Our Towns

Civic Association Boosts Pride in Boardman

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Ask most in the Mahoning Valley what they associate with Boardman and their answers likely will be related to retail.

Some may say, “Southern Park Mall,” while others respond with “Shopping.” A few might say “traffic.” Route 224 through Boardman, after all, has the highest volume of traffic of any road in Mahoning County and is bested for the title among all roadways only by the interstates that cross the region.

But there is more to Boardman than just the commercial corridors along U.S. Route 224 and Market Street. When the lights are off and the doors in the township’s businesses are locked – 1,201 with paid employees, according to the Census Bureau’s 2012 survey, the most recent – 35,000 people who call the township home remain.

What the township can offer those people, along with the 100,000-plus employed in Boardman, is the focus of the Boardman Civic Association.

“I want to make sure, and I think everyone in the group feels this way, that we continue to be the best place to call home,” says George Farris, vice president of the association. “There’s a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of history. We have to keep those things alive because it’s a community. It’s not just a place.”

The association points to many things beyond the bullet points most associate with Boardman – shopping, entertainment and restaurants. Two-thirds of Mill Creek Park lies within the township and Boardman Park drew 541,000 visitors last year to its 243 acres. One of the county’s oldest standing buildings, St. James Meeting House, sits in the park and there are 50 churches in the township.

“You should be able to find something of your faith in Boardman and we hope you do,” says civic association Secretary Mark Luke. “There’s literal value and intrinsic value of Boardman. The literal value is [amenities like the] low cost of living. … There’s entertainment, education and all these opportunities that spill out. That’s the value.”

While the ranks of the Boardman Civic Association are filled largely with business and community leaders – it has some 60 dues-paying members – the purpose of the organization is to inform and improve the township.

The organization’s quarterly dinners honor businesses with new or renovated buildings, outstanding citizens and recipients of its college scholarships.

“We like to support the community businesses that have committed themselves to the Boardman area,” says President Meg Harris. “But we also like to support the up-and-coming with events like the scholarship dinner to promote students who are not only academically minded, but civically minded.”

And that word – civic – is at the heart of what the association does. It isn’t merely a networking organization for businesses or a development group or a coalition of residents who lobby the township government for changes. It’s there, the executives explain, to create better residents, whether students or seniors.

“There aren’t a lot of civic associations by name around. Words like ‘citizenship’ and ‘civics,’ you don’t hear a lot any more,” Luke says. “As a civic organization, we support our community. There’s an overarching betterment of our community.”

Students who work at Boardman Schools Television Network, Harris cites as an example, film and broadcast the civic association meetings, giving the 60 members a chance for exposure not only to community businesses, but political discussions as well.

The group’s final dinner of the year, held at Vintage Estates, was a mixer for Boardman businesses.

“It was to learn about and promote businesses that maybe aren’t focused on throughout the year,” Harris says. “Our mission is to inform the community. It’s not necessarily to make the changes, but we’re here to tell the community what is going on so residents can get involved with the changes they want to see made.”

Each fall, the association hosts its Candidates and Issues Dinner, bringing in the candidates for races that affect residents – not just township leaders, but also county offices – and the ballot issues that will affect the area. In the most recent election, the organization brought supporters and opponents of Issue 2, the Drug Price Standards Initiative, one of the few local forums on the issue.

“It’s nonpartisan. Whatever side you’re on doesn’t matter. We’re about the process because that’s our country,” Farris says. “Boardman is the place, and needs to be the place, where we bring up these issues and keep them in front of people.”

As development has returned to Boardman in the wake of the Great Recession, one of the more common concerns the association hears regards zoning. Once “wide open,” according to Farris, the township and stakeholders are working to develop a coherent strategy that governs developments.

“You have to be proactive. If you want people to live here and be proud of the community, it has to be ongoing,” Farris says. “We’re in a stage where there’s more development and we’re being more careful about it. A big concern for every area in Ohio is marijuana dispensaries, distribution and growing. The role the civic association can play is that if the township doesn’t hold hearings or an event, we will bring up the subject.”

While not explicitly a business organization, members understand how the group adds value.

“People are willing to make multimillion-dollar decisions on their business,” Luke says. “People are willing to invest because they see Boardman is a good community with good schools, good safety services. And it’s going forward.”

Pictured: Officers of the Boardman Civic Association are George Farris, Meg Harris and Mark Luke.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.