The Laird rises again

With economic development as a focus of the city’s administration, and a concern of the public, the Laird building in downtown Tiffin is showing growth and promise for local businesses.

The Tiffin Community Reinvestment Group LLC, a group of local business owners and community leaders that decided to put money together and invest in downtown Tiffin, purchased the building in 2012, according to property manager Tyler Shuff.

Shuff said much of the credit goes to the group for the current development of the building.

“This wasn’t a small project by any means,” he said. “It’s almost an entire city block, and we’re going in, one room at a time, and cleaning them up and getting them rented and trying to bring this downtown back to life.”

Shuff has functioned as the property manager for the Laird building for about six months and has been filling the empty apartments and storefronts. He said many of the businesses coming into the building have been young entrepreneurs.

“A lot of them are younger business professionals,” Shuff said. “The average age of business owners in the building is around the high 20s or low 30s. We have a lot of younger entrepreneurs, which I think is very neat. That’s what you’ve got to have if you want a thriving downtown community.”

With the involvement of older, more experienced business owners, the younger individuals have a chance to thrive in the business community, he said.

Shuff said, with the city’s improving infrastructure and rental prices within the Laird building, the “friendly business environment” is bringing in businesses from other locations in Tiffin as well as areas including Fort Wayne, Fremont and Findlay.

“We’re getting people from outside of Tiffin who are coming here and investing their money, that are investing in the space and are hiring people and creating jobs,” he said.

The building is also at its residential capacity, he said.

“We’ve been going through, one room at a time, and making them very nice, very livable spaces, and people are very happy,” he said.

Shuff said the building’s apartments have been rented to “young community leaders.” With the living spaces and businesses thriving, he said the downtown would only benefit.

“I think, to have a vibrant downtown, you have to have people living downtown, with stable shopping downtown and somewhere to eat downtown,” he said. “Our downtown business plan that we formed years ago, we talked about getting the second and third stories filled with livable spaces for people, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Among some of the businesses that have relocated to the Laird building have been ConnXtions, Line Drive Cards, Level Up, a photography studio called Sun Baked Studios and ZPulse Studios.

Shuff said the Zumba studio came from Findlay, and the Tiffin area is just another branch of the business.

Knights of Columbus Insurance is also to move its regional headquarters to the Laird building – choosing Tiffin over Findlay. Shuff said the regional director made the decision based on Tiffin’s YMCA, educational system and infrastructure.

Heartbeat/Hope Medical also opened its doors in December, providing a pregnancy support center for families and mothers. Originally from Fremont, the organization gives free tests, along with provides ultrasounds, parenting classes, counseling and education about abstinence, sexual integrity, adoption and abortion.

Businesses also have expressed interest in the former Iron Gate Cafe space, and Shuff said, with the city’s new revitalization district opening up the opportunity for restaurants to purchase a liquor license, there could be more opportunities for businesses to grow.

In the near future, Shuff said he would like to get new signage for businesses inside the main hallways of the Laird building. He is planning to hook up speakers to the outdoor storefronts to play music for shoppers and customers.

He also is to look into rehabilitating the third floor and turning it either into a reception hall or residential space. In the late 1970s, a fire swept through the Laird building. Many businesses in the building were affected by smoke and water damage and the third floor of the building still requires renovation.

In the future, Shuff said he would like to continue to promote development downtown and be a part of the growth of Tiffin.

“I look at this building as a business incubator,” he said. “It’s the American dream to start your own business.”

He said he would also like to work closer with Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services and Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. to facilitate the growth of the downtown.

Shuff said he has seen a positive influence on the downtown and the Laird building through the ever-growing population filling the city block.

“In the last couple of months, I’ve really started to notice a sense of community in the building,” he said. “When I came in, there were a lot of empty storefronts and spaces. There were some good things in motion, but lately here, there’s been a lot of momentum downtown and I want to see it keep going.”