301 N Mulberry original entrance arches

Developer Joel Mazza says renovation plans for the front section of the former school on North Mulberry Street call for the original entrance arches to be incorporated into the apartment building's decor. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff.

MOUNT VERNON — Last week, the contractor, Complete Clearing, worked on securing the fencing and site cleanup on the site of the former middle school on North Mulberry Street. Demolition is complete on the back portion, also known as the 1924 building.

Developer Joel Mazza said the site is ready to start redevelopment and/or construction on the 48 units in the front, the 1939 building. However, further development is on hold pending the city's decision about creating a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA).

In February, the Board of Property Maintenance Appeals lifted the condemnation order it placed on the former school in March 2019. One week later, the Board of Zoning Appeals granted a conditional use for zoning and variances for building height, square footage, and parking.

At the time, Mazza said the next step is to come up with final plans and submit them to the state. However, he has not yet submitted the plans.

“We are working on our final revisions to our building plans, which consists of picking out final interior and exterior finishes, such as windows, doors, cabinets, etc., with our architect,” Mazza said via email on Friday. “However, we are waiting to submit our plans to both the city of Mount Vernon and the state of Ohio until the CRA is finalized and approved.

“Once the CRA is approved we will submit our plans and begin the redevelopment of the site shortly thereafter,” he said. “We are very eager to get started and would like to continue redeveloping the 1939 building ASAP.”

CRAs typically cover a particular neighborhood. In April, Jeff Gottke, president of the Area Development Foundation, spoke to city council about the idea of a city-wide CRA.

“We believe that has a better chance of moving the needle on housing as a whole in Mount Vernon,” Gottke told Knox Pages on Monday.

The ADF is still talking with the schools and fine-tuning the concept of a city-wide CRA.

“We can do a partial abatement without the schools' consent, but we don't want to do that. We want to make sure everyone involved is on board,” he said.

Gottke acknowledged that with the schools' involvement with year-end activities, the city's involvement with the human resources and community advocate discussions, and ADF's own activities, the CRA has not received top priority. He said that all three parties will make a concerted effort to come back together and talk about it.

“We'll certainly have something final one way or another by the end of the summer,” he said. “We are committed to making it happen. We just want to make sure we get it right.”

The overall number of units for the redeveloped site, 102, has not changed, nor has the site plan approval. Mazza said the type of construction finishes —such as windows, doors, and interior and exterior finishes — will be directly impacted by the level of the CRA, especially considering the recent inflationary uptick for all such items.

“This area has been designated a blighted area by the federal government's Opportunity Zone program and will require investment by both the city and various federal programs to attract private investors to invest and/or redevelop in a blighted district,” he said.

Noting the lack of available housing units in the city, Mazza said he is eager to get new development started as the site has been a constant stagnant eyesore for over 25 years.

“The site has undergone tremendous improvement already, and we are excited to move on to the next phase,” he said. “This area of town deserves better, and we look forward to being a part of that progress.”

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