The Town-Gown Relationship

It’s hard to imagine Heidelberg University in any place other than Tiffin, Ohio. 

The city of Tiffin traces its history back to 1812 when the military depot was built at Fort Ball. Heidelberg University was not far behind, joining the community in 1850. Over the years, the relationship between the two has waxed and waned, but there’s no doubt that the current state of postitive relations is creating an impact that is being felt on Heidelberg’s campus and beyond. 

Campus Connection

Having a stronger town-gown relationship provides an environment better suited for collaboration. Several past and future projects have shown this overlap between the city of Tiffin and the Heidelberg campus. 

Last year the Rock Creek Trail was completed. The 1.5-mile trail starts at the park behind Calvert High School, runs along Rock Creek, through Heidelberg behind Hoernemann Stadium and ends at Hedges-Boyer Park. The project was funded by a grant from the Tiffin Community Foundation and the city. 

As a member of the TCF Board of Trustees, President Rob Huntington was very pleased. “I was delighted with the strong collaboration among the TCF, the mayor, city council, and Heidelberg to make this trail work,” he said. 

“The trail is a benefit to both the city and Heidelberg,” said Rod Morrison, associate vice president for facilities and engineering. “Citizens have better access to parks and the trail has improved pedestrian access to Heidelberg’s Peaceful and Hidden Valleys.”

This year the Heidelberg community will see two more city projects connected to campus. Sarah Street, which runs behind Krammes Service Center and France Hall, will be completely resurfaced and landscaped, turning it into a real street.

“The improvements to Sarah Street will help with the traffic flow of both Heidelberg and National Machinery,” Morrison said. “It will also create an aesthetically pleasant buffer from the railroad.” 

The Sarah Street Project is expected to start this May. This summer, the Rebecca Street Bridge (known to most Heidelberg alums as T-Bridge) over Rock Creek will be replaced. This bridge has needed both aesthetic and structural improvements. Both projects should be completed this fall. 

Heidelberg has been involved in both the planning and design of the projects. These are grant-funded city projects and Heidelberg has transferred small parcels of land to the city for each project. 

Huntington understands the importance of good relations with the city. As a current Executive Committee member and former board chair for the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC), he devoted a lot of time engaging Heidelberg with the Tiffin community and its leadership. Working together is always a good start. 

“What’s good for Tiffin is good for Heidelberg and vice versa,” Huntington said. 

By collaborating on these projects, we are creating an environment of success for our students and the broader community. This is our university and our town. We need to embrace and own all of it together.

 

Creating a Corridor

“In my five years as mayor, I’ve seen the relationship between the city of Tiffin and Heidelberg University take a huge leap forward,” said Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz, ’08. “Walls have come down, and we are working together toward common goals.”

When Montz took office in January of 2012, he had big dreams for Tiffin. During his tenure, he has initiated, promoted and approved a series of projects and initiatives that better connect Heidelberg physically and socially with the city of Tiffin. 

“Before, the city of Tiffin, Heidelberg and Tiffin University were all separate islands,”
he said. 

We’re taking steps toward making us one community, not a community with two colleges in it.

We're taking steps toward making us one community, not a community with two colleges in it.

Those steps include city improvement projects, event planning and helping bridge the gap between college students and community members. The Tiffin government and area businesses have made a conscious effort to engage Heidelberg students with events like Around the Town and a local business scavenger hunt. There is a Tiffin wayfinding kiosk on campus and a Discover Tiffin app that offers students discounts at local businesses. It’s already working. 

“We’re seeing better engagement with the student bodies of both Heidelberg and Tiffin University,” Montz said. 

Ideally, more highly engaged students will patronize downtown shops and restaurants. East Market Street is the direct path from Heidelberg to downtown. 

“We want the college students to want to get downtown,” Montz said. “By making that corridor walkable and commutable, it becomes a safe and attractive route.” 

The Market Street Beautification Project will improve and widen sidewalks, add benches and trash receptacles and add lights and crosswalks. This streetscape work also connects with the new East Green Project and the new Joint Justice Center, both currently under construction. 

It’s a city project, but Tiffin has brought Heidelberg to the table.  

“It’s been wonderful being able to reach out and communicate with the administration,” Montz said. “This project will impact the university and we want to make decisions that are the best for everyone.”  

A big driver of these projects are grants, both from the federal and state governments.

“We never want to turn down free money,” Montz said. “But grants have deadlines, so we prioritize projects by what is feasible and reasonable to accomplish.” 

Meeting deadlines, coordinating construction schedules and keeping everything running smoothly are daunting tasks. But the end goal is worth all the effort.

“It’s exciting being an alum and a lifelong Tiffin resident to see how the community grows and expands,” Montz said. “I’m proud of this community and proud of the education I received at Heidelberg. What I learned has helped me do my job to the best of my ability day in and day out.” 

The benefits of improved relationships swing both ways and depend on people working together for common goals.  

Montz understands the symbiotic relationship between the city and the university. More businesses and opportunities in Tiffin help Heidelberg attract students. More students and success at Heidelberg help attract business and growth in the city. 

“One can’t be successful without the other. We help each other grow,” he said. 

Creating a Corridor

A City of Growth

Sometimes growth is incremental and subtle. Other times it’s impossible to miss. 

In the past two years, Tiffin has seen 10 new restaurants open: Frozone, Chipotle, Empire at 138, Tim Hortons, Put-N-Pita, Dunkin’ Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy John's, Benchwarmers and the Wall Street Pub and Grille.

And it’s not just restaurants. The renewed energy of Tiffin is palpable, and new businesses have flooded in to fill downtown shops and spots across town along West Market Street. 

Bryce Riggs, ’16, has a unique perspective on this growth, having been raised in Tiffin, graduating from Heidelberg and now working for SIEDC. He saw the potential in both choosing to stay at Heidelberg and then choosing to stay in Tiffin. 

“I stayed because of the great opportunities here,” he said. “I knew this is where I wanted to be - a place where I can continue to grow and learn.”

Riggs’ commitment to helping Tiffin started when he was at Heidelberg through an internship with SIEDC. What started as an internship as a development specialist turned into a full-time job offer after graduation as a development coordinator. 

“The real-world experience I was getting and continue to get in this organization was worth more than moving to a big city,” he said. 

As development coordinator, Riggs’ job is to help attract new businesses and retain existing ones. He does this through helping them find properties, navigating regulatory steps and answering their questions about the city and the area. His main goal is to increase manufacturing, housing and retail investment in Tiffin and Seneca County. That includes better housing, new businesses and improved infrastructure. 

“It takes a lot of time to work through the process and make sure their needs are met,” Riggs said. “We want to get them open as fast as possible.”

Having someone like Riggs who is willing and able to help interested businesses encourages growth in the community. 

“It means a lot to be a business-friendly community. We want companies to continue to come back to Tiffin and invest,” Riggs said. “The faster we can get people answers so they can make a decision, the happier they’ll be. It separates us from other communities.”

Through SIEDC, Tiffin has been extremely successful in attracting new businesses to town and allowing existing ones to expand. As Riggs drives around town, he sees the fruits of his labor, and knows the work he’s doing impacts his alma mater. 

“Prospective college students want to see chain names they recognize. Seeing that we have a BW3s or a Chipotle is important because they know them,” he said. “Once they get here, then they’ll learn to love our local places.” 

All of the successes have instilled a confidence in the community. Combine that with revitalization projects and Tiffin iis putting itself on the map as a place for growth. 

Tiffin residents are stepping up as well. 

We have so much momentum going that people want to step up and be a part of it. They're thinking, 'I can do this. The time is right.'

Momentum encourages engagement, and for Riggs, it’s all about shaping the community that has given him so much. 

“I get to help facilitate what Tiffin is going to be like in 10 years,” Riggs said. “I can make an impact in this community. It’s a wonderful experience.”

 

Published in Spring 17

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