BG Council votes to buy downtown property for parking, restrooms, Four Corners

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green City Council voted Monday to move ahead with buying land to create more metered parking downtown, provide restrooms for Wooster Green, and preserve the location of the Four Corners Center. Council approved an ordinance for the issuance of $890,000 in bonds for buying four parcels of land on South Church and South Main streets. “These are all things necessary to keep our downtown moving forward,” said council member Bruce Jeffers after the vote. The purchase covers four properties. One parcel is at 119 S. Church St., located just south of the police station. The former Huntington Bank Branch location has been closed for several years, but has drive-up ATM units. The city is interested in building restrooms there that will serve those using Wooster Green as well as visitors to the downtown area. In addition, the location has been eyed by the city for years as property that could be used to expand the police station. While there are no immediate plans for an expansion, the addition of an improved safety dispatch center is one of the city’s long-term capital plans. The out-of-state owner of this property recently contacted city officials to discuss the building. The landowner also owns a nearby parking area behind Ben’s and the building at 130 S. Main St. – the current home of the Four Corners Center. Four Corners downtown While city officials are not interested in owning the Four Corners Center building, they recognize the community value of that site. Located there are the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown BG, and Economic Development office. The lease for that building expires on Dec. 5, 2020. So, by acquiring the LLC that owns the building and holds the lease, the city can take ownership of the lease – ensuring no changes for the tenants. City officials then plan to sell that building prior to its lease expiring, with a provision that the Four Corners Center be given a lease arrangement for the building with a rental amount set. The cost for the mini-bank area, parking lot behind Ben’s, and building at 130 S. Main St. will be $730,000. Also being sold are the building at 123 S. Church St., currently housing Bowling Green Mirror and Glass, owned by the Bortel family, plus the parking lot to the west of that building. An unspecified downtown business owner has decided to purchase that building and the parking spaces to the south of that building. However, the buyer has no interest in the other parking area located between the Huntington ATM location and parking lot behind Ben’s. So the prospective new owner is willing to work with the city so that the purchase can be split, leaving the city with the large parking area that will connect the other two property purchases along South Church Street. The cost will be $325,000. In other business, council voted to issue bonds not to exceed $1,010,000 for the new park and recreation building in City Park. The bonds will pay for constructing, furnishing and equipping the new community building, including the landscaping, paving an entry drive and parking lot, and construction of a patio. Also at Monday’s meeting, Council President Mike Aspacher read a proclamation recognizing the sixth anniversary of Not In Our Town Bowling Green. The organization celebrates diversity and stands up to hate, bias and discrimination. “In light of recent events, we think this is most timely,” Aspacher said. Emily Dunipace, the community co-chair of Not In Our Town, thanked City Council for its support of the organization….

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Convention & Visitors Bureau thinks new brand will help BG stand out

By DAVID DUPONT  BG Independent News The gallery wall in the Four Corner Center was vibrant with color. In the wide margin of a photo of what looks to be a daughter and father, the viewer is urged to: “think bold, think genuine, think big, think green, think beautiful, think BG.” That final admonition is in green, and is accompanied by the outline of the state of Ohio. This is the vision for a new brand for the City of Bowling Green developed by  Handshoe Brand + Design. The images are meant to signify what makes Bowling Green, Ohio, different from other small Ohio towns, different from other college towns, different from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Leslie Handshoe Suter, of Handshoe Brand + Design, said that Bowling Green faces the same problem that other places face. They all tend to think about themselves in the same way. What makes Bowling Green different? “Our job is to find the genuine authentic message that tells the world who they are,” Suter said.  So the company did research, and what that found was “that BG for a small town is a very forward thinking place. That differentiates them. They genuinely think differently.” She added: “Bowling Green is dedicated to renewable energy. Other small towns don’t care.” And the community is “open and welcoming,” unlike  “most small towns.” The city, Suter concluded, is “very, very different in the way they approach life, even for a college town. We think that’s what makes BG different.” From left, Patrick Nelson, Leslie Handshoe Suter, Wendy Chambers, and Mayor Richard Edwards at brand unveiling. That’s captured in a basic green in the logo as well as a blast of colors elsewhere. Though one color, orange, notably doesn’t get any greater play than the others.  While the university is an important part of the community, it is one element, and shouldn’t cast a shadow over the rest, Suter said. Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University are interwoven. “It’s extremely important to have a brand that encompasses the whole community,” said Wendy Chambers, executive director  of the Bowling Green Convention and Visitors Bureau, The words play on the sound of BG, using alliteration to tie their meanings with the place. Chamber said getting a professionally done brand has been “on my bucket list.” The city had various slogans before, but “it was always things we came up with on our own.” Now, she said, “we’re in a place with a little more funding.” That enabled it to bring in a professional branding company to help with the project. That additional funding was provided by an increase in the city’s hotel and motel tax, from 3 percent to 4 percent.  Patrick Nelson, director of the Bowen Thompson Student Union on campus and president of the CVB board, noted that the increase has not had a negative effect on the hospitality business in the city. The search for the firm began about 18 months. Handshoe was selected, he said, because it not only works with communities but also destination resorts. Nelson said he likes the way Handshoe has captured the vibrancy and energy of the community. This year will be devoted to getting the community to accept and adopt the new brand. “We’re focusing within the community first,” Suter said. “We want to instill a sense of pride. Sometimes if you use a campaign on the outside and it doesn’t reflect what’s inside, it comes to seem inauthentic. So we’re going to speak to people first.” Once the brand is accepted here, Suter said, then a broader campaign can be launched. Even…

New hotel construction at Victory Inn site grinds to a halt

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Construction has stalled on the new hotel being built on the site of the defeated Victory Inn in Bowling Green. The owner of the Victory Inn – Jamal Garmo of Michigan – began work last summer on a new Home2 Suites by Hilton, which specializes in extended stays. However, work on the site has come to a standstill, with just the stair and elevator towers sticking up on the construction scene. The owner has all the necessary zoning permits from the city, according to Bowling Green Planning Director Heather Sayler. “For us, it’s just a waiting game,” Sayler said. The owner also acquired the necessary building permits from the Wood County Building Inspection Office. Those permits will expire one year after progress stops on the site, according to Mike Rudey, the county’s chief building inspector. The exact date of the halt in construction is not known. The developer has stopped contacting the building inspection office for inspections of the construction. “We’ve been watching it closely,” Rudey said Monday. “No one has sent me a letter about why they stopped work. The permit is good as long as they continue to make progress.” William Fehse, of Southfield, Michigan, whose name is on the zoning certificate, said Monday morning that he would check on the construction delays. He failed to call back with information explaining the status of the project. If the building permit expires, the developer will have to re-apply in order to restart construction, Rudey said. If the developer fails to contact building inspection, then the city and county will have to discuss the next step, he said. “Then we’ll have a conversation with the city about that and see what we’re going to do with this,” Rudey said. The halt in construction is just the latest in a string of problems for the site at 1630 E. Wooster St. The previous hotel there –  Victory Inn – was demolished in 2015 after nearly five years of Bowling Green and Wood County Health Department officials trying to get hotel to clean up issues. The hotel was frequently the source of complaints about bedbugs, plumbing and electrical problems, the lack of smoke alarms and cleanliness violations. Garmo approached the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals in 2016, since his new proposed hotel exceeded the city’s height and story limits. His request was for a variance to allow construction of a 107-room hotel on the eastern portion of the seven acres that previously housed Victory Inn. The proposed hotel would be 65 feet tall, five feet taller than allowed, and five stories high, one story higher than allowed in B-2 general commercial zoning The request was initially turned down. By building upward, the 107-room hotel would have a much smaller footprint than the two-story Victory Inn which had 103 rooms, the developer said. The developer said the smaller footprint of the taller hotel will allow for other businesses on the seven-acre site. He said the remainder of the property could possibly be “mixed use” with some retail, office and residential. Garmo filed an appeal of the city’s decision, stating the denial was “unconstitutional, arbitrary, capricious and an unreasonable exercise of discretion.” The appeal also stated the denial posed an “unreasonable hardship” against Garmo. During a zoning meeting in April of 2016, he expressed his displeasure with the zoning board of appeals. “Five stories is a signature from the highway,” Garmo said, adding he originally wanted the hotel to be six stories. “I’m very disappointed, very disappointed,” he said, telling the board the hotel would have been…

Water back after construction crew breaks line in downtown BG

By BG INDEPENDENT NEWS The water is back after a contractor working on the project downtown inadvertently struck a water service line this morning near Ben’s on South Main Street. The city had to shut down the waterline from Wooster to Clough streets, according to the city’s Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell. But as of 11:15 a.m., the waterline was repaired and downtown businesses and residents had water again, he said. The affected customers have been notified of the boil advisory and the boil advisory is on city website. The city took samples for bacteria testing and should have the results around noon tomorrow, O’Connell said. The contractor, plus personnel from the city’s sewer and water department were on the scene working to fix the break, Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said. Kelly Wicks, of Grounds for Thought, was closing the coffee shop for the day. He said the construction has not put a dent in his business. “Luckily caffeine in an addictive substance,” he quipped. Though the water is back on, there will be a boil water order, and Grounds will stay closed until at least late morning Tuesday, Wicks said. Amy Craft Ahrens of For Keeps said she’d be staying open because they had no public restrooms. The construction has cost some business she said. Then there’s been the ongoing noise of the equipment just outside her door. “I’m ready for it to be over,” she said. Still she tries to look on the lighter side. The sign outside the shop door reads: “The road to success is always under construction.”

Report on East Wooster Street doesn’t pull any punches

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green took a jab to the gut last week in the release of a study on the East Wooster Street entrance to the community. The “strategy for redevelopment,” conducted by Development Strategies of St. Louis, pulled no punches as it pointed out where the city has gone wrong, and where it needs to change course to avoid a downward spiral. The university and historic downtown are definite draws for the community, the study stated. But East Wooster Street – the front porch of the community – is littered with “haphazard development and poor quality buildings.” The study concluded that it’s not enough that the city has made minor changes to the zoning code, and that BGSU has purchased of some lots and demolished of some eyesores on East Wooster Street. To compete with other communities, especially other university towns, the city and BGSU need to take some control to promote healthy development along East Wooster. Mayor Dick Edwards discussed the “painful truth” of the study last week with City Council. “Bowling Green has a major image problem that needs to be fixed,” Edwards said of the report. “The condition of the city is placing the university at a competitive disadvantage in attracting students.” It’s not just student enrollment that is at risk, according to the study. Both BGSU and Wood County Hospital have reported difficulty attracting talent because the community appears to lack “quality of life” characteristics. The report has an “unmistakable sense of urgency,” Edwards said. “The simple truth is that we as a community cannot afford the economic losses associated with declining enrollments,” the mayor said. Following are some conclusions and recommendations from the study: First impressions really count Bowling Green is a far more impressive community than its first impression indicates. It has two major assets that many communities would be envious of: a public university and a charming, historic downtown. Even so, the main corridor that welcomes visitors to the city and connects these destinations gives a negative impression that is hard to overcome. The investments BGSU has made in the Stroh Center and Falcon Health Center set a new standard for quality; however, both public and private investment will be needed to infuse the 1.8-mile corridor with vitality. Behind in economic development trends The national economy is changing, but Bowling Green has not adapted its approach to economic development. The city’s efforts in regards to industrial/manufacturing jobs have proven fruitful, but this singular focus has come at the expense of knowledge-based industries that are growing and are expected to become increasingly important in the future. This blue-collar focus needs to be balanced with a broader vision of growth that will lead to greater prosperity in the long-term, and this is going to require a new strategic direction that is supported by all members of the community. People are searching for quality of life People are increasingly choosing where they want to live based on the quality of life. Therefore, the quality of place (amenities, public space, walkability, etc.) is becoming a critical component in attracting and retaining the next generation of people who will call a community home. At least two major institutions, BGSU and Wood County Hospital, have clearly stated that the quality of the city, and the state of Wooster Street in particular, are negatively affecting their ability to attract talent. Potential employees don’t see the amenities they desire and find it easier to go elsewhere. Top students and their parents come to the community and don’t see it as a fun, progressive place they…

Charter Steel – maker of giant ‘Slinkies’ – is county corporate citizen of year

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Tucked away in the southeast corner of Wood County is manufacturer making giant rolls of steel rods. “Many of you’ve seen our product. They look like ‘Slinkies’ in the back of trucks,” said Brian Holzaepfel, operations manager of Charter Steel. Each of those “Slinkies” weighs between 4,500 and 5,600 pounds. The company, located off U.S. 23 near Risingsun, has been named Wood County Corporate Citizen of the Year for 2019. The company, which moved to Wood County in 2000, was recognized during the annual dinner meeting of the Wood County Economic Development Commission Thursday evening. Wood County Economic Development Commission dinner meeting Charter Steel first moved here to set up a distribution center in order to better serve its customers in the Midwest with just-in-time deliveries. But it has become so much more, Holzaepfel said as he accepted the award. As of last year, the Charter Steel location in Wood County had 130 employees working in the 365,000 square foot plant. The site processed 512,097 tons of steel, and shipped 201,954 tons of the steel rods. “The continued drive for growth is very apparent in the Charter Steel company,” Holzaepfel said. The local facility is equipped with a chemical cleaning line, mechanical descaling, annealing furnaces and wire-drawing equipment to clean, anneal, draw, coat and distribute hot-rolled coils from Charter Steel’s rolling mills. When introducing the company, Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw noted the firm was a fourth generation privately held company. Established in 1936, one of the company’s founders was instrumental in creating Frigidaire, the first self-contained refrigerator. “They have always been a forward thinking company,” Herringshaw said. Charter Steel The company has revenues exceeding $1.1 billion, and employs more than 2,150 people in 11 locations. Charter Steel is known for placing great trust in their employees, and not requiring them to punch a timeclock, she said. The company is the leading producer of wire rod in the U.S. “We are a growth organization with a strong emphasis on customer intimacy and employee engagement,” Holzaepfel said. The company has a philosophy in teamwork and trust, and invests in ideas presented by employees. “We empower them so they can make changes and have an impact.” Charter Steel also believes in safety, one of the company owners stated in a video shown at Thursday’s program. “We want every worker to go home the same way they showed up for work,” he said. Charter Steel Since 2006, the company has invested more than $950 million into its plants. Last year, the company shipped 1.15 million tons of steel rods to 200 customers in 30 states. That steel is then turned into items like fasteners for automobiles or airplanes, rollers and bearings, or springs for items like suspension brakes. According to Holzaepfel, Charter Steel believes in adhering to practices that are sustainable environmentally, safe, quality based, and energy efficient. The company puts emphasis on community engagement, through schools, economic development organizations, Habitat for Humanity and United Way. The company also encourages employees to get involved in efforts to better their communities. Holzaepfel told of local workers who work as reading mentors, and provide Christmas gifts to children in need.

Flatlands Coffee reaches for new heights in barista championships

By DAVID DUPONT  BG Independent News Flatlands Coffee made its presence known at the Specialty Coffee Association National Barista Championships this past weekend. For the shop’s owner Ben Vollmar and Rachel Diaz, operations manager of the shop, to make it to the championship event in Kansas City, Missouri, was success, Vollmar said. Now he’s ready to build on that with an eye toward next year. He felt to have two people from a part of the country where specialty coffee is still new, and make it to the championships to compete against “the best of the best” was an honor. The learning curve is steep, he said. The rules are 22 pages long “and there’s even more you learn” at the competition. To make it, they had to be in the top 16 of the 60-barista field in the qualifying round held in Nashville. Rachel Diaz in the championships. (Photo courtesy of SPRUDGE) Each barista has 15 minutes to make four espressos, four milk espresso drinks, and four espresso specialty drinks of their own creation. And they have to talk throughout the process, demonstrating their knowledge of coffee and the brewing process. The winner will represent the specialty quality industry for the entire year, and compete internationally. Vollmar placed in the middle of the pack, not making the cut to go on to the semifinals. Part of the competition is being able to precisely tell the judging panel what they will taste in the specialty drink. Having made a last minute adjustment to the grind on his coffee, he was off. He feels if he’d been more precise, he may have moved up enough to move on. “You have to incredibly accurate in what you tell the panel that they’re going to taste. They better taste it. That’s where majority of points are,” he said. In his creation, he used tea, milk, lime and dry ice to quickly chill it. Diaz used nitrogen infusion and pear rooibos tea. She hit a time crunch. She went 55 seconds over time and was docked a large number of points for it. She said she realized when she had 10 seconds left that she had to either call time and not lose the points or just continue and make the best drink she could. “I just made the choice that I’m just going to do my best and give my full presentation.” Vollmar said he was on the sidelines watching her “going crazy” cheering her on.  Diaz had decided to compete after Vollmar’s experience in the Eastern qualifying event in 2018. The team at Flatlands watched a live feed of him in his first competition on a live feed. “I have to do it next year,” Diaz told herself. “I was completely intrigued by it.” Diaz said she enjoyed the sense of community. “To be able to see interact with people in the larger industry was very exciting.” Diaz has only been working as a barista for a couple years. She started when Vollmar hired her to work at Flatlands. Last summer she graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law. She had to decide whether to get a job related to her field, or stay at Flatlands and pursue something she was passionate about. “Once I made the decision to stay it was a matter of how I develop myself as a coffee professional,  develop my skills, develop my technique,” she said. “Competing was one of those things.” In preparing for competition “I’m doing research on coffee, on espresso extraction, the science behind that. I…