Buckeye Hills Regional Council: Making Community Visions a Reality in Ohio 

On November 15th, 2021, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) also called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) a once-in-a-generation investment in American infrastructure intended to make the economy more sustainable, resilient, and just. Within the BIL, ARC was allocated $1 billion dollars over five years, or $200 million annually, starting in Fiscal Year 2022.  

Building Appalachia’s infrastructure has been an ARC investment priority for over 58 years, and the funding provided through the BIL has allowed ARC to enhance our support for critical projects. This includes helping Buckeye Hills Regional Council develop plans to revitalize historic buildings and meet a variety of needs in Athens, Ohio. 

Creating a Plan to Meet Community Needs 

The Ridges, a 700-acre property owned by Ohio University (OU), sits on the Hocking River across from the University’s Athens, Ohio campus. It was built in the early 1800s as an asylum and, after years of vacancy, was transferred to OU in 1993. Though many of The Ridges’ buildings were converted into space for classrooms, research labs, and more, most of the development remained unused. The University, local government leaders, and Athens residents have engaged in community planning discussions about the property for over 20 years. Together, they developed a comprehensive vision to honor The Ridges’ history, preserve its environment, and address critical community needs. The real challenge was developing a detailed plan to make this vision a reality.  

That’s why, in early 2022, ARC awarded $150,000 in IIJA funds to the Buckeye Hills Regional Council (BHRC) to address this community need. The funds allowed BHRC to conduct a feasibility analysis, zoning consultation, and architectural services to create a plan to revitalize and repurpose the unused land into something meaningful for the community. 

“In Athens you hear a lot about students being unable to afford apartments,” said Chasity Schmelzenbach, Director of the BHRC. “But, the housing study numbers told us we not only needed rental housing, but also single-family homes, senior housing, and artisan live-work spaces.”  

BHRC completed the development strategy plan in mid-2023 with a 10-year timeline to establish 720 new housing units and 20,000 square feet of new commercial space. The Ridges is expected to attract $227 in investment and contribute $181 million dollars of value to the local economy, with an additional $45 million state-wide.  

Sharing This Vision with the Rest of Appalachia

One feature of this development strategy plan is that it is ready to be adapted and used by other localities throughout the Appalachian Region. This was by design.   

 “We documented these processes as we went… and started a planning department to keep working with communities to recreate these opportunities. If a community says ‘there are 3 blocks in our downtown we’d like to change’, we can say ‘here are tools that might be right for you’.” 

ARC is grateful to the Biden-Harris Administration for their historic investment to bolster infrastructure in America, which has allowed us to support important projects across Appalachia. Learn more about the BIL here.