Q&A: Mayor Greg Zilka on Avon Lake’s economic future

The Avon Lake Towne Center lost its anchor tenant, Tops grocery store in 2006. The storefront remains vacant. Press photo by Nicole Hennessy.

By Nicole Hennessy

Avon Lake

Like all aging and mostly developed cities, Avon Lake faces challenges.

Many of those challenges are related to nearby development in cities that are easier to travel to by 1-90, particularly Avon.

Also, as Mayor Greg Zilka pointed out several times during the following discussion on Avon Lake’s future economic situation, the city lacks a centralized town square.

This puts a strain on businesses and residents, who have to travel specifically to individual destinations, though the city’s Shop Local initiative aims to draw attention to small shops.

Also, several initiatives within the city aim to create events and attractions meant to attract outside visitors.

During the 2015 General Election, many of these  economic issues came up.

While understanding particular aspects of a city’s current and future growth are integral to understanding where to focus resources, trends related to economic growth or downturn can also tell a lot about the lifestyles of the people who live in these communities.

The following interview with Mayor Zilka brushes the surface of these complex issues:


Q: Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion on whether or not to hire a full-time economic development coordinator, and you’ve seemed to take on a more regional view, can you talk a little bit about that?

A: There’s a structure that’s in place in the state, and there’s always been a state structure, but under the current governor there’s Jobs Ohio, which is sort of a private entity, which is interesting because that involves them being able to do business without public records things that we’re used to. And there’s advantages to that, where they can have some very candid conversations with the high-rollers and investors and developers. And then there’s a regional … Team NEO, and then We have Team Lorain County. I’m on the board of Team Lorain County. It’s made up of 40 percent public sector mayors and county commissioners and 60 percent business. We meet quarterly and we do get input from businesses and get a sense of and get a pulse of the economic community, as to what the needs are out there. During the economic downturn, things went sour in many ways. Since we’re a heavy manufacturing region, we were hit pretty hard. Things are on the rebound, but we still have some structural problems. We’ve got two old industrial cities that need a tremendous infusion of capital and there’s great potential in Lorain and Elyria. It was unfortunate news that Bendix was leaving Elyria and moving to Avon. Of course, Avon doesn’t have these same problems that the rest of us do because of all the activity…putting in a new interchange and opening up property that was pretty much an empty canvas…just south of the east end of Avon Lake. This gives huge opportunities for all kinds of development. Avon’s problem is having people take a number to see the mayor, when we’re out trying to beat the bushes to see what we can do to help businesses.

Q: Do you think there would be a situation or a viewpoint where you could look at Avon’s development and not necessarily have to compete with it, or do you think that since it’s so close in proximity it does have to be a competition?

A: How things are laid out is an important part of it, because in real estate that’s ‘location, location, location.”‘ If you wanted to establish a restaurant would you go to Avon or Avon Lake? Well, you draw a circle around the location and if you put a business of any kind in Avon Lake, 40 percent of the circle is in the middle of the lake, so theoretically, you have less ability to attract customers than if you moved it four miles south or three miles south. Draw that same circle and then you’ve got these magnets of the big-boxes and the various shopping centers.

Q: What would be your ideal view of Avon Lake in 10 or 20 years?

A: Obviously, the one (thing) that’s just very telling and very obvious is the Towne Center shopping center without the anchor tenant, which used to be Tops. The owner of that shopping center signed a very favorable 20-year contract, and then Tops was taken over by a Dutch firm…they arbitrarily closed a number of stores. We had a relatively new supermarket close and part of the reason was what I mentioned before: you do the circle around Tops and…they decided to commit their resources elsewhere. Now we have a large shopping center without an anchor. And without people going once or twice a week to the supermarket, and stopping off at all the shops along the way…that’s a challenge and those businesses struggle. Again, if you increase anyone’s business 10 (or) 15 percent, it makes a huge difference. It makes the difference between making a profit rather than just barely paying the bills. There’s seven or eight years left on that (Tops) lease, so the owner of that shopping center is getting a check and that check pays for the mortgage on the whole shopping center. That’s been a challenge.



Like all aging and mostly developed cities, Avon Lake faces challenges.

I know what you’re going for in this lead, but what does “aging” mean? Infrastructure or population? What does “developed” mean? Built out? Also, Shop Local deserves one more sentence explaining it at the top.

Lastly, why many (most?) AL residents probably know the TOPS story, did Zilka offer more specific commentary on that you maybe felt compelled to truncate due to space?



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