by Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen
The Urbana City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the residential rental development proposed by Flaherty and Collins Properties to redevelop South Elementary School, North Elementary School and the Douglas Inn for senior apartments at a regular council meeting on Tuesday. A copy of this resolution will accompany Flaherty and Collins' tax credit application to the Ohio Housing Finance Authority by the Feb. 15 deadline.
"I think this is a fantastic opportunity, and I think Urbana would be very welcoming to this," said council member Doug Hoffman. "We've got three distinct structures that I think really need this for the revitalization of the properties. These properties don't get fixed up any other way, at least not in the near future, and it also helps some of the other entities in town like the school and the downtown. I think this is just fantastic."
"I'm really excited about this," added council member Pat Thackery. "We have a housing issue in the community anyway, and if we get some senior housing, that's going to open up some housing that seniors are moving out of so others can move in there, and that's going to help the housing overall. I'm excited. And we need exciting things like this to happen in town and they're happening."
As part of the proposed development, the council unanimously passed another resolution authorizing the acquisition of certain properties, an agency agreement with the Community Improvement Corporation of Champaign County to negotiate with a buyer to purchase and develop said properties, declaring said properties to be no longer needed for public purposes and to authorize the sale of said propertes.
CIC Economic Director Marcia Bailey explained that the Urbana school board passed a resolution last week approving the sale of North and South elementaries to the city for a dollar a building. The school board set the purchase price of both buildings at $354,000, to which Flaherty and Collins has agreed.
"I see a trend where all the good things that seem to keep happening are coming through collaboration, through another party and party deals," Hoffman said. "Everything's happening with two and three and four, even five people involved, and I think that's not anything that we've had for a long time that I can remember. The group that we have up here now is working some pretty nice deals for the city, and I think our citizens recognize that."
The Douglas Inn is privately owned and further action will not be required fromt he council to authorize its sale.
· Sandra Brasington, Gov. John Kasich’s regional liaison, addressed the governor’s initiatives to address the opioid crisis. About $1 billion has been directed to the problem, including prevention, education, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement.
· Lauren Bowen, public affairs liaison for Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, spoke about OhioCheckbook.com, a website created by the Ohio Treasurer’s office to provide taxpayers online access to state government spending data – to hold public officials accountable. Local government spending also is being added to the website. So far in Champaign County, spending records for Mad River Township, Goshen Township, St. Paris and Mechanicsburg have been published on the website. North Lewisburg, Christiansburg and Urbana City Schools will be added soon.
· Than Johnson, CEO of Champaign Residential Services, Inc., spoke on behalf of Ohio Sen. Matt Huffman. He said Huffman is working on a redistricting amendment that will be on the ballot this fall. He also is working with local school districts on legislation to improve current state regulations to assist in local school funding.
· Champaign County Commissioner Steve Hess said, “I can’t remember when there’s been so much new development in our county.” He gave as examples new Urbana school buildings, the Memorial Health medical center, the new Navistar/Damewood Enterprises warehouse, the new Crop Production Services facility and expansion of WEIDMANN Electrical Technology.
He said that the CEP’s mission is to “create the path of least resistance to help business develop in our county. If we can find a process to make development easier, that’s what we want to do.” He added that the CEP is partnering with manufacturers and educational institutions to prepare the next generation for the workforce.
To help guide economic and community development in the future, he said, Champaign County commissioners are working with the Logan-Union-Champaign Regional Planning Commission to create a new comprehensive plan that will cover the entire county.
· Urbana Mayor Bill Bean spoke about redevelopment of the former Q3/JMC, Inc. manufacturing site in Urbana – about 20 acres that are being prepared for new industrial development and job creation. He also mentioned a collaborative effort of the city, Urbana City Schools, the CEP and a developer that could create 50 senior citizen apartments in the Douglas Hotel in downtown Urbana and Urbana North and South elementary schools, which will close with the opening of Urbana’s new elementary and middle school. Also, he reported, the second phase of the city’s replacement of water lines will begin in the next year.
· Mechanicsburg Mayor Greg Kimball mentioned two projects that the CEP has assisted the village with – foreclosed downtown property that the village wants to return to productive commercial use and annexing the Advanced Technology Products manufacturing facility into the village.
Clark State Community College and the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP) have joined forces to enhance regional workforce and economic development efforts in Champaign County and the surrounding areas.
The CEP is a partnership of private business, local government and the Champaign County Community Improvement Corporation dedicated to advancing economic development and job creation in Champaign County. The CEP connects businesses to available commercial real estate, workforce, training, zoning, transportation, infrastructure and local and state incentives – all key ingredients to successful business development and growth.
“In the spirit of the Champaign Economic Partnership’s motto, ‘working together for success,’ we have been involved with the CEP since its inception,” said Toni Overholser, director of workforce and business solutions for Clark State. “The CEP has connected Clark State with businesses who may benefit from our services and vice versa.”
Overholser said the expanded partnership will provide Clark State with a home base in Champaign County allowing better coordination of the regional workforce and economic development efforts, as well as provide more convenient access to the local businesses and other partners.
Sharing office space
“We are excited to have Clark State sharing office space with our agency. We have worked closely with Clark State for several years to bring the resources needed to train our workforce,” said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the Champaign Economic Partnership. “This partnership will allow both business and prospective students the ability to meet with Clark State representatives at the CEP office. We look forward to the continued effort of economic development and workforce development.”
The Clark State Workforce and Business Solutions department will provide consulting and workforce services to support Champaign County businesses and economic development partners. Services may include onsite business consulting, professional development in numerous categories, hiring assessments and connecting local businesses with our student pipelines for hiring, coops and internships.
“This expanded partnership will allow us to collaborate directly with the CEP on workforce and talent issues while allowing us to better connect with local business and residents,” said Overholser. “In addition to business services, we will be available to residents and the public for discussion of training options for in-demand jobs in the region.”
Beginning Feb. 8, a representative from Clark State’s Workforce and Business Solutions department will be available the first and fourth Thursday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. No appointment is needed. The CEP is located at 3 Monument Square in Urbana.
“We are very excited to expand this partnership and help the CEP continue their work of advancing economic development and job creation,” said Overholser. “We look forward to working with the region’s businesses and residents as the community college and workforce partner in Champaign County.”
A plan to redevelop a long-vacant hotel in downtown Urbana could also provide new life to two elementary schools that would otherwise be slated for demolition.
The Urbana City School District, the city of Urbana and the owners of the former Douglas Hotel are working on a proposal that could turn the vacant inn, as well as North and South Elementary Schools in Urbana, into affordable senior housing, Mayor Bill Bean said. Those entities are working with the Champaign Economic Partnership and Flaherty and Collins Properties, a developer based in Indianapolis.
The deal initially focused on finding a suitable use for the Douglas, which has been vacant for more than a decade, Bean said. But that site didn’t have enough rooms available to make the project viable so the developer also looked at the two elementary schools.
The school district is building a new high school on the same site as the current high school, as well as a preschool-eighth grade school and between Vintage Drive-Thru and Campground Road on the south side of town. With the new primary school under construction, the district’s three elementary schools were likely to be demolished, district Superintendent Charles Thiel said.
If the new project moves forward, it could redevelop a longtime eyesore downtown, find a new use for two of the school district’s aging buildings and provide more senior housing options for residents, Bean said.
The owners of the Douglas and staff from Flaherty and Collins couldn’t be reached for comment.
Several attempts have been made to redevelop the downtown hotel since it closed more than a decade ago. But renovations would be costly, Bean said, and finding a viable project has been difficult. The hotel was a local landmark and a popular business for years but most recently it’s been an eyesore, he said.
The city would only need to take over the two school buildings since the hotel is currently owned by a private entity.
“As far as I’m concerned, that hotel is a cancer in downtown Urbana,” Bean said.
Converting the hotel into senior housing would draw more foot traffic downtown, create jobs and benefit local businesses and restaurants, he said. Urbana’s Board of Zoning and Appeals recently approved a zoning change, approving two conditional use permits for the city school buildings that would allow them to be used for senior housing, said Marty Hess, a city council and BZA member.
“It’s going to be a boon for downtown Urbana if we can get this done,” Bean said.
Under the proposal, the school district would transfer the two properties to the city, and the CEP would transfer the properties to the developer, said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the CEP.
The developer is seeking a grant from the Ohio Fair Housing agency in mid-February, Bailey said. The developer also is applying for historic tax credits later in the year to make the plan more affordable, she said, so all sides are working on a tight timeline.
Even if the developer doesn’t receive the credits this year, it would still be interested in applying next year, Bailey said. But the organizations are also discussing an agreement to make sure the city isn’t stuck with two school buildings if the deal falls through, she said.
“If we can get that historic building redeveloped, it just changes the whole landscape of downtown Urbana,” Bailey said.
The school district has funding available as part of its construction project to tear down unused buildings, Thiel said. Most of the money set aside for demolition would be returned to the state if the buildings are saved, he said. If this proposal falls through, there aren’t viable reasons for the district to maintain those properties.
The district has heard some interest from parties interested in East Elementary School, which isn’t included in this proposal, Thiel said. But there are no specific deals moving forward for that property at this point.
“There’s a large faction of the community that would like to keep and maintain those buildings for their history,” he said of North and South elementaries. “If it can be reused and repurposed that would be ideal, and the total project would be a win for the community.”
The Springfield News-Sun provides unmatched coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories tracking unemployment rates and digging into expansion plans at Topre.
By the numbers
$35 million: Estimated cost to build a new elementary school in Urbana.
2: Of the three Urbana elementary schools that might be reused for senior housing
3: Total properties involved in senior housing plan — 2 elementary schools and the Douglas Hotel
10-15: Years that the Douglas Hotel has been vacant
Results of a five-county wage and benefit study conducted last summer are now available on the Champaign Economic Partnership’s website. The study was conducted to help local businesses improve their competitiveness in retaining and recruiting qualified employees and to strengthen local economic development.
The study results, released in September to businesses that participated in the survey, can be accessed from the Workforce & Talent tab on the top navigation bar of the CEP website.
CEP Executive Director Marcia Bailey said that the CEP helped organize the five-county study after members of the Champaign County Manufacturers Council said that wage and benefit data would help them and other local businesses retain and attract qualified employees.
Four reports of the study are on the CEP website: a regional results report, a Champaign County results report, a manufacturing report and a regional wages report.
The regional survey includes Champaign, Clark, Logan, Madison and Union County businesses and was completed through a partnership of the CEP and Manufacturers Council, Expand Greater Springfield, Logan County Chamber of Commerce, Madison County Future Inc., Union County/Marysville Economic Development, Ohio Means Jobs of Champaign, Clark, Logan, Madison and Union counties, and Gradwohl Consulting LLC, which conducted the study.
Comparative benefit data was gathered in an online survey completed in June by employers from the five counties. The Dayton Development Coalition provided wage data, which is collected regularly by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., a consulting firm that supports workforce and economic development efforts.
“This study will enable local employers to see how their benefits and wages compare to similar businesses, so they can make adjustments, if needed, to improve their competitive position in retaining and recruiting qualified workforce,” Bailey said. “That’s especially valuable now, when unemployment is low.”
She added, “This information will also help us in our ongoing efforts to strengthen local economic development and attract new business.”
For more information, contact Bailey at 937-653-7200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Emily Williams - Contributing Writer Springfield News-Sun
The site of Urbana’s new high school is still a construction zone: Hard hats are required upon entry, sawdust clouds the hallways and the building echoes with a steady drum of hammering.
In just about three months, however, the building will be fully prepared for students and teachers to move in, said Urbana superintendent Charles Thiel.
“We’re slightly ahead of schedule,” Thiel said.
Local requirements to be certified for occupancy could cause delays late, but Thiel said the district will be doing its best to work with local authorities and deliver on its target date of April 10, 2018 — right after students return from their spring break.
The new school, at a cost of about $25 million, will replace the 120-year-old school building currently in use. Much of the old school will be torn down to make room for a new parking lot, but the oldest part of the building — referred to as the “castle” — will remain standing, though no definite plans are in place for how it will be used.
Moving into the new building with just five weeks left in the school year might seem unusual, Thiel said, but those weeks will be crucial to completing the full project — including the demolition of the old building and the addition of new parking space — by next fall.
Last week a handful of community members were given a tour of the new building as part of the local chamber of commerce’s “Education Day” for Champaign County leaders.
Key among questions at the meeting regarded tax reform legislation that was passed this week by the House and Senate. Regarding the legislation’s plan to reduce the federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, he said, employers will “plow that extra 14 percent back into their businesses … That is a good thing for all of us and a good thing for our country.”
Jordan also spoke about his desire for a second special counsel to be appointed to investigate the FBI’s activity in the Clinton investigation.
Last month, in another meeting organized by the CEP, Jordan spoke with representatives of local manufacturing companies.