Our Towns: Buzz Builds for Town Center Project

COLUMBIANA, Ohio – As the steel skeletons of the first phase of Town Center at Firestone Farms go up, developer Tom Mackall has a vision for his hometown of Columbiana.

It’s one that both honors the most famous resident of Columbiana – Harvey S. Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. – and expands the city economy by adding higher-end shopping, dining and office space, even hotels and concert venues somewhere down the road.

“We still want it to be a little town, but with the things a modern economy has,” Mackall says. “There’s not much in Columbiana County, so people go to Boardman, which gets tiresome with the traffic. We hope to be a retail destination for southern Mahoning County and all of Columbiana County.”

No tenants for the 200-acre center have been announced, but about a third of the space in the shopping center has been leased, according to Mackall. So far there’s been about $10 million committed to construct Town Center, on the northeastern quadrant of the intersection of state routes 7 and 14, and the full project is expected to take about a decade. Phase One is scheduled to open in September.

“I hope we can get to a point where we’re introducing something new every year,” he adds.

Throughout the complex, visitors will see sections that profile the life and times of Firestone, born at the site in 1868, to “preserve his history as a business icon.

“He’s one of the greatest businessmen in the history of the country. It’d be like having Bill Gates living in your neighborhood,” Mackall says. “He’s that iconic in our history. He thrived despite the Great Depression and got out debt-free.”

The ultimate goal of Town Center is offering services to meet every need in Columbiana and the county. In short, Mackall envisions it as the next hot spot of economic development.

Sean Carney, partner at Gallagher Clark & Carney Realty Group, notes that expansion in Boardman and North Lima, and the resulting increase in traffic, makes it more challenging for Columbiana residents to head north to shop.

That’s one of the biggest factors that could contribute to the success of Town Center, he notes. There’s also a draw for those who live in the southern half of Columbiana County and Lawrence and Beaver counties in Pennsylvania, he says. They wouldn’t have as long a drive.

“If you live in between, it’s more convenient with less traffic to come out this way, says Carney, whose firm is working with Mackall. “There’s a lot of interest to do grocery shopping locally, even go to restaurants locally rather than going to Boardman.”

Across town, reports Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce President Ginny Perkins, business owners and shoppers alike seem to be excited about Town Center opening.

The northern end of town, around the intersections of state routes 14, 46 and 164, is home to car dealerships, Das Dutch Village Inn and its hotel-shopping combination, and chain stores. The central business district is home to an ever-growing population of specialty shops and long-standing antique and gift shops.

The Town Center, Perkins expects, will fill a gap between the two – high-end shops and local boutiques.

“Columbiana is a well-integrated town where the separate pieces work well together. You won’t have to drive too far in any direction to hit what you need and want,” she says.

Among those pieces are a developing industrial sector, Carney says, a growing population and the city’s proximity to the Ohio Turnpike and state Route 11, “which can get you anywhere.”

Reichard Industries recently expanded its plant near downtown to accommodate increasing business. Vivo Brothers Inc., which produces cabinetry and architectural millwork, will move from Poland into the plant most recently used by Global-Pak. The city industrial park is at capacity.

Demand is so great for industrial space, Perkins says, that the chamber and city are looking at opening a second industrial park.

For business owners, there’s a fear of the unknown, Perkins says. This level of economic development is new to Columbiana. Yet the uncertainty about what will happen next is offset by the excitement of the anticipated benefits.

“People already like coming here and I think [Town Center] will make people enjoy it even more. There’ll be more to do,” she says.

In addition to helping established businesses by drawing in new customers, the city benefits, Mayor Bryan Blakeman says, because more visitors bring more tax dollars. But the true benefit is to consumers, he says, following the same line of thinking as Perkins and Carney.

Mackall is taking care to make sure that what opens is not only viable but also complements the city’s other business districts. Carney says the developer has done market surveys for each potential store in an effort to get only those that will be guaranteed successes.

In addition, he’s taking care to not intrude on the other business districts or take away from businesses there. From Blakeman’s perspective, the offerings will be sufficiently diverse that each shopping district has a clearly defined target audience.

“I don’t see downtown suffering at all. I see the opposite. The offerings over there are different from what’s down here,” he says. “Downtown is a historic business district with a lot of boutique shops. That’s a lot different from what you’ll find at Town Center.”

And Mackall is performing due diligence to ensure the difference is understood as well. Town Center at Firestone Farms has started a Facebook campaign to highlight small businesses around town and show just what Columbiana has to offer.

“We want people to understand that Columbiana is a destination, whether it’s downtown or at Firestone Farms,” he says. “There are many interesting venues that people can visit.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.