COLUMBIANA - Businessman and developer Tom Mackall could talk about Harvey S. Firestone for hours, but that wasn't what he did Friday. Instead, he talked about himself, and why he decided to undertake a major project near the Firestone Farms housing development.
Mackall told the crowd of more than 60 gathered at the Dutch Haus for the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce's business breakfast to hear more about the project that he is a small businessman, like they are.
"You are the entrepreneurs of the world. You are what make the economy go. You have the responsibility every two weeks to make payroll," he said.
Inspired by leaders like Firestone and his friends, Thomas Edison and former U.S. presidents, Mackall said he moved ahead with his vision to reinvest in Columbiana after securing oil and gas leases for property owned by his company, East Fairfield Coal in North Lima.
The company leased property it was using for its mining operations, and using that revenue Mackall decided to purchase the 844 acres of mostly undeveloped land along state Routes 7 and 14 that was foreclosed on in 2009 after Meadowbrooke Development LLC defaulted on its loan.
Wayne Bacon, who headed up Meadowbrooke, had intended to construct housing developments there and Columbiana extended water and sewer to the property planning to have that expense paid back by Meadowbrooke, however, the city was left footing the bill after the company went bankrupt.
Mackall purchased the property as Firestone Homestead LLC, and this is solely a Firestone Homestead project.
"It's not unusual for entrepreneurs to step out and take a risk," Mackall said of Meadowbrooke.
Harvey Firestone was the first one to attempt putting rubber tires on tractors when the nation was going through a depression, he noted.
"He revolutionized farming," he said.
Mackall also recognizes the risk he is taking on the 10-year-project to create the Town Center and Marketplace at Firestone Farms. "I feel a real responsibility ... all this press and media attention, the pressure is high. We are getting started and I'm really excited," he said.
He has already leased the entire property for oil and gas exploration and Al Ricks of Associated Commercial Real Estate said companies are drilling for dry gas located in the Marcellus Shale there, not the wet gas that is typically found in the Utica. Wet gas is natural gas that contains ethane and butane while dry gas contains mostly methane.
Mackall said three wells were drilled last year and four will be drilled this year.
While the oil and gas industry has proved beneficial for his endeavor, the "real way" to take advantage of oil and gas revenue is from the farmers who have leased property and are looking to spend their money, he said.
Ricks is looking for commercial tenants for the project, and while no building leases have been signed at this point, letters of intent are being sent out, he said.
The project consists of the Town Center, a 1930s era version of Columbiana when Firestone lived there, including a town square similar to the one in the city of Columbiana, and the Marketplace, which will feature a full-service grocery store, hotel, restaurants, a bank, and retail businesses.
Mackall said construction will begin next year, and future plans could include a park, community center and a pool.
He believes the development will attract 1,000 new residents and create 1,000 more jobs. It will also draw people from the surrounding areas like Boardman, Youngstown, East Palestine, New Springfield and others.
"I think we are going to see a growing economy unlike anything we have seen before," he added.
Through the Gallagher Clark and Carney Realty Mackall is already looking for people to purchase the 50 lots available for the residential portion of the project.
"We'd like for you to come join our community," he said.
Terry Poulton, the owner of the Columbiana Ford dealership, said he is impressed with Mackall's work on the project and is looking forward to the economic development it will create.
"This plan is more than we ever expected, it's really over the top. He's really stepping up. When they come down this way we hope to sell them a Ford," he joked, referring to the people the development will attract.