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In a closed session, the YSDC considered a counter-offer to purchase a Township property, the soon-to-be-vacated fire station on Corry Street, to resell for economic development. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

YSDC accepts loan funds, eyes township property

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The Yellow Springs Development Corporation had a full agenda at its monthly meeting on April 16, held remotely over the videoconferencing app Zoom.

The new local economic development group accepted $35,000 from the Village to seed a revolving loan fund. It discussed an ongoing effort to look at siting a K-12 school facility on the Antioch College campus. And, in a closed session, it considered a counter-offer to purchase a Township property, the soon-to-be-vacated fire station on Corry Street, to resell for economic development.

YSDC members also parsed the group’s role in the post-coronavirus economic recovery of Yellow Springs, exploring such issues as the future of Yellow Springs’ tourist economy, a Village investment in broadband internet service and meeting essential local needs such as food.

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The YSDC is a quasi-governmental body formed earlier this year with official representation from the Village of Yellow Springs and Miami Township. Other members hail from Yellow Springs Schools, Antioch College, the YS Chamber of Commerce and the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.

Voting members present at the virtual meeting were Lisa Abel (YSCF), Karen Wintrow (Chamber), Corrie Van Ausdal (Miami Township), Lisa Kreeger (Village Council), Marianne MacQueen (Village Council), Patrick Lake (Applied Sciences),  Steve McQueen (School Board), Hannah Spirrison (Antioch College), Don Hollister (Miami Township) and Steve Conn (School Board).

Ex-officio members attending included Terri Holden (YS Schools), Jeannamarie Cox (YSCF), Josué Salmerón (Village of Yellow Springs) and Brian Housh (Village Council). Two citizens, this reporter and Evelyn LaMers, observed.

Fire station considered

In its second straight meeting, the YSDC convened an executive session, closed to the public, to consider the purchase of real estate.

Because the group is a Community Improvement Corporation designated by the Village of Yellow Springs for economic development purposes, it follows state open meeting laws, which include provisions for holding executive sessions.

The group discussed the issue for about 50 minutes, after which no vote was taken. In a follow-up conversation with YSDC President Lisa Abel, she said the group was considering a counter-offer from the Township to purchase its property at 225 Corry Street. That property currently houses the Miami Township Fire-Rescue department and Township offices, and will be vacated when a new fire station along Xenia Avenue opens this fall.

The YSDC is looking to acquire the land in order to resell it to a third party for economic development. Previously, Abel explained to the News that the benefit of the YSDC selling the land is that while the township would have to abide by competitive bidding requirements, the development corporation could select a buyer it perceived as creating the most good for the community. The proceeds of the resale will be returned to the Township, Abel confirmed.

According to Abel, several members recused themselves from the discussion, including Township Trustee Don Hollister, Corrie Van Ausdal, the Township’s second representative to the YSDC, and YS Chamber Director Karen Wintrow.

In the end, Abel added, the YSDC requested more information from the Township and did not prepare a new offer for the property.

Loan funds accepted

During their regular session, the YSDC voted to accept $35,000 from the Village of Yellow Springs’ revolving loan fund, and to create a subcommittee to determine how to use the money.

At a meeting earlier in the month, Village Council voted unanimously to give YSDC the funds, which Council member Lisa Kreeger said originally came from a grant. The money was formerly used to give small loans to local businesses, but had not been used in more than a decade. The YSDC plans to use the funds in a similar way.

Kreeger explained that the Village had received legal advice that it could be problematic for elected officials to administer the funds. However, the YSDC is not bound by the same laws, and thus would not have those same issues.

The subcommittee is Kreeger, Patrick Lake, Don Hollister and Rich Bullock of the community foundation.

Ahead of the vote, YSDC members talked about how the funds might be used and whether they should be available to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Kreeger said she sees the money being used for “microloans” to local businesses, which could come in handy during the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the related shuttering of businesses.

“It’s not really a lot of money if we’re talking about money to get a business off the ground,” Kreeger said.

Abel said the funds could help local firms that need to change their business model to recover. As she put it, the funds might be used for “helping with reinvention, rather than just shoring up and covering payroll.”

Van Ausdal added that, for instance, the loan might be able to help retail stores develop e-commerce.

“The loan could be used to help some of those businesses expand in a different direction,” she said.

Several members suggested that the funds could be used in combination with other sources, such as federal relief money and bank loans. Abel added that the new subcommittee might consider writing grants to increase the amount of money available in the revolving loan fund.

Steve Conn raised the question about whether nonprofits should also be able to access the funds. Although the fund previously was specifically aimed at for-profit business, several members said they did not see a reason to exclude nonprofits. Brian Housh said that in the past the Village has looked at factors such as job creation income generation and property tax when evaluating a loan application.

“In terms of whether it’s for-profit or not-for-profit, what the village looks at in its investments is, What does that generate to support the overall economy?” Housh said.

YS recovery

In a wide-ranging conversation, YSDC members spoke about the group’s role in the coming economic recovery in the village.

Marianne MacQueen started the conversation by saying the impact could be on par with the Great Depression of the 1930s. She suggested looking to the village’s strategies at that time, and added that the crisis may “shift the economic base of Yellow Springs from being a tourist and entertainment center.”

“I think it behooves us to be thinking more about essential services, for example, food production,” MacQueen said.

Wintrow responded that she was focused on how to restart the local economy in the short term.

“I’m certainly not ready to give up on the fact that more than half of our business entities are based in the destination economy. That’s where my focus is going to be,” she said, adding that “obviously both are important.”

Hollister suggested that the group might want to focus more on the “big picture” rather than short-term relief. Abel said that, for example, broadband internet service might now be a viable “new business proposition that will put us in a better place in terms of attracting new business.” Others wondered if the crisis would hurt the brick-and-mortar model, increase the desire to live in small communities and actually bring more visitors to Yellow Springs when restrictions are lifted.

In a later executive session, YSDC members decided to accept around $5,000 from the Community Foundation for the purpose of providing COVID-19 relief funds to local businesses. In recent weeks, the foundation had raised money for several purposes, including one earmarked for businesses. In a later interview, Abel said that because the foundation largely focuses on nonprofits, it decided to give the money to the YSDC to disperse.

School facilities issue

School officials shared their perspective on the crisis’ impact on local schools, and the ongoing need to upgrade their facilities.

Superintendent Terri Holden said the school system will be “significantly changed” after the crisis, and will need to look at how to “operate better” and “reframe what we do.” For instance, the schools expended much effort to make sure students had the technology they needed, and to continue feeding those who qualified for free or reduced meals.

Added School Board Member Steve MacQueen, the situation was needed to “show us the connection between classroom and house.” Meanwhile, School Board President Steve Conn said the experience with distance learning has shown how “the so-called promises of online education have been revealed to be illusory.”

Addressing the issue of school facilities, Conn said the crisis has set the board back weeks or possibly months in coming to a decision. Holden added that funding is now less certain. Noting a recent board action to move forward with an Ohio Facilities Construction Commission program, Holden said that facilities upgrades are still important.

“Our buildings are still our buildings. That condition has not changed. That is still a concern for us, and it’s still on the table,” she said.

Patrick Lake updated the group on an idea he presented at its February meeting to explore siting a K–12 facility on the Antioch campus. Lake said he prepared a “collaborative grant proposal” to the YS Community Foundation for “site-surveying and concept development.” The grant was prepared jointly with Antioch, the YS Schools and Agraria, an educational farm west of town, Lake added.

YSDC’s next virtual meeting is Tuesday, May 5, at noon. 

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