By JOY BROWN
Flood control is a factor in Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s $80 million construction plan for downtown Findlay, a city official said Tuesday.
Economic incentives — up to $20 million in property tax savings — also played a role.
The company has “made it very clear that this investment is contingent upon flood mitigation moving forward,” Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer said following Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Specifics on what kind of flood-control momentum Marathon is counting on will have to come from the corporation, Schmelzer said, but he said “their plans to develop a campus come with expectations from the city, and with the expectation that their pipeline company isn’t going to be choked every time it rains,” he said.
Marathon’s investment plans could, in turn, help sway federal officials when it comes to flood-control funding.
“There’s no doubt that Marathon’s investment in the downtown makes flood mitigation important. I think (Marathon CEO) Gary (Heminger) put it best at Rotary on Monday when he said that when you’re looking at Findlay, Ohio, what they’re doing here is managing 10 percent of the nation’s fuel. That is a big deal,” Schmelzer said.
Flooding has been a concern of Heminger’s and Marathon’s at least since the August 2007 flood, which damaged the company’s buildings and kept employees from getting to work. Heminger was then instrumental in helping create the public/private Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, which was tasked with expediting a flood-control plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A regional contingent traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby for more federal funding to complete the corps’ study of the Blanchard River watershed, and the contingent undoubtedly touted Marathon’s construction plans while visiting congressional and Pentagon offices.
Marathon’s project meshes with a wider plan that would transform the downtown from traffic-friendly to a more pedestrian- and business-friendly hub.
Information about that plan has just begun to publicly surface, but Schmelzer said for more than nine months, city officials have been coordinating with the petroleum company, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and economic development personnel from Hancock Regional Planning Commission on a “downtown transportation alternatives plan” initiated by the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance. The focus is on Main Street and its main crossover streets.
Marathon, credited by council members and city officials as being a good “corporate citizen” and steward for giving back to the community in a variety of ways, plans to give back even more, the company told Mayor Lydia Mihalik in a Monday letter.
The city’s reconfiguring last year of its Community Reinvestment Areas, to include the entire city and be more inclusive, was a factor in Marathon’s campus planning.
The company kept a close eye on discussions last year that centered on the reinvestment areas, which are available to all property and business owners who are looking to build or make substantial improvements.
Conversely, Marathon’s expansion plans, kept quiet for months but conveyed to city administrators during private discussions, had a hand in the city’s decisions on those tax incentive changes, Schmelzer said.
“This expansion project was in competition with other locations, and could not have been achieved in Findlay had economic assistance or incentives not been available,” Heminger wrote to Mihalik. “The city’s amendment to the CRA is one of the incentives that contributed to MPC’s decision to expand in Findlay.”
Heminger said the company has calculated it could be eligible for up to $20 million in tax deferments for a decade under the reinvestment area program, but it is intending to give up a portion of that to help pay for downtown infrastructure improvements.
If Findlay is able to achieve its objectives, which could include rerouting Ohio 12, curb bump-outs that Schmelzer said could add more than 60 parking spaces, and other intersection safety features, Marathon “will share approximately 25 percent, or up to $5 million” of its deferred taxes, Heminger said. He requested the money be prioritized toward changes in and around the proposed updated campus.
Schmelzer said Marathon recognized early in its planning that building structures such as parking garages and office buildings will alter traffic flow and pedestrian traffic in, around and near it.
“Marathon was very prudent early on in recognizing that they’re going to have some logistical issues,” Schmelzer said. “Fortunately they were agreeable to taking a look at the bigger picture. We are very fortunate that the leaders at Marathon are forward-thinking enough to allow us to leverage their investment and look at an opportunity that will not just benefit the Main Street corridor, but the downtown in general.”
More specifics on downtown traffic, parking and pedestrian ideas will be forthcoming as the city nears its April application deadline for seeking Department of Transportation grant money for planning, Schmelzer said.
The city would incur some of the cost, but there is a possibility of the state contributing up to 80 percent toward the whole project, said Schmelzer.
As with other infrastructure projects, the public will be provided with opportunities to comment and make suggestions.
“In general, the discussion needs to start,” Schmelzer said. “We’ve struggled in the past I think because a lot of the traffic questions that have been asked haven’t been answered.”