PIQUA — From the success of day-to-day operations to the vision of overarching goals, Piqua City Manager Gary Huff covered a range of topics during his Piqua State of the City address Thursday morning. The Piqua Area Chamber of Commerce held the event at the Fort Piqua Plaza.
“Without a vision for the community, the community will never improve or advance,” Huff said. “That’s the importance of the vision.”
The various awards and recognition that the city has received are a product of both its everyday operations and big-picture goals. Huff began his speech by briefly going over those awards, starting with the ones that Piqua receives on a regular basis like Playful City USA, the State Auditor’s Award, the Let’s Move award, Tree City USA, and Reliable Public Power Provider.
“We have one of the best finance departments in the state,” Huff said, adding that receiving the State Auditor’s Award has become a given. Huff added that it has also become a given for the Piqua Power System to receive recognition as a Reliable Public Power Provider. “We have an outstanding power system,” he said.
Huff went over some new awards that the city has received, including recognition as one of the best commuter cities in the state, American Public Power Association’s Safety Award and E.F. Scattergood System Achievement, Community Partnership Award from from the Career Based Intervention Program, Bicycle Friendly Community, Bicycle Friendly Businesses, Best Places for Millenials from Nerdwallet, Best Places to Live in Ohio from Niche, and more.
“It all draws people to our community,” Huff said about those awards. “I tell our staff … not only does it build pride within our organization, it builds pride within our community.”
Huff went on to mention the following grants that the city received for projects:
• Water tower — $1.075 million
• Community Housing and Impact Preservation (CHIP) — $526,000
• Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Critical Infrastructure — $375,000
• EPA Brownfields — $400,000
• Historic East Piqua — $235,000
The Housing Enhancement League of Piqua (HELP) program was also briefly mentioned. HELP aims to help residents with home improvement projects when they may not be able to afford it. Huff said that Development Program Manager Nikki Reese, Citizens for a Better Piqua, and Positively Promoting Piqua have been working together to collect donations and find volunteer labor.
“They have done a tremendous job in just the last year,” Huff said, adding that their work is an important part of bettering the community.
Huff then went over some of the finished and ongoing projects for the city, such as the completion of four phases for the reconstruction of a portion of County Road 25-A near Piqua High School and Indian Ridge.
In regard to the Historic East Piqua project, the city is continuing to look for ways has to improve and impact that area through various partnerships and redevelopment.
“Right now there’s a feasibility study under way,” which is assessing the practicality of proposed plans, Huff said. “This area is targeted for revitalization.”
Huff added that they are receiving interest from the private sector, saying, “We’ve already received a lot of interest from developers.”
The East Ash Street Water Storage Tower was also refurbished inside and outside. A mixing system was installed to improve water quality, Huff said. The cost was approximately $1.089 million. The Piqua logo painted on the water tower was also part of a rebranding effort.
Huff also took the time to recognize the Friends of the Piqua Parks and their president Ruth Koon for the addition of the William H. Pitsenbarger statue to the Pitsenbarger Park and Sports Complex.
“We want to thank them for doing all that work,” Huff said.
Following that, Huff went over the city’s in-house recycling program that was implemented this past year. “We initiated our own recycling program,” he said.
Piqua’s Health and Sanitation Department is in charge of the program and is doing the pickup instead of using an outside contractor. The city has seen a 40 percent increase in participants in recycling and an 8 percent increase in recyclable materials. Huff stated that they are expecting those numbers to continue to grow.
“We finished our first accessible playground,” Huff said in regard to the playground added to the Pitsenbarger Park and Sports Complex, where all of the structures are wheelchair-accessible. That project received a Kaboom grant of $20,000 along with matching funds and donations from the community.
In reference to the Piqua Power System, Huff said, “They have won tremendous awards over the year … They are recognized nationwide as one of the best in the country.” Huff explained that their costs to customers are approximately 20 to 30 percent below that of invested companies.
The Piqua Power System’s energy sources include 21 percent purchased from the market, 22 percent from natural gas, 49 percent from clean coal, and 8 percent from renewable resources.
“We have ownership in natural gas, wind, solar,” Huff said, also mentioning hydroelectricity. “We are part-owners in four hydros on the Ohio river.”
Huff explained that they also hoping to increase their amount of renewable energy resources from 8 percent to 20 percent in 2016. “This is going to help us in the future to help us maintain low costs,” he said.
For the future, the city is looking to utilize the old Piqua Power Plant as a possible source for energy generation, specifically as a natural gas energy generation plant. Huff explained that would eliminate transmission costs and the city would be able to lower energy costs.
“The power plant is such a great building — such a great structure — I think it’s going to play into Piqua’s future,” he said.
Next, Huff said that Piqua has seen a number of new businesses relocate to Piqua and many existing businesses in Piqua expand. “Eighty percent of your job growth comes from existing businesses,” he said.
Huff also briefly discussed the new Water Treatment Plant, stating that they had a very good winter in terms of construction and the anticipated date for that plant to open is July 2017.
“They’re doing a fantastic job out there,” Huff said.
The current Water Treatment Plant will be approximately 93 years old when it is expected to be decommissioned. When the old Water Treatment Plant is no longer is use, the city is looking to use it as a training facility for fire and police departments. Huff explained that experts have told them that building has the potential of being an international-level public training facility.
“This can be a destination site to attract public safety training from all over the United States,” Huff said.
Other projects include improving the downtown from Greene Street to North Street next week with new sidewalks and other additions. The city is also currently in the design phase for new way-finding signage to be put around the city. The city is also continuing its economic development efforts, particularly around the riverfront.
“We have a lot of properties in the city that are just saying ‘redevelop me’,” Huff said.
For the beginning of projects to come, Huff said that the Fifth Third Complex has recently been purchased and will be undergoing a major redevelopment project. The Fifth Third Complex is an old bank building that has been vacant for approximately 20 years until now.
Plans are also underway for the Piqua Fourth of July Celebration to be held at Fountain Park and Lock 9 Park, which the city is in charge of this year. There will be family entertainment, children’s activities, food, music, and fireworks on the riverfront. Huff added that the riverfront and Lock 9 Park have become an asset to drawing people to the community as different organizations utilize that area to host events.
The city has also focused on a place-making initiative, contributing to the city’s overall vision for Piqua.
“This is not far-fetched,” Huff said. “You got to provide the vision.”
Huff explained that they are utilizing the river, the features of the bike path and trail that go through Piqua, and the possibilities of Canal Place in downtown Piqua.
The ideas include making Piqua “a great place to play, a great place for the arts, a great place to live, and a great place to have fun.” The overall community vision for Piqua is to make it a “quality place.”
“This is very attainable,” Huff said. “We’re on that track to make sure that this happens. We’ve got a lot of great staff and people in the community who are committed to making sure this becomes reality.”
Huff ended on a bit of light note, mentioning the final project on the city’s radar. “I want to end by saying there’s one more thing that will be the pinnacle of everything we achieve here. I know it will be the pinnacle of my career when this happens,” he said. “That’s when we paint the railroad bridge.”
The city has submitted the plans and specifications for painting the railroad bridge over Ash Street to CSX. If approved, the project will be bid out and the bridge will be painted possibly later this summer. It will be a solid color paint.
“It will be a very nice Piqua blue,” Huff said. “It should last … a long time.”
Overall, Huff said, “Everything looks bright and beautiful for the future.”
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall