"Staggering" is how Aurora Economic Development director Jack Burge described the city’s recent run of commercial and residential construction.

"Our total construction over the last five years is over a quarter of a billion dollars," he told the city of Aurora’s Economic and Entrepreneurial Board Tuesday evening.

The city set records for the number of housing starts and building inspections in 2018, he added.

"Four hundred sixteen houses and condos have been built in the last five years, and, of those, 119 were completed in 2018, and that’s 28 percent, and that’s a record for the Aurora in terms of the number of housing starts we’ve had," he said.

The city also completed a record 6,600 building inspections, encompassing both residential and commercial properties, he added.

"That’s another record," said Burge. "It’s up 65 percent over the last five years; these numbers are just kind of staggering when you look at them."

As a result, income tax collections for the city have been on the rise, he explained. Withholding income tax collection is up to "just a little over $9 million, an increase of about 21 percent over five years.

"It allowed us to transfer $2 million at the end of the year into several of the other city funds," he said. "Lots of other cities would die to be in that sort of financial position."

Individual income tax collections, those paid by Aurora residents who work elsewhere, totaled more than $3 million, said Burge.

Burge said one negative result of recent industrial and commercial growth is a lack of building inventory for interested companies.

Portage Development Board president Brad Ehrhart said he knows of two vacant industrial properties in town, the 250,000-square-foot Lena Drive building formerly occupied by Natural Essentials and a 10,000-square-foot facility across the street.

Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin also said there are discussions with someone about building on the Aurora side of the Cedar Fair (formerly Geauga Lake and Sea World) that is "very promising," but she also said it’s "too early to say exactly what it is." The mayor also said the city continues to work closely with Cedar Fair to find developers for the former park land.

FirstEnergy and the railroad

Womer Benjamin gave an update on the status of FirstEnergy’s plan to install additional power lines within the city, as well. ?The Norfolk and Southern Railroad within the city has not yet been abandoned, a process which needs the approval of the federal Surface Transportation Board and is a prerequisite to FirstEnergy’s development of power lines within the city.

"We sort of think abandonment should be finalized in the next couple of months,’ said Womer Benjamin. "Once that abandonment occurs, we believe that Norfolk and Southern will sell that section of line to FirstEnergy."

At that point, Womer Benjamin said she anticipates FirstEnergy will renew its quest to install new power lines in town, creating a loop the company says will improve reliability.

The company will also likely seek a lot split to install the lines, she added.

Womer Benjamin added that the city is considering hiring its own electricity expert.

Camp Garfield

Although there was no announcement regarding the location of the planned East Coast Missile Defense Site, Ehrhart said Camp Garfield (formerly the Ravenna Arsenal) continues to attract investment as a training center.

"They’re right now focusing on combat training, grenade launching, automatic weapons and a multi-weapon range," he said. "Part of what the state is trying to do is bring all its training inside the state. They would bring all their training to this facility rather than go outside the state."

He said officials hope the facility could eventually attract troops from surrounding states seeking training. That could eventually mean visits from an entire brigade — 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers — at a time, said Ehrhart.

"The president recently signed a $7.4 million appropriation that will be spent at the camp," he added.

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.