MEDINA: Gary Quesada didn’t waste any time when he heard that Gov. John Kasich would deliver his State of the State address at the Medina Performing Arts Center next month.
He called the city and offered up his Main Street Cafe restaurant and bar as a potential spot for the governor to grab a meal or hold a pre-speech meeting. That’s how excited he is about Kasich — and the rest of state government — descending on his community.
“It’s great exposure for the city,” Quesada said. “Just to be on a stage like this is a good thing.”
Plenty of people share his enthusiasm, saying they are looking forward to the state spotlight shining on Medina, a town of about 26,600 people that often is overshadowed by neighbors Cleveland and Akron.
They also are eager to welcome the influx of state leaders and others who will eat at local restaurants, visit local shops and stay in area hotels. Aside from the economic impact, local leaders are hopeful that visitors will head home to share their story about a successful and charming community.
“It’s a chance to showcase our city and our historic downtown,” Mayor Dennis Hanwell said.
Kasich, who is running for re-election in November, will give his address at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at the 1,134-seat Performing Arts Center on the Medina High School campus before a joint session of the state legislature.
It will be the last speech of his first term — and the third consecutive address away from the state capital. The previous ones were in Steubenville and Lima, cities in different areas of the state and lower income brackets than the affluent Medina. He gave his first speech at the Statehouse, the normal stumping grounds for the event.
The Steubenville and Lima speeches attracted 1,200 and 1,600 people, respectively.
Kasich’s office will distribute tickets for the event, and is still working out the details, said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman.
“Demand will exceed supply, so we will award them by lottery,” he said. “We will be announcing soon a website where people can sign up for them.”
As with past addresses, Cabinet members will hold meetings in the area the day of the speech and those also will be announced later, he said.
The two Ohio cities that previously hosted the State of the State address have this advice for Medina: Make the most of it.
“The community was no longer just a dot on the map, but a living, breathing vital community,” said Cindy Wood, CEO of the 1,700-seat Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in Lima, where Kasich held his 2013 speech. “We were not anymore a report on a piece of paper in Columbus. State leaders can say, ‘I was there.’ ”
As soon as Lima learned about the event, the city assembled teams of public and private officials to look at logistical issues to host the event as well as the opportunities it presented.
Wood said they identified locations where the legislature and Cabinet could meet, companies where tours could be offered, parking arrangements and security issues. The chamber had a luncheon for the delegation and several groups hosted receptions.
With all of the preparations and everything else going on, Wood said Kasich’s speech was “kind of boring.”
Before Lima, Kasich took the speech to Steubenville.
Jerry Barilla, who owns Frank and Jerry Furniture & Appliance Co. in downtown Steubenville and is president of Historic Fort Steuben, praised the governor for moving the speech out of Columbus.
“Not everybody gets to go to Columbus and it kind of makes you feel important when the governor comes to your town to give the State of the State address,” he said.
Steubenville received positive publicity because of all the media attention on the speech, he said. He added that many were proud that Kasich focused on the educational success of Wells Academy and that message was delivered statewide.
“It also exposed the legislature to another part of the state that they otherwise would not have seen,” Barilla said. “I’m sure that for many of them, it was the first journey to Steubenville and they left with a good impression of our community and the eastern side of Ohio.”
Hanwell, the Medina mayor, said he’s well aware of that benefit.
Lawmakers don’t necessarily know about the community but after the visit, they’ll be able to “put a name with the face of Medina,” he said.
He added that might help when the city calls on the legislature for assistance.
The impending visit, though, isn’t on everyone’s radar, a Beacon Journal reporter and photographer found last week during a visit to downtown Medina.
One waitress asked: “Who’s the governor?” She wasn’t kidding.
And a couple of people grumbled about the community not needing any more attention than it already gets. Medina County has routinely been one of the fastest-growing cities in the state.
But in general, people are looking forward to the event and happy that the governor is willing to leave the state capital.
“I do think it’s a big deal because Medina County is a growing community and it’s time we got some recognition,” said Darlene Pfeiffer, owner of the Bakery Shoppe. “I really appreciate that he’s coming, speaking as a business owner.”
Debbie Wentz, manager at Whitey’s Army-Navy store for 28 years, recalled another exciting visit to Medina and how it energized the community — Vice President George Bush’s stump speech on the town square in October 1988. Her most vivid memory is of Secret Service agents on all the rooftops downtown.
“It was history,” she said.
Main Street Medina Executive Director Matt Wiederhold said the visit is a big opportunity to grab some positive publicity for the community on a statewide stage.
“We’ve worked very hard to promote the square and to ensure that it’s all locally owned businesses,” he said. “Our city is very unique in that we don’t have chain stores or franchises in the district ... In the ’40s, we were known as America’s hometown, and we like to think that’s still the feeling we have today and what we promote.”
Medina High School is excited to be the center for state government, even if it will be for just a day. Principal Bryan Farson doesn’t expect the event to be too disruptive, considering that school lets out about 2:30 p.m.
Farson said the school will be looking for ways for students to get involved, including possibly attending the event.
“I wonder if I get a seat,” Farson said, joking. “I have a key. Would they tell me to leave my own building?”
Farson and other district leaders met Friday morning with officials from Kasich’s office, who walked through the school and pointed out areas they want to use for the event. He said they were clear that they don’t want the speech to disrupt the school day.
“There shouldn’t be any interruptions,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com, on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith.