Rossford on the verge of development boomWritten by Tony Gonzalez | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rossford, a town of fewer than 6,500 people, oversees what some builders call the most valuable undeveloped land between New York and Chicago. But the land will not be considered “undeveloped” for long, as a series of major projects progress.
Crossroads Centre, which spans the south side of Route 795 bordered by I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike, could become home to a Bass Pro Shop, most of the United States’ largest retailers and related retail and hotel developments.
City and county officials, as well as real estate agents, agree: Rossford’s location is key to its growth.
“If you look at a map of the United States, the longest north-south and east-west corridors intersect right here in Rossford,” said Rossford Mayor Bill Verbosky. “[Developers are] starting to realize this is a very large corridor. We’re getting more of a second look than we used to.”
An estimated 48.6 million vehicles pass the Crossroads each year. As a comparison, Cabela’s in Dundee, Mich., sees one-third the volume of traffic, although it is considered a top attraction in the state.
“You have an area of developable land that has been appropriately zoned,” said Wade Gottschalk, associate director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. “It has great connectivity.”
Brian McMahon, president of Danberry National Ltd., has helped develop Crossroads for 14 years. He said increased traffic to retail stores or Bass Pro would not necessarily flow through the surrounding cities, as the interstates provide adequate exits.
Crossroads Centre history
Ed Ciecka, city administrator, and McMahon mapped the history of Crossroads Centre.
Rossford annexed the land from 1992 to 1999, incorporating approximately 1,200 acres.
“The city was small prior to that,” Ciecka said. “The city had no area that could be developed.”
McMahon said annexing, as opposed to the city purchasing the land, sped zoning processes.
“The city owns no property in the area; we’re working with private developers,” Ciecka said. “They’re coming to us.”
Ciecka said the slow economy at the start of the 21st century quelled some development, but a series of big box retailers chose to build along Route 20, the southern border of the land.
Now, within a two-mile radius, shoppers can find almost all of the nation’s big box retailers, McMahon said. One stretch includes Home Depot, Giant Eagle, Target, Lowe’s and Meijer.
Jerry Miller, a Realtor and developer in Meridian Center, said the retail services stem from the number of rooftop residences built in the area.
“When we did our studies, there was just a huge population along that area and no service,” Miller said. “When the retailers looked at it, they were blown away.”
Miller said beneficial zoning, available utilities and the area’s attitude toward promoting development have “opened the door” to businesses.
“The amount of development, particularly in the retail area along the Route 20 corridor — there is none that matches it, including areas like Levis Commons [in Perrysburg],” Miller said. “The amount of footage developed there in the past five years has exceeded anything in the Toledo metropolitan area.”
Ciecka said the development has been slow in coming.
“Maybe we’re a little late, but maybe they are finally discovering us,” he said.
Road not always smooth
Although Ciecka looks forward to development, he said the city has struggled financially.
“For a long period the [Pilkington] plant was the center. We hope it continues to be a presence in our community, but we can’t be dependent on one developer,” he said.
Crossroads gained voluminous press for the failed construction project of an arena and amphitheater. Ciecka and Verbosky said the story of its failure has been thoroughly told.
“The problems with the arena and amphitheater have overshadowed the good that has gone on in that area,” Verbosky said.
Ciecka said the “dark cloud” over the amphitheater project may lift when the land faces potential buyers at a June 22 Sheriff’s Auction in Bowling Green. McMahon said the amphitheater could be resurrected by new buyers into what he calls the “wildcard” of Crossroads.
“Real estate by nature is a slow and prodding process, a long-term investment,” Miller said.
He compared the lags at Crossroads to Briarfield Business Park in Maumee. Miller said infrastructure was prepared at that site in 1989, but energy waned until 1994 when 125 acres sold out in five years.
Ciecka doles out credit for Crossroads growth to developers, real estate agents, Wood County and the Rossford/Perrysburg Township Port Authority. No one government group takes credit.
Gottschalk said Wood County assists the city in whatever way needed.
“We have a great relationship with the city of Rossford; it can’t get much better than it is,” Gottschalk said.
He said the Wood County development group serves as a point of contact and works with tax assistance packages, which are approved by Wood County commissioners. Gottschalk said most developers have received almost no tax break packages.
Ciecka said Rossford has fewer tax abatements than neighboring cities.
Rex Huffman, general counsel for the Rossford/Perrysburg Township Port Authority, said location is Rossford’s key to development, but credited the governing agencies for foresight.
“A lot of work from folks five, 10 years ago is now paying off,” Huffman said.
The port authority formed in 1999 to promote economic development. Huffman credited Wood County property owners with spurring interest in the area, while the port authority tries to complete deals.
“There’s a large group that’s responsible for this happening, that’s why you get a sense of real success here,” Huffman said. “There is a genuine spirit of cooperation.”
Verbosky said Rossford has a proactive planning commission. He said that as a new mayor, and with a new administrator, he has seen the city’s relationships with developers strengthened and renewed.
“There was a pall thrown over everything, but now we’ve got a fresh start,” Verbosky said. “It’s a small enough city, but located quickly enough to the Toledo area to move on the interstates. We’re just happy that we’re getting a renewed sense of development.”
Arnold Zirkes, general manager of Gold Medal Indoor Sports Complex, a new privately owned indoor sports facility, has worked with Rossford during development.
“The Rossford City Council and city manager have been phenomenal to work with,” Zirkes said of a four-year relationship. “At this point in time we’re happy the whole Crossroads area is being developed with hope that Bass Pro will make its home there.”
“Rossford could finally make a destination for this region,” McMahon said. “The Crossroads is the best opportunity for us as a community to work together in true regionalism.”
The planning groups and associated real estate agents agree: Rossford’s development is only beginning. Bass Pro’s presence has become common in speculation despite the company’s reluctance to announce.
“If Bass Pro selects Rossford it will be one of the primary reasons for people moving in,” Ciecka said.
Miller agreed. “Bass Pro would add a whole other dimension to the area. You’d see a significant increase in land value.
“There’s a certain energy that comes with those types of developments, they definitely build on each other,” Miller said. “People had to overcome the negative publicity and people are starting to say ‘this is an area we have to be in.’ We’re still at the beginning and there’s a lot of work and development yet to be done.”
Future development could hinge on the land’s zoning, which has allowed gaming since the 1990s. Although gaming is not legal in Ohio, lobbyists continue to make their case in Cleveland and Cincinnati. If gaming laws change, Crossroads would be ahead of many other development areas, which would need rezoning.
Rossford Business Association grows with developments
While Rossford encourages development of its 1,200-acre Crossroads Centre, the Rossford Business Association has turned its attention to downtown revitalization. Ed Ciecka, city administrator, said Rossford plans for longtime commercial viability downtown.
Andy Foldenauer, president of the RBA, said the group’s major project is earning a state grant of matching funds for downtown improvements.
Like Rossford developments, the RBA has seen renewed energy. The group had dissolved in the late 1990s, but reformed five years ago, and has grown to more than 80 members.
“Once the businesses are here in town we’re a resource to network and come up with ways to promote business for the residents,” Foldenauer said. “We have a good relationship with the city.”
He described Rossford’s transition in the past 10 years.
“Previously the city was built around the Libbey Owens Ford glass plant with five or 6,000 employees there,” Foldenauer said.
The city has since seen a change in employment and revenue, which Foldenauer said forced the city to reinvent itself.
“It is a very exciting time for new businesses and change,” he said, estimating 10 to 30 years of new business developments.
“Back in 1981 you could look at the map and from our exit to Bowling Green it was mostly farm land,” said Sue Pinksi, RBA vice president. “It’s pleasing to see the growth.”
The RBA recently hosted its first business fair, with 40 businesses on display. Foldenauer and Ciecka estimated between 800 and 1,000 people attended. Foldenauer said Meijer has been a “huge participant” in the RBA and was the primary underwriter for the biannual business directory the RBA prints.