Mimzy’s Bakehouse. EarthWise Pet. Maison and Antica Modern, which share a space on Lear Road.
Those are just a few of the new retailers that opened in the city last year, all with the help of Economic Development Director Ted Esborn.
“Esborn has been fantastic for us,” said Mimzy’s co-owner Ron Cornett. “He knew we were struggling and he stepped right in to help.”
He said Esborn helped publicize the February opening of the bakery in Towne Center and when business slowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, he helped Cornett apply for and receive a $2,500 grant. The city gave a total of $150,000 in grants in November, after handing out $100,000 in grants in 2020.
“Ted has done an amazing job as economic development director,” Mayor Greg Zilka said.
Zilka had special praise for the “Shop Local” program Esborn initiated during the holidays in 2020, and headed up last month, in which 40 businesses participated.
While Esborn, 37, is earning kudos around the city, he believes Avon Lake’s biggest opportunity is ahead. The City Council recently created a new mixed zoning category, a move that clears the way for combined commercial and residential projects. The zoning is an overlay, meaning the zoning in place prior to adoption of mixed use zoning remains in place. Owners or developers can choose which zoning is more advantageous.
“The point is it gives them more flexibility,” Esborn said.
He added mixed zoning may help in the hoped-for redevelopment of the long-vacant former Tops supermarket In Towne Center. The center sits at the corner of Walker and Center roads and is one of three areas that could benefit from mixed zoning.
The others are Lake Road west of Moore to Beach Park Station, 33489 Lake and the northern end of Lear between Electric Boulevard and Division Road.
Has the pandemic slowed Avon Lake’s economic development? Esborn said it has not hurt the city as much as it might have.
“We’re having a strong year,” Esborn said in December. “New retail starts are good and the tenancy is high. It’s been a good 2021.”
Still, Avon Lake has its commercial challenges.
“For instance,” Esborn said, “the city does not have office space.”
He talked about how many, if not most, Northeast Ohio cities have two or three story office buildings, which Avon Lake lacks.
“If we have a company who is interested in Avon Lake and they’re looking for say, 20,000 square feet of office space, we don’t have it to offer them,” Esborn said. “That building doesn’t exist.”
Available vacant property also is scarce, especially in terms of industrial areas, Esborn said. All of the city’s remaining industrial space is for sale and Esborn said he has heard anecdotally there is interest in almost all of it. The interest is something to celebrate, he said, but again there are issues.
The city has less than 100 acres of undeveloped retail or industrial property. Three-quarters of that is one property near the corner of Pin Oak Parkway and Moore Road. The remaining open space consists of a few acres scattered around the city.
Another opportunity arrived in July when a private company bought the 40-acre Avon Lake power plant site. Esborn will likely shepherd redevelopment there.
Esborn was born and still lives in Cleveland Heights. The only occasion he moved from that city was to attend Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, earning a bachelor’s degree with majors in history and creative writing. He later received a master’s in public administration and a legal degree at Cleveland State University.
How did he go from history and creative writing to public administration and law?
“I got interested in municipal work after listening to local radio, just sort of soaking in the news,” Esborn said.
He sought out some grant writing training and got a part-time job writing grants for Mayfield Village. But it soon turned into a full-time job not only writing grants but also working with the businesses. Esborn was earning his law degree while working in Mayfield Village. He passed the bar in 2015. He has never practiced law but considered getting into municipal law.
“It would have meant a big change in my career path and I liked what I was doing and I still do,” Esborn said. “It’s just kind of a backup.”
Esborn and his wife, Austine Clark, a nurse practitioner, have a 3-year-old son, James, whose birthday is in December.
“He kind of gets the whole month to celebrate,” Esborn said. Last month, he was excited James was old enough to really appreciate Christmas for the first time.
“I think he’s really going to be able to enjoy it,” Esborn said.
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