township.”

The superintendent points to the school district routinely earning high ratings in state evaluations as contributing to a 10% increase in local property values. He credits community support for the district’s ability to serve the needs of its students, from offering high school classes for college credit to student intervention programs, as well as extra-curricular and co-curricular activities.

“We encourage growth in many different ways,” Geordan says.

A new program connecting high school juniors and seniors with local businesses will enter its second year this fall, he reports. The district places students as interns in industries as diverse as medicine, education, law and ministry.

The program offers multiple benefits, he says. One is that it connects students with the community. Another is that it allows students to get a taste of a profession to help them decide whether they want to pursue that field, “before they start racking up education debt,” Geordan says.

More than a dozen businesses are involved, and the number of students participating has grown to 27, up from 12 last fall. “If we can increase the number of students involved in that internship program, that can help them in many different ways,” Geordan says.

Beyond the Green, potential areas for development include vacant land across from the Canfield Giant Eagle on Route 224 that has seen interest from developers, land near the Arby’s and McDonald’s restaurants near the Route 224/ state Route 11 interchange and an undeveloped 288.5-acre property to the west of town that is going to be annexed shortly, Calhoun says.

“It’s a blank slate that could become any number of things, depending on what the market determines is the best use,” he says.

In addition to encouraging business growth, the mayor says he wants to more aggressively market the community as a residential community.

“We’re not a secret to people in this area,” Duffett says, “but we might be a secret to people out of state.”

Pictured: City Manager Wade Calhoun and Mayor Richard Duffett would like to see a development plan for the city completed within two years.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.