By Kevin Kelley
Mayor Eileen Patton said her administration’s new development director will bring a fresh look at the community’s commercial health.
That’s because the suburb’s newest department director is coming from out of state.
Shawn Leininger has spent the past five years in various municipal positions in Bluffton, S.C. just inland from Hilton Head Island. He currently serves as Bluffton’s assistant town manager and executive director of the Bluffton Public Development Corp. Leininger’s previous titles with the town of about 17,000 people included director of growth management and planning and community development manager.
“He’s got such enthusiasm for economic development,” Patton told West Life.
By a 4-0 vote April 18, Fairview Park City Council confirmed Patton’s appointment of Leininger as director of the city’s development and service departments. Council members Peggy Cleary, Brian McDonough and Paul Wojnar were absent from that meeting.
In January, council voted unanimously against Patton’s reappointment of Rob Berner as development and service director. Some council members said Berner had not responded promptly to requests for documents and other information.
Leininger’s appointment offers him job security for no more than three and a half years; Patton has announced she will not seek re-election when her current term expires. Leininger said he was made aware of that during the interview process.
Fairview Park’s city charter mandates the same director lead both the development and service departments. Patton noted that Leininger has experience in both economic development and public works, a quality the mayor described as “a rare find.”
Leininger’s position as Bluffton’s assistant town manager gave him oversight of subjects such as stormwater management.
Patton said she’s confident Fairview Park’s service department is operating smoothly, so she wants Leininger to focus more on economic development issues. One of the first issues she wants Leininger to tackle is the future of the former NASA buildings on Brookpark Road. Now owned by an investment group, the two vacant buildings are for sale. Patton’s administration has battled for many years for the development of that property so it can become a revenue generator for the city.
Another economic development issue is the problem of vacant storefronts along Lorain Road. Leininger, who became aware of that issue during the interview process, acknowledged the problem is complex. But he told West Life he believes economic development is all about developing relationships – relationships with business owners, property owners and the real estate community. He said he’s looking forward to doing that.
Why is Leininger leaving a desirable community like the Hilton Head area to come to Cleveland and its often miserable winters?
Leininger explained that he is originally from the Toledo area, and his wife’s family lives in Northeast Ohio.
“The opportunity to go home and the opportunity to work for a community like Fairview Park – we couldn’t pass that up,” he said.
Leininger is a Buckeye – both a native Ohioan and a graduate of the big school in Columbus. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in city and regional planning from The Ohio State University.
Before working for the town of Bluffton, Leininger worked as a planning and zoning administrator in Delaware, Ohio, from 2005 to 2011 and as a development planner for the city of Powell, Ohio, from 2001 to 2005.
Leininger begins his new job May 16. His family will remain in South Carolina through the end of the school year, he said. The family is still looking for a home in this area, he added.