By Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen
The Urbana City Council voted to rezone the southern portion of a parcel located at 1040 S. Main St. from R-3 High Density Residential to B-2 General Business District at the regular meeting on Tuesday. All council members voted to approve the rezoning following its third reading except for council member Eugene Fields, who abstained because, he said, a member of his family had married into the group of investors. Council members Dwight Paul and Doug Hoffman were absent.
Zoning map and code changes become effective 30 days after council passage. This rezoning is intended to allow for the construction of a 54-room hotel with a swimming pool on three acres of an 11-acre plot near the corner of State Route 55 and South US 68 along South High Street.
"I want to thank coucil for passing the rezoning down at the south end," said Mayor Bill Bean. "When I became mayor, both (Champaign Economic Partnership Executive Director) Marcia (Bailey) and I realized that we were losing a lot of revenue and people were going elsewhere. At least 7,500 room nights a year we were losing. By having the hotel there, it's going to really cement people staying here, and that's good for Urbana, it's good for taxes, and it's something that we needed desperately."
According to Community Development Manager Doug Crabill, the next step in the process will be a site plan review process through the city's Technical Review Committee and the Planning Commission.
Investment group chair Mike Major said the group has been working with Cobblestone Hotels and that investors in communities smaller than Urbana have been pleased with the hotels and in some instances were building more.
"The investment group is made up of community members and people who have invested heavily in the community in many different aspects," he said. "We have the field of medicine represented, we have agriculture, downtown business ownership, real estate ownership, people who really care about seeing this community grow and putting some of the pieces of the puzzle together. We feel this is necessary because there is so much slippage of hotel nights going to Springfield, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars not only from hotel fees, but if people stay in town, they're going to be eating in the restaurants, they're going to be shopping. The university doesn't have enough facilities for the sports teams that are coming in. There are so many different layers of businesses and entities who really need hotel space in town."
He added that there will be a partnership between the investors and Urbana University which will create a program training people in the hotel business.
According to Major, research has indicated a need for more than 70 rooms, but investors were being conservative by putting in 54 rooms to make sure the project was a success. The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce website cites a 2013 study by Tourism Economics that shows that total tourism impact in Champaign County resulted in over $47 million in sales and enables the employment of over 350 people in the county.
Major said the developers would keep a curtain of trees behind the hotel so there is a margin between the hotel and the zoned residential property directly behind it. Bailey added that the parking lot would be in front of the building, possibly wrapping around the sides, and that there would be room for future development.
Hotels are a principal use of the B-2 zoning code, meaning that only the site plan review and the zoning permit processes are required. Other principal uses of this land may include commercial recreation, retail businesses, personal services, offices, eating and drinking establishments, or automotive filling stations. There is an extensive list of conditionally permitted uses that require the additional step of getting approval from the city's board of zoning appeals.
"I was asked by (Urbana Zoning Officer) Adam (Moore) maybe six to eight months ago if we had enough B-2 area in the city limits to be able to encourage retail growth or business growth. We really don't," Bailey said at a public hearing for the rezoning on Oct. 16. "The land that is vacant for new builds in B-2 is very hard-pressed to find. By allowing this rezoning, not only to have this hotel project and the potential of that but just having some b-2 area for potential businesses, is really important."
“They are the heart of the museum,” said Executive Director Dave Shiffer. “It is only with the hard work and dedication of our volunteers that we stand here today.” There are those who travel from Indiana, Florida, Missouri and California just to spend a few hours working on this project.
The words from the late William E. Boeing can certainly resonate with the volunteers of the Champaign Aviation Museum. They simply refuse to believe that “it can’t be done.” The project has been ongoing since late 2005.
The Flying Fortress project is comprised of five B-17 aircraft built during the 1940s. Only a portion of each of these aircraft will be used on the finished model due to stress, cracks and corrosion damage. The majority of the aircraft will be comprised of all new material. It could be said that this B-17 Flying Fortress will be the newest model around.
Visitors to the museum have prime access to the museum’s attractions. There are no ropes between tourists and the homemade displays, exhibits or the aircraft that is being fabricated in the hangar. Visitors are permitted to tour the fabrication area and the volunteers welcome their questions. Many World War II-era aircraft are static and others have been known to stretch their wings on a sunny day.
The Champaign Aviation Museum does not charge for admission but gladly accepts donations. The visitors come from many locations around the world including England, Holland, Canada and Mexico.
The Champaign Aviation Museum is non-profit 501(c)3 continuing to raise funds through generous donations.
For more information about donating to the museum, please direct emails to www.ChampaignAviationMuseum.org.
And Ohio’s economy is growing quickly, adding jobs faster than the rest of the nation, said Bret Crow, spokesperson for Ohio Job and Family Services. Average weekly earnings are also growing faster than other states across the country.
“This milestone is a big deal for Ohio, but even further, it’s a positive indicator that Ohio’s economy is continuing its strong trajectory upward,” Crow said.
Experts say the data underline the continued recovery after the Great Recession. Even as the economy improved, consumers worried about spending their savings.
“Finally consumer confidence has increased and they feel more confident spending money on new cars, housing and other consumer products,” said John Bowblis, an economics professor at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business. “And this has made business confidence increase as well, leading them to invest in their businesses and to hire workers to meet the demands of consumers.”
The manufacturing sector added 3,400 jobs last month. Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Harrison Twp., for example, has increased from 23 employees to 40 in the past year and a half, said owner Steve Staub.
“It started moving up a year and a half ago, but once the tax cuts went into effect, it really gave optimism to manufacturers,” he said, adding that the tax cuts are like “jet fuel” for manufacturers.
More than one in 10 Ohioans work a manufacturing job, totaling more than 700,000, according to the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. The sector boasts an Ohio GDP of $106 billion, ranking third of the 50 states. It’s also the largest of 20 economic sectors in the state.
The “other services” sector, which includes repair shops, hair and nail salons, and weight-reduction services, added 3,400 jobs in September as well, a sector that Crow said does better when people have more disposable income to spend.
“I think what we need to be careful of is what happens to the Federal Reserve policy with interest rates. When you raise interest rates, it makes borrowing more expensive,” Bowblis said. “If the fed over-tightens that could lead to a slowdown in growth and potentially recession. It’s a delicate balancing act.”
As more people lose the option to borrow, their consumer confidence could drop, adding on to the growing concern consumers have as the trade war with China escalates.
And labor force participation has dropped, said Miami University economics professor Michael Lipsitz. Participation takes into account all Ohioans older than 16 who are working or want to work. Before the recession, it was about 67 percent, but now it is closer to 62 percent.
“Another month of falling labor force participation means Ohioans are leaving the labor market — either to move to another state or they are unable to find a job that fits their skills,” said Andrew Kidd an economist with The Buckeye Institute’s Economic Research Center.
Fire Capt. Caleb Ford said as part of the open house there will be a parade to escort equipment to the new firehouse along State Route 29, a dedication ceremony and a drawing for a gun raffle at 7 p.m. Ford added a dinner, a bounce house and visits from medical helicopters will take place throughout the day.
Last fall, a levy aimed at providing funds to construct the firehouse in Adams Township passed 73.73 percent to 26.27 percent.
"We were blown away with the amount of support," Ford said on the ballot results. "That was quite a surprise."
Adams Township Trustee Paul Pullins said a goal for the township has been to have the facility up and running as quickly as possible.
Pullins said once construction is completed the cost of the building will be around $1,075,000. Pullins said construction on the building started in May and the building will be operational starting Dec. 1.
Due to a lack of space in the current firehouse, located at 11026 State Route 29, Pullins said, the township has rented buildings to house fire and EMS vehicles.
"This will do away with that," Pullins said. "We will have everything centralized in our own building."
"Our fleet is bigger, the trucks they make nowadays are so much bigger than they were when that building was built that they don't fit through the doors anymore," Ford said. "It will have nice features like a meeting room, space for exercise equipment, decontamination showers and space to store our gear."
With all of the vehicles in one place, Ford said the department should have faster response times to emergencies.
In addition to the firehouse portion, the building will also provide a meeting room or space for parties that can be rented to the public. Pullins said township trustee meetings will be held in the building starting with the December meeting.
The group has agreed to a potential sale price with the property’s owner, but the deal is contingent on a zoning change under review as well as an official commitment from the investors, Howell said.
“We have a pretty nice group and I think most people think Urbana needs it, so let’s give it a try,” Howell said.
According to its website, the Cobblestone chain focuses on providing upper-midscale rooms, typically in smaller towns. The chain’s only other hotel in Ohio is located in Orrville, south of Akron.
Assuming the project moves forward it’s possible construction could start in March and be finished by mid-September next year, Howell said.
A request to rezone 8.7 acres of a roughly 11-acre parcel has been approved by Urbana’s planning commission and recently had a first reading at Urbana City Council, said Adam Moore, zoning officer for the city. The request would change the zoning from high-density residential to a general business district, allowing the hotel project to move forward. The proposal needs two more readings before council members can vote whether to approve the change.
Local economic development officials began taking a closer look at a possible hotel project earlier this year after a consultant from the Core Distinction Group determined there’s enough demand for rooms to make a new hotel feasible. Champaign County has been losing possible revenue to Clark County, where there are several newer options for guests to stay overnight, said Jessica Junker, a managing partner for Core.
“The community is losing revenue not only in hotel revenue, they’re losing money on the room taxes, convenience store purchases, grocery sales and restaurants,” Junker said.
The area has several large manufacturing firms that could attract guests overnight, and Urbana University is also nearby and could attract additional business, she said.
Core’s report recommended as many as 70 to 80 guest rooms, but the project being discussed by investors is more conservative to make sure the project is a success, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership.
“It is anticipated that a new hotel would capture displaced lodging demand currently staying in markets surrounding Urbana, OH,” the report states. “Additionally, the newness of the hotel should be well received in the marketplace. It’s location will be ideal to serve Urbana and regional markets. This type of hotel would also be capable of adjusting rates to best fit the demand in the market and the seasonality of the area.”
Champaign County has rooms available for overnight stays, including a downtown bed and breakfast and businesses like the Econo Lodge Inn and Suites and the Logan Lodge Motel. But there hasn’t been a new hotel in years, Bailey said. The goal isn’t to harm existing lodging businesses in the county, Bailey said, but to ensure enough rooms are available to meet demand.
A 2013 study by Tourism Economics showed that the total tourism impact in Champaign County resulted in more than $47 million in sales and enables the employment of more than 350 people in the county, according to information on the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce website.
The Springfield News-Sun is commited to providing unmatched coverage of business and jobs in Clark and Champaign Counties. For this story, the paper spoke to city and economic development officials in Champaign County about a proposal to build a new hotel to attract more business to the city.
By the numbers:
3 — Estimated acres for the hotel
8.7 — Acres that may be rezoned
58 — Possible guest rooms
15 to 25 — Possible full-time jobs based on a 70 to 80 room hotel
Paul Kurtz, who founded Hemisphere in 2002 with his wife, Grace, said he plans to make the Coffee Fest an annual event. The fact that they moved into their new building in mid-summer this year has added to the festivities, but Kurtz acknowledges that the festival involving food trucks, kids activities, vendors, coffee cupping and music is not solely about promoting his own business.
"What we are trying to do with our Staurday event here, the once-a-year Coffee Fest, is really to educate people to what is coffee, how to taste cofee, and what to look for," he said. "It doesn't mean that they're all going to come buy their coffee here, because we hear some people are coming from Dayton. But if they're educated, it will help all roasters that are direct importing."
According to Kurtz, the last several years have seen a resurgence in local coffee roasting. One hundred years ago, every cluster of blocks in a large city would have had their own roaster, but since the advent of large, international brands, it has been more common for people to buy their coffee from the supermarket until recently.
Hemisphere imports beans direct from farmers in Thailand, Kenya, Guatemala and Nicaragua, then ships to locations all over the United States including about 200 churches, 25 coffee shops like The Spotted Cow in Urbana, and some markets including Whole Foods. But while this this direct trade model has been good for local businesses, Kurtz says it is even better for the farmers who produce the coffee.
Read more in the October 12th edition of the Urbana Daily Citizen.
Learn more about Hemisphere Coffee Roasters at their website, www.hemispherecoffeeroasters.com/.
“The idea is essentially investors are able to defer a portion of their gains if they invest the proceeds from a sale into one of the opportunity zones,” said Devesh Kamal, a certified public accountant with Clark Schaefer Hackett, a Springfield accounting firm.
The program could lead to significant new investments into some of the region’s high-poverty neighborhoods, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development for Springfield. There are a few limitations on the types of business that can qualify according to Clark Schaefer Hackett. For example, investment in a golf course or massage parlor is not allowed, but numerous other projects including housing and retail could qualify.
“Now that we have the designated Opportunity Zones, the next step for us to is to analyze the area contained within the Opportunity Zone to ensure that we identify and address potential barriers to attracting investments, such as zoning, permitting, and any others,” Franzen said.
One challenge is some of the rules for the new program have not been finalized, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic District which focuses on economic development in Champaign County.
“We can market we have an opportunity zone and where it is,” Bailey said. “We just don’t know what the rules are as far as the (Internal Revenue Service) is concerned.
Clark County’s four tracts generally focus on an area that includes downtown Springfield. The rough borders include Snyder Park Road to the north and West Grand Avenue to the South. Norfolk Southern rail lines to near Snyder Park form a portion of the West border with East Street on the Eastern border.
Franzen said the next step will be for the city to work with partners including the Chamber of Greater Springfield to develop a long-term strategy for the area as well as opportunities to market the zone.
“The Opportunity Zone, combined with recent efforts by the city commission to expand Community Reinvestment Act tax abatement opportunities in these same areas, as well as the commission’s refocused efforts on improving our neighborhoods, downtown and major corridors, could prove to be a compelling draw for investors,” Franzen said.
Bailey said local economic development officials also need to work with area residents to determine what kinds of investments will be most beneficial.
“Just because we have this Opportunity Zone, it’s still up to the property owner of do they want to sell their property for development to occur,” Bailey said.
Wendy Patton, a senior project director with Policy Matters Ohio, said one reason to be cautious about the new program is it’s left up to local communities to ensure the investments benefit current residents and businesses in the approved areas.
The idea behind the program is to provide a boost to areas that have some momentum, but historically Patton said tax incentives have a poor record in creating jobs. There’s also a concern expensive new developments could force up rents and make it tougher for some lower-income residents to remain in their neighborhoods.
A report from Policy Matters Ohio also pointed out the main beneficiaries will be the wealthiest tax filers who have the capital available to invest in the program.
“This program could help drive inequality or it could bring opportunity to these low-income people in these communities,” Patton said.
The report argues reporting requirements, transparency and enforceable community benefit agreements should be included in the program’s rules to prevent harm to residents.
“Our local elected officials and community leaders need to take it on themselves to ensure there’s some wealth that’s coming back to the community,” Patton said.
On the web:
FACTS & FIGURES
320 — Census tracts in Ohio
73 — Ohio counties in which eligible tracts were submitted
4 — Tracts in Springfield
1 — Tract in Champaign County