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First Impressions are Important, Even for Communities

No matter how someone comes into a community, officials want it to look nice and welcoming. For the past few years, the Defiance community has been working on comprehensive improvements to make the eastside neighborhoods more inviting to current and new residents, businesses and others.

Defiance Mayor Mike McCann said city officials refer to the areas people come into town from as gateways to the community. The eastside is one such gateway as a lot of traffic comes in from Ohio 15 (Ottawa Avenue).

“We’ve done a lot for the eastside,” he said, adding that grants have made many projects possible and continue to be instrumental in revitalization efforts.

In October 2021, a roundabout opened at Cleveland and Ottawa avenues on the city's eastside. The roundabout, the third one for the city, was constructed by Vernon Nagel Inc. of Napoleon. The more than $2.4 million project primarily was funded by state grants. Grants included $1.1 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation's (ODOT) small cities fund.

The roundabout is one of several projects the city has and is conducting to revitalize its eastside.

Revitalization efforts included building a multi-use path along Ottawa Avenue south to the Spring Meadows Manufactured Home Community. Ward Construction of Leipsic was contracted to build the path from Cleveland Avenue to Greenbrair Lane for a little more than $234,000. A state grant covered more than half the cost ($147,000) of that project as well.

The roundabout at Cleveland Ottawa avenues in Defiance opened in October 2021. The roundabout was part of the revitalization efforts for the eastside of the city. The efforts also include new sidewalks, a park, roadwork and more.

There have been many improvements made to the area in the last few years.

Karnes Avenue between Summit Street and Ottawa Avenue was reconstructed. Myrna Street also was reconstructed in 2020 after a new water line was installed. New storm sewers were installed between Ottawa Avenue and Thurman Street. Several streets also were repaved including Logan, Haig, Blaine and Thurman.

Perhaps one of the most impactful projects – especially for younger residents – was the purchase and improvements of a park. In 2011, the city purchased the former Compo Park, which had been privately held by the Compo family. The property is located between Karnes and Ottawa avenues. The city purchased the property for $150,000 using $75,000 in private donations for part of the cost. The park was renamed East Side Park. While private donations helped purchased the park, several state grants were used for upgrades. An Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant was used for the shelterhouse. Community Development Block Grant funds also were used for the new playground equipment and the parking lot.

The new East Side Park is seen off of Karnes Avenue in Defiance. The park, which was formerly known as Compo Park, features a new playground, shelter house and basketball court. There are plans to upgrade the ball diamond at the park as well.

Future plans at the park include upgrading the baseball diamond as well as expanding sidewalks to the area. City planner Nike Warncke said some of the eastside projects are the ones that she is most proud of for what they have done for the community. “We actually had to rebuild Karnes Avenue,” she said. “That was completely restructured. That was one of my projects that I’m the most proud of. That is one of the projects we started working on 5 ½ years ago.” Warncke said it was wonderful to put a park in a neighborhood where there was just a field prior for children to play. “We are still working to connect sidewalks to get more kids to the park every day,” Warncke said. “That is huge for that neighborhood to have that.” She said the importance of grants cannot be underestimated for the revitalization projects on the eastside.

ODOT, Safe Routes to School, CDBG, Neighborhood Revitalization Program and Ohio Capital Appropriation funds all were used – as were local funds for match money – to complete revitalization projects. "There were multiple different sources there," she said. "The sidewalks that are more internal that lead to the neighborhood north -- so the kids can cross Ottawa to the park -- was capital appropriations funding. There are a lot of funding sources we've used."

Work continues to be planned on the eastside of the city. McCann and Warncke said grants are being sought to continue sidewalk work to connect more of the eastside together and in turn, connect the community together more while making it more attractive to those coming into the area.

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