For many people, the city of Northwood is a 2-mile stretch of Woodville Road, culminating with the retail graveyard of the Woodville Mall.
It’s a view that doesn’t exactly scream boom times for the Toledo suburb of 5,300 people.
“People have this perspective that [Northwood is] on a downhill decline, but we’re really not,” said Kimberly Vaculik, the city’s economic development coordinator.
It’s true that the Woodville Mall has long been an eyesore, both for the public and the city officials who have fought court battles with its out-of-town owners.
But the vacant mall is finally coming down, and city officials are renewing their focus on economic development and trying to get the message out that the economy is doing OK in Northwood — even if it’s not obvious to outside observers.
“We’re picking up businesses on the industrial and commercial side more toward the west end, but you don’t see that because you’re not driving through the industrial complexes and seeing that they’re adding on or adding more employees,” Ms. Vaculik said.
Northwood officials hope to add some visibility to their efforts with a new city Web site that puts a higher emphasis on economic development.
“Just like everybody does, you’ve gotta sell your product,” Northwood Administrator Bob Anderson said. “In our case, it’s us and our land. You’ve gotta have a good image. I hate the word brand, but you know, it comes down to that.”
The city has contracted with a Troy, Mich., Web development firm that specializes in municipal Web sites for the $9,900 project.
One new aspect Mr. Anderson sought to include is a roster of available commercial properties within the city. He said real estate agents he’s spoken with have been receptive to the idea. The new site will include expanded information on local transportation infrastructure as well as tax credits and abatements that are available for business development.
Work on the Web site is expected to begin soon.
Mr. Anderson said council is also turning its focus to cleaning up and building up the Woodville Road corridor. A few years ago, the city passed more stringent rules with the idea of creating a central business district with a downtown feel, but officials now say they’re tweaking their focus.
“Sometimes we maybe pretended we were more than we are,” Mr. Anderson said. “We are who we are, which ain’t bad. But trying to be a Sylvania or Perrysburg, it’s not going to work. We’re Northwood. We’ve got a lot to offer.”
Mr. Anderson said the city is exploring things such as revolving loan funds or even small facade loans or grants to encourage owners to fix up their buildings.
Officials are also looking for better ways to deal with absentee landlords and deal with vacant buildings.
“I think the biggest thing we’re trying to do is change that image of Northwood.”
Though the city was recently stung by announcements that an auto parts supplier is leaving for Michigan and that Sears will close its store near the former Woodville Mall, officials say job growth at the Johnson Controls plant and the addition of a FedEx Freight facility last year more than made up for the losses.
Though the future of the Woodville Mall site is in flux, Mr. Anderson said other vacant properties are very marketable — including the former Hostess bakery off I-75 that’s now owned by Flowers Foods but not in operation.
“They're not just letting their buildings go, which tells me that they either hope to sell them or they hope to use them again, which is what we hope,” Mr. Anderson said.