It has been a year of change for the Lima region in 2021, as some well-known names and places have changed.
Whether it was a new official in Lima for the first time in 32 years, the effects of a unique virus in a century, or changes in local benchmarks, this has been a historic year.
Here are the 10 best stories from the Lima region, as voted by the reporters and editors of The Lima News:
1. Mayor Black-smith
For the first time since the 1980s, David Berger is not mayor of Lima.
That honor goes to Sharetta Smith, the first black person and the first woman ever elected to head the city government.
Berger announced his intention to retire in 2000, and his chief of staff, Smith, won the primary and general elections to take his place. She has promised to focus on quality of life issues, with a keen interest in improving the city’s aging housing stock.
“I am honored to serve and ask for your grace,” she said. “I promise to keep listening. The change is here; and as Socrates once said, “The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new focus.”
It was a controversial election season, of course, with four people showing up for the primary often throwing spades back and forth. During the general election, issues were raised over lawsuits against Smith for non-payment of her debts and questions over whether Elizabeth Hardesty really lived in Lima when she worked in the oil and gas industries.
Ultimately, voters decided to go with Smith on Hardesty, with 54% of voters backing her.
2. Impact of the coronavirus
It would be impossible to talk about the best stories of the year without mentioning COVID-19. While the pandemic had a big impact in 2020, it still resonated in 2021, especially with a high number of new cases reported that were associated with the alpha, delta and omicron variants of the virus. The figures increased particularly at the end of the year.
There were more deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020 in Allen County (189 in 2021 vs. 175 in 2020), Auglaize County (67 in 2021 vs. 65 in 2020) and Hardin County (72 in 2021 compared to 46 in 2020). The death toll has fallen in Putnam County (49 in 2021 versus 65 in 2020) and Van Wert County (54 in 2021 versus 55 in 2020). All of this happened in a year when a vaccine for the virus was available, with less than half of county residents in the region choosing to be vaccinated.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the years was how people reacted to the virus. More and more people have rebelled against demands to wear masks in companies, with the “medical freedom” movement gaining momentum to fight against compulsory vaccinations for employers.
3. The year of the Lima Mall
The Lima Mall and its owners have seen some upheaval during the year, but the mall appears to be on a new path.
Mall owner Washington Prime Group declared bankruptcy in June. In September, a U.S. bankruptcy court judge approved a Chapter 11 bankruptcy exit plan, with one of the top debtors now listed as an investor in the mall company.
In March, one of the mall’s major tenants, Macy’s, closed its store. It had been the site of a store anchor since August 1971, when Lazarus first opened, becoming Lazarus-Macy’s in 2003 and Macy’s in 2005.
The mall has evolved from simple shopping to a lifestyle hub. This year, Total Training Revolution announced plans to expand the old Elder-Beerman site by 48,000 square feet. New businesses opened in the mall included a restaurant, Hannah’s Southern Bistro; a gymnastics center, Flip Training Center; Custom Factory retailer; and a photography company, Selfie University. A restaurant, Li’s Seafood Boil, has moved into the former Ruby Tuesday restaurant in the mall parking lot.
The mall also hosted fireworks on July 4, as well as a number of events.
4. The mayor of Wapakoneta indicted
In July, Wapakoneta mayor Tom Stinebaugh was charged with 17 counts of corruption, but he insists he did nothing wrong.
He faces one count of office theft, a third degree felony; eight counts of having an unlawful interest in a public market, a felony in the fourth degree; and eight counts of conflict of interest, a first degree misdemeanor. Stinebaugh has pleaded not guilty and the case remains in court.
“My response is that I have never done anything other than what is in the best interest of the City of Wapakoneta,” Stinebaugh told Lima News. “I can’t wait to get my name deleted. “
5. Town center developments
Work continued on the revitalization of downtown Lima, with work expected to start bearing fruit in 2022.
The Greater Lima Area Park and Amphitheater, near Elm and Spring Streets, overcame several hurdles, including the transfer of ownership to the city of Lima and an agreement for the Veterans Memorial Civic Center to provide programming. It is expected to be completed by November 2022.
A neighboring structure at 147 S. Main St. is slated for a renovation that would provide multi-level restaurants and office space, said Good Food Restaurants president John Heaphy.
“I think when this is all over and we welcome people from our surrounding counties to downtown Lima, we will have something to be really proud of,” Heaphy said in October.
Even Town Square in Lima needs to be updated. In June, the city announced plans to change the current two-lane traffic pattern with spotlights around a square with a modern roundabout.
6. Delphos Fire Chief
Delphos Fire Department Chief Kevin Streets retired on August 31 amid an investigation into “vulgar and degrading” sexual comments within the service against young female firefighters.
An independent investigation found that there was a “hostile work environment” and called for changes. Two young women filed a complaint.
“Any rational individual would say this behavior is unacceptable,” said Jamie Mehaffie, director of the Delphos security service.
Three different storms caused tornadoes in the region in 2021.
On the afternoon of August 11, a small tornado damaged crops primarily in Van Wert and Allen counties on a 4.7 mile path along Griffin and Becker Highways.
On June 18, an EF-2 tornado made landfall near Fort Recovery in Mercer County, with winds reaching 115 mph along a 5.7 mile path. He tore off the roofs of some buildings and damaged a cinder block wall.
The last tornado of the year was a rare one in December in Hardin County. An EF-1 tornado touched down three miles south of Ada on December 11 on a 1.6 mile path. He damaged a business, a residence, a barn roof and several trees.
8. Restaurants closed
Two popular restaurants in Lima have closed.
Casa Lu Al, 2323 N. West St., Lima, closed in June after 61 years in business. It has often won the award for best Italian restaurant in The Lima News’ Best of the Region vote.
A new restaurant in town, Mellow Mushroom, 2530 N. Eastown Road, Lima, closed in July. It opened in 2016.
9. The murder of a 4 year old child
Romiere Hale and Stayce Riley are charged with beating 4-year-old Ma’Laya DeWitt on April 12 at 535 N. Elizabeth St., Lima.
Hale, 21, admitted to police that he punched the girl in the abdomen and faces murder charges. Riley, the 23-year-old mother of the 23-year-old, faces manslaughter charges. Hale’s defense attorney called it a “case of discipline horribly gone wrong.”
10. Solar birch
Discussion continued on Birch Solar, a 300 megawatt solar farm project spread over 1,410 acres that would be managed by LightSourceBP.
It remains on hold with the Ohio Power Siting Board, but the project has taken a few hits locally. Ohio Senate Speaker Matt Huffman R-Lima submitted a letter opposing the project, reflecting the views of some residents near the proposed project.
# 1: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody J. Stewart, left, takes the Lima mayor’s oath of office to Sharetta Smith during Smith’s inauguration on November 29 at the Veterans Memorial Civic Center . Smith replaced David Berger, who retired after 32 years in office. Smith’s election was chosen as the flagship story of 2021 by reporters and editors at The Lima News.
# 2: Protesters hold placards promoting the idea of medical freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic in September. The coronavirus, its impact and the fight against mandatory vaccinations were key topics in 2021.
The doors of Macy’s open for the last time on Sunday morning at the Lima Mall.
Contact David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.