A group of 40 undergraduate students from Ohio State University are partnering with the Trotwood Community Improvement Corporation to interview residents and business owners and ultimately prepare suggestions and planning recommendations for the redevelopment of the old Salem Mall and Sears building.
Chad Downing, director of the Trotwood CIC, said the redevelopment of the properties is a top priority for the city.
“The former Salem Mall site and Sears building present a great opportunity for the City of Trotwood to create an impactful development that the citizens can be proud of. Given this, the need to gather and incorporate resident and stakeholder input is crucial to the success of this development and the partnership with Ohio State University will support this process.”
The former Salem Mall opened in 1966 and housed 91 stores at its peak. It suffered a decline in the 1990s when two of its anchor tenant, JC Penney and Lazarus, closed. The mall was closed and later demolished in 2006. The Trotwood CIC owns the former mall property.
The Sears building would follow suit and close in 2014. In 2019, the Trotwood CIC acquired the 16-acre former Sears for $225,000 through an auction.
The Planning for and With People course at Ohio State is taught by city and regional planning assistant professor Tijs Van Massakkers. The course is a hands-on opportunity for the student to participate in the redevelopment process and see what goes into understanding communities that drives decision making.
“To be a good urban planner you need to be able to think and work with communities. The first thing you need to learn is how to talk to community members and learn from them about how they understand the places where they work and live,” he said. “I think there’s a clear benefit to the students and hopefully there’s some benefit to our partner organization as well.”
The students are divided into groups and will conduct interviews of about 20 stakeholders over the next month while learning several different community engagement tools. They’ll review what they learned from interviews and determine which engagement strategies are best for the community. The final project consists of a proposal and presentation of suggestions about the types of meetings the Trotwood CIC could put together to achieve community engagement for the redevelopment of the site.
In addition to the course work done in class, Van Massakkers said the benefit of the course is the more hands-on approach giving students real life experience in the field.
“The opportunity for them to make this book learning come to life in the real world is both very important to their education and then it is also the type of learning that you cannot substitute in my view by having them read more books, watching videos and review case studies,” said Van Massakkers.
The project is normally conducted in areas close to the university but since most meetings are held virtually, Van Massakkers saw it as an opportunity to expand outside Columbus.
Van Massakkers said most of the students have probably never been to Trotwood but there is one student that has a personal connection to the city.
Lakesha Lewis is from Trotwood and currently a senior at OSU. “This project really brings my education at Ohio State home,” Lewis said.
Lewis said she hopes the project will provide her classmates with a better understanding of the city and those that live there. Lewis also helped with identifying relevant stakeholders for the project.
The Trotwood CIC is not required to use any of the recommendations made by the students and Van Massakkers said he has witnessed jurisdictions use or pass on the suggestions.
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