Despite the down economy, newly constructed highways and an iconic bridge may provide better access to Wood County villages, and Pemberville has seen residential growth for the first time in decades,
Walbridge Mayor Dan Wilczynski believes even the 2006 opening of the Glass City Veterans Memorial Skyway Interstate 280 bridge crossing over the Maumee River will impact Walbridge.
“I think the new bridge will open our entire end of the region,” Wilczynski said just after the opening. “It’s going to be a major change to our region. That’s why (Lake Township trustee) Melanie Bowen and Mike Timmons, of Millbury, and I have been working on our regional development goals.”
Those three were working with the Center for Regional Development at Bowling Green State University and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District to establish a joint economic district.
Entering 2008, Wilczynski contracted with a real estate firm to market village-owned property along East Broadway, where village officials hope to expand the tax base by attracting industry.
Alpha Tube came into Walbridge with plans for a $40 million manufacturing center that would employ 200 workers.
Walbridge in 2005 announced plans to convert the Loop Park shelter house into a community and youth center as well as upgrading the park’s recreational areas.
Wilczynski described the park project as a “multiple year project.”
The previous year, Mayor Wilczysnki made strides in infrastructure projects.
“We have developed and implemented a street and catch basin maintenance program that provides for approximately three-fourths of a mile road surfacing each year and 10 percent of catch-basins being re-worked. The program allows us to be proactive for street repairs in a controlled manner.”
Troy Energy opened the decade by announcing construction of a planned $200 million electrical generating plant near Luckey that would generate five new jobs.
Providing access to Troy Energy is the completed overpasses for State Route 420 and Pemberville Road over U.S. Route 20 (Fremont Pike). That same access also makes getting into Pemberville, Luckey, Woodville, and Genoa easier.
The finished construction now rids travelers of the dangerous at-grade intersection that existed there, allowing traffic to move freely from 20 to 420 and vice versa. The new intersection also allows drivers to travel over Fremont Pike on Pemberville Road without being impeded by another dangerous intersection.
The project included a second phase, which was the expansion of U.S. 20 from Pemberville Road to Woodville from two lanes to four lanes.
Troy Township also went into business with the City of Toledo — partnering to form a 460-acre JEDD near State Route 420 and U.S. 20.
Under the agreement, Toledo will provide sewer and water service to the site and share income tax revenues with the township from businesses that locate in the JEDD. The township will provide road maintenance and fire protection service.
The Northwest Water and Sewer District will extend water and sewer lines to the site, Jerry Greiner, district director, said. He said the lines will also be able to serve another 540 acres to the south of the JEDD. The JEDD site and southern acreage are owned by Dominion East Ohio.
Financing for the lines, estimated to cost about $7 million, is already in place, Greiner said. The district is earmarking $2 million and secured a grant of $2.35 million from the Ohio Department of Development and Dominion East has also earmarked $2.35 million.
Baker Building/Ford Garage
In 2005, Pemberville made plans to pay $132,000 to purchase the old Ford garage for the purpose of revitalizing it into a “mini-mall.”
“We’re hoping when everything is said and done, we’ll have a brand new, spacious facility out of which a lot of quaint shops and restaurants can operate,” said then-Councilman Doug Wegman.
Today, those plans have been realized. The renovated building was bought, renovated, and sold. Although no restaurants are there, four new businesses are inside — an art gallery, primitive crafts shop, wood and coal burning stove shop, and an auto repair business that relocated.
“That was my plan all along in buying that Ford garage was making it into businesses,” Mayor Jim Opelt said. “While we had to sell it for a little bit less than what we paid for it, in the long run we’ll get a return. Businesses feed off businesses, so we feel the more we get the more it will help our other businesses.”
There are even more new businesses on the way, if insurance agent Darla Baker has her way. The village plans to be breaking ground soon on the Baker building, a new commercial building with four planned store fronts to be located east of the railroad tracks on Front Street.
Baker plans on relocating her insurance business there, and will lease the other three store fronts, Opelt said. Combine the Baker Building and Ford Garage, and you’ve got a huge expansion in small businesses for a village of about 1,200 people.
“We’re pretty excited about having six, seven businesses coming in at one time,” Opelt said.
In addition, Freedom Township has purchased land in town and plans to construct a new complex next to the Baker Building. The complex will include a large meeting room, outbuildings, and a large parking lot, Opelt said.
Condominiums have been constructed on College Avenue and built by Nigel Davies and his wife Trudy. The condos became the first major housing development in Pemberville since 1992. The $2 million-plus Conaghan Meadows includes 12 upscale condos, each approximately 1,500 square feet, with prices starting at $175,000.
The village also located a senior center, which is going into its third year at the Bethlehem Church.
“We must take care of our aging population by providing housing and a senior center. And we must take care of our families and youth population by providing recreation and similar activities,” Opelt said in 2007.
Then there is increased parkland — Elihu Mason Park, Oberhouse Park, and Northwest Park have been added or are on the drawing boards.
Elihu Mason Park was added where an old house was razed across from the Ford Garage, and adjacent to it is additional parking for downtown businesses.
Oberhouse Park was donated by the late Bob and Lu Oberhouse, who granted property along the Portage River across from downtown to the village.
“We haven’t had money to develop it, but we’ve actually been able to plot the land and its waiting to be developed, so we’ve made some headway,” Opelt said.
Northwest Park is a working name for a 10-acre park waiting to be developed along College Avenue, which the village also received from a grant.
In addition, the village constructed public restrooms downtown and will construct a new waste water plant, both with grant funding. The village received $2 million in stimulus money for the water plant, which will cost a total of $3 million. Mayor Opelt believes this sum is more than most villages the size of Pemberville received.
But in the downturned economy, there are negatives, also.
“My legacy if there will be one is that I was able to help us keep our head above water as we went through this. It would have been tough on anybody and we’ve been dealt cards that we weren’t expecting were going to be dealt,” Opelt, now in his seventh year as mayor, said.
“We’ve had, of course, our parks levies have gone down, our police levies have gone down and yet we’re still trying to maintain all that. Of course, I don’t do it by myself. I do it with council, but with all of us working together we’ve been able to maintain our services through the worst times we’ve had since probably the Great Depression.”
One negative was the closing of the Modine manufacturing plant along Bierly Avenue. In January, property and equipment inside the plant was auctioned. The village is working on seeing to it that the building does not remain empty for long.
“Our biggest downer is still Modine because that’s sitting empty but we’ve had four or five inquiries on it,” Opelt said. “Two inquires were from out of state, one from Arizona, so we feel pretty good about that but we’re like everybody else — still struggling, too, but there are some positives.”
Another “downer” is the disenfranchising of Eisenhour Chevrolet’s new car business by General Motors. But Opelt sees that firm continuing forward.
“They do a tremendous job of repair and also used car business. I mean, they really sell a lot of used cars so they will be fine,” Opelt said.