Best Hometowns 2013: Grove City

Every year, Ohio Magazine honors five communities across the state for their livability, as measured by education, parks and recreation, arts and entertainment offerings, services and, most important, citizen involvement. The 2013 Best Hometowns meet and surpass these criteria. In the following pages, you'll get a glimpse of Findlay, Gallipolis, Greenville, Grove City and Peninsula — and some of their proud residents.


Year founded: 1852
Location: Franklin County, eight miles southwest of Columbus
Population: 35,708
Size: 16.62 square miles
Type of government: Mayor and six-member council

Hot-air balloons look spectacular at night. When yellow flames light the inside of billowing fabric envelopes, grounded balloons dot the landscape like giant glowing lanterns. Their brightness and magic rival the moon and stars.

Nighttime balloon “glows,” along with daytime balloon ascensions and tethered rides, are part of Balloons & Tunes, the annual late-summer hot-air balloon festival in Grove City.

But balloons aren’t the only things in Grove City that rise. Consider population. For the sixth year in a row, the city ranks first among Columbus suburbs for new single-family housing starts. According to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Grove City will be the largest central Ohio community outside Columbus by 2030.

The city’s location is a huge plus for families who want to live near Ohio’s capital. It is only a 10-minute commute to downtown Columbus. Also, this summer the I-71/St. Rte. 665 interchange opened with a five-lane bridge that benefits commuters and local businesses.  
But there has to be more than just proximity to a major city and good access to make families want to move to a community. A city must also be a memorable hometown to both longtime residents and newcomers. Grove City rises to the challenge.

According to Mayor Richard L. “Ike” Stage, the catalyst for Grove City’s spirit is the way the city is managed and perceived by residents. The community “is one big neighborhood,” not just a “city” by definition. The downtown area is “our living room, the signature place to assemble,” says Stage, who also acknowledges Grove City’s solid foundation.

“Our roots go back to being a conservative, German farming town. That’s not all we are today, but the qualities associated with hard-working families remain,” agrees real estate agent Greg Skinner of ERA Real Solutions, who grew up in Grove City. “We still have all the good, solid brick ranch houses built in the 1950s. But now we are seeing new upper middle- and upper-income housing that attracts hard-working professionals.”

Pinnacle is an upscale golf course community developed by M/I Homes that includes a large community center and Cimi’s Bistro, open to the public. The community surrounds the Pinnacle private golf course.

“There is a new energy in Grove City,” says Brian Younkin, managing partner of Pinnacle Golf Club, who bought a home in the community this year. “Everyone in Grove City rallies around local involvement.”

Civic pride is particularly notable in Grove City’s exceptional park system. When the city realized children had nowhere to go sledding in its flat parkland carved from cornfields, it built a giant hill at the 110-acre Fryer Park. In the summer, the hill is also the site of the popular Fryer Flicks, where families gather to see outdoor movies. Fryer Park also boasts of an innovative space-themed play area for children of all abilities, a stocked lake and Century Village, a collection of authentic mid-1800s buildings.

At the Gardens at Gantz Farm, 10 herb gardens, a meditation labyrinth, hiking trails and outdoor sculpture make the park a welcome sanctuary from daily stress. And nothing says “hometown” more than 60-year-old Windsor Park, one of the first civic fields in Ohio to feature Little League Baseball teams.

Available land and a city with a rising future have attracted large companies, including FedEx Ground, Pier 1 Imports, T. Marzetti and Walmart Distribution. The city estimates its businesses provide more than 20,000 jobs.

Grove City is part of the South-Western School District, sixth largest in the state. The Ohio Department of Education gives the district an “Excellent” designation. According to Superintendent William Wise, an emphasis is placed on staff training. The district’s in-progress $260 million building project also ensures new and renovated schools.

Grove City prides itself on its number of free family-friendly events all year long, from arts shows to fireworks, concerts, car shows and wine festivals. The Winter Lights Holiday Celebration and Community Parade on Dec. 1 serves as the official opening of the holiday season with music, tree lighting and ice carving.

When local resident Kelli Milligan Stammen moved to Grove City from Cincinnati in 2002, it was by default. She and her husband picked out Grove City on a map because it “was a southwest suburb of Columbus and closer to home,” reasoned a then-homesick Stammen. But now her family is happily involved in the city’s recreational opportunities, community events and organizations.

“I would miss Grove City if I ever had to move,” Stammen says.