Yellow Springs Development Corporation— ‘Lessons learned’ in firehouse sale
- Published: February 8, 2021
What does the community need? What do residents want? What’s best for Yellow Springs?
Those were some of the underlying questions threading through the discussion by members of the Yellow Springs Development Corporation, or YSDC, during their first meeting of the year, Tuesday, Jan. 12, held through the online Zoom website.
Members of the quasi-governmental group, which includes representatives from the Village, the Township, the schools and Antioch College, spent a large portion of their January meeting looking back over their activities since starting up last year and considering how they might move forward in 2021.
“Lessons learned” is how YSDC President Abel framed the conversation, particularly in terms of the group’s biggest project, the sale of the former firehouse on Corry Street.
Put on the market last summer in anticipation of the fire department and Miami Township offices moving to the newly constructed facility on the south end of town, the property’s sale is not quite complete. A closing date of March 12 is now anticipated after a variety of delays slowed the process, according to Township Trustee Don Hollister, who also serves on the YSDC.
Corrie Van Ausdal, who is the township’s second representative on YSDC and who was one of three members on the sale sub-committee, said she was taken by surprise at the intense and widespread interest in the buyer, locally based comedian and actor Dave Chappelle.
She said she’s still receiving “news clippings from around the world” forwarded to her.
“I think we’re so used to our celebrity neighbor being our neighbor, we forget how huge a celebrity he is,” Van Ausdal said.
Realtor Shelly Blackman, who is starting his first term with the group as a community member representative, said he has been “fielding calls” from across the country from people interested in moving here after reading a recent profile in the New York Times or seeing Chappelle on David Letterman’s Netflix program, which highlighted Yellow Springs.
“That’s how powerful this press has been,” Blackman said.
Van Ausdal and Blackman both found the attention to be positive.
Marianne MacQueen, however, did not. One of Village Council’s two representatives on the YSDC, MacQueen was the only YSDC member to vote against selling the fire station to Chappelle’s business company, which has indicated plans to turn the facility into a comedy club and restaurant.
She said she feared that more people wanting to move into town “will push [housing] prices up,” making Yellow Springs an “upper-middle-class enclave.”
She also expressed concern that Chappelle had in the past several years purchased nine buildings downtown with still unclear intentions for some of them.
She said she liked that Chappelle, being Black, was changing the racial balance of business and property ownership in the majority white village. “But he’s also a multi-millionaire,” she said. She wondered how that might affect the quality of village life. She said she would have preferred “helping young entrepreneurs get a leg up.”
Van Ausdal took exception to MacQueen’s comments.
“It sounds like you’re saying he’s not the right type of Black person,” Van Ausdal said. Because of Chappelle’s wealth, “one of the things we didn’t have to worry about, he didn’t have to get financing,” she added.
She said she also thinks that his proposal for the fire house fills a desirable niche in town.
“We don’t have much nightlife anymore,” Van Ausdal said. “For me, there’s room to grow in town as well.”
Van Ausdal noted that while several critical letters about the sale have appeared in the Yellow Springs News, the community response she’s heard has been largely positive.
Lisa Kreeger, the second Village Council representative on YSDC and another member of the sale sub-committee said she thinks the sale to Chappelle fulfills the YSDC’s mandate.
“This body was formed to be a collaborative space to drive economic development in Yellow Springs,” Kreeger said. “I feel this project was best for that purpose.”
MacQueen said she sees the group’s purpose as “not just economic development, but community development,” and she remains concerned about the “unintentional consequences” that could result from becoming an entertainment destination.
Blackman, who grew up in town, suggested that MacQueen talk to Chappelle about his plans, adding that the comedian is “community-minded.” He also asserted that contrary to MacQueen’s worry about Yellow Springs becoming an enclave for the upper middle class, “Yellow Springs is already an upper middle-class village.” Blackman also noted that villager Bob Baldwin, who is white, has owned much of the property downtown for decades, and to take issue now with a Black man buying multiple properties has racial overtones.
Hollister said he “had no problem” with the YSDC’s criteria for deciding Chappelle’s proposal was the best for the firehouse and the town. He wondered, however, whether the group might take those criteria to the village as a whole and ask for feedback.
“Is this indeed the set of priorities we should be looking at if we had another property we want to sell?”
The group agreed to continue discussing “lessons learned,” not only about the fire-house sale, but also other YSDC activities in 2020. Each member is putting together an individual list, along with a list of possible goals for 2021, with the intention of talking about them at their next meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 2.
Steve Conn, one of two representatives from the Yellow Springs school board, said that he felt the firehouse sale had followed a good process. But he was also “delighted” that there will be further conversation about it.
The January meeting also included an introduction of several new members to the group. In addition to Blackman, the YSDC welcomed Maureen Lynch, an Antioch College trustee taking the seat previously filled by former Antioch President Tom Manley. And Alexandra Scott, interim director of the Chamber of Commerce, is filling the seat of former Director Karen Wintrow, who moved out of state last fall. Both seats are ex-officio, while Blackman is a voting member.
Other YSDC members include: Steve McQueen, the second representative of the school board; Hannah Montgomery, from the college; Jeannamarie Cox, from the Community Foundation; Terri Holden, the superintendent of schools; and Josué Salmerón, the Village manager. Cox, Holden and Salmerón are ex-officio participants.