Retail concerns rise: Wapak councilor fights to fill downtown storefronts

With multiple commercial and retail businesses locating in the past year in Celina and St. Marys to the west and in Bellefontaine to east of Wapakoneta, a city councilor questioned if enough is being done here to attract new stores.
Wapakoneta 4th Ward Councilor Dan Graf shared his concern with the work being done by the city on the commercial and retail front since most of the Wapakoneta Area Economic Development Council (WAEDC) staff’s energies seem to be devoted to filling the Job Ready Sites manufacturing site.
“I think we all know what WAEDC has done in the area of the Job Ready Sites and that is a big thing on their plate, but what I am concerned about is the empty buildings we have in downtown and on both ends of town,” Graf said during Monday’s Wapakoneta City Council meeting. “If we could get those buildings filled — there is the potential for a number of part-time and full-time employees — those places could provide locals with jobs and we would realize additional sales tax and income tax.
“I would like to encourage you to have members of WAEDC to contact the owners of those buildings and see what they are doing, what their interest is in those buildings, and what they (owners) have done, as well as talk with developers across the state to see what is working and are their incentives that other cities are offering,” he said.
Mayor Rodney Metz and Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. assured Graf that an adequate amount of time and effort is being committed to both ventures by WAEDC staff.
Metz defended WAEDC Executive Director Greg Myers noting he has photographed the inside and outside of each building, developed information for a property listing, and knows the building owner’s wishes.
“The efforts put forth by the WAEDC have proven to be effective as we have located several businesses downtown because of those efforts,” Metz told the Wapakoneta Daily News after Monday’s Wapakoneta City Council meeting. “They also have encouraged others to look seriously at properties in the city — when they asked we already had the background information on buildings they were looking at and wanted to locate in.”
While work has been done to provide information about building in the downtown area and throughout Wapakoneta, Metz said he, Myers and Safety-Service Director Bill Rains continue to investigate ways to attract business and industry to the area.
“We continue to talk with and to explore what some of the other communities are doing that are successful,” Metz said. “I know in one particular case here, there is nothing the city can do or has control over — it is what the property owner wants to do with their property and we can’t tell them what to sell it for because it is their property.”
The mayor was referring to a restaurant whose owners wanted to locate in the city.
He also noted people need to understand the difficulties in attracting a box store, such as a Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, or a popular restaurant chain.
“One of the areas we need to work on is to find a way into some of the chain stores or chain restaurants — it is a very hard hurdle to get over,” Metz said. “We are working on it, but it is not the easiest thing to do. We are looking at some of the communities that have been successful in landing a chain restaurant and they spend a lot of money courting them by attending different events and seminars.”
Finkelmeier, who also defended Myers and the work of the WAEDC, said councilors on the WAEDC board will voice Graf’s concerns during the next WAEDC meeting in November.
He also expressed his opinion on why it is hard to convince owners to locate a store here.
“We have the advantage of being at the intersection of Interstate 75 and U.S. 33, but it also is to our detriment,” Finkelmeier said. “We are between Lima and Sidney, Piqua or whatever so when they want to locate a Kohl’s or a Target — they don’t want to put one here because there is one off of Ohio 309 and it is 10 minutes from here and is surrounded by a greater population from which to draw customers.
“We just fall through the cracks because we are in-between several retail markets,” he said. “I am not making any excuses, I am just making an observation.”
Metz concluded his commenting, saying he does not believe anyone with the city is satisfied with the status of retail, commercial and manufacturing in Wapakoneta.
“I know none of us are satisfied and none of us will be until everything is full,” Metz said. “Even then I don’t think you are done because I don’t think you are ever done selling a community, talking about the benefits of a business locating in the city or residents moving here to live.
“A community that is diversified with its businesses and its industry is a community that has a greater level of security.”