Grove Business Class
A group of Columbus Grove Business Class students present their development ideas for downtown Lima. The presenters are (from left to right): Enoch Jones, Emily Schumacher, Meghan Blankemeyer, Joey Edelbrock, and Gabe Hardeman. In the foreground is Eric Davis of Allen Economic Development Group. (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

COLUMBUS GROVE — A unique educational opportunity and collaboration began last month on February 7. That is when students from Columbus Grove High School’s Business Class met with Dave Stratton and Eric Davis from the Allen Economic Development Group. Together, they toured six properties in Lima that are currently the focus of redevelopment efforts in the city.

“Because one of the things we’re always talking about is, what amenities? Delis? Restaurants? What we think always seems great,” says Stratton as he explains why he and his colleagues felt it would be worthwhile to work with the business class students. “But, what do they think? They’re the next generation. They’re going to probably come up with some real interesting things.”

According to Stratton and Davis, one of the properties the students viewed has been sitting vacant for six years. Another has an owner willing to commit millions towards redevelopment if a plan can be presented with a strong economic case. All have potential, and since one goal is to entice young people to visit downtown Lima for recreation and entertainment, these developers were keen to see what the students themselves thought might work for the properties they toured.

Over the course of the next two weeks the students did much more than offer suggestions. To borrow a phrase, they got down to business.

As demonstrated during their presentations, the students studied area demographics to better understand the population being served. They looked at the other businesses and organizations already present in the area. They paid attention to traffic flow issues and parking needs.

They researched how the area was zoned to better understand what could be developed. They created a survey and interviewed nearby residents, asking what kind of development those residents would like to see.

The final presentations included details on specific lease amounts for office space in mixed-use developments, projected construction costs and anticipated timelines for development. A decision matrix was used to inform the best possible use of the spaces being considered. 3D models were created of final ideas.

“We plan to turn [this development site] into a business incubator with a few select businesses,” said one of the student presenters as she explained her team’s idea. “A place where they can work and hold meetings in a laid back atmosphere.”

“We plan on having a small coffee shop or cafe in the top…We want want to bring a new work atmosphere to Lima… [With this plan], you can get a private office space of around a couple hundred square feet for about $1,000 a month.”

The student presenter then went on to show images of a similar and successful concept from a city in Alabama which has challenges comparable to that of Lima. The students had researched what had worked in other cities and could possibly be duplicated in this area.

“These principles apply pretty much universally to communities across our region,” said Davis of the work the students had done. “If we can get these students thinking about development in a way that’s different than what has been occurring, there’s no reason they can’t put some of those ideas to work here in their own community.”

Questions were posed by Stratton and Davis that the students could not fully answer, particularly around return on investment (ROI) and the length of time it would take to recoup initial investment costs. This, however, as both Stratton and Davis pointed out, actually showed the length of progress the students had made within a short, two-week time period. They had moved beyond the ideation phase of development planning, and were approaching true questions of feasibility.

“Fantastic job,” said Davis. “You clicked every box we tend to look at when we look at project development, looking at the questions we would ask. We could get down in the minutia, the details, but that’s not really appropriate right now…The depth of the research and how far you took these ideas, just fantastic.”