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
Representatives of Flaherty & Collins Properties have been working with the city of Urbana and the Champaign Economic Partnership to develop Legacy Place, a proposed 51 units of senior housing that would occupy the former North and South elementary schools as well as the Douglas Inn on Monument Square. Local officials have been working with architect McCall Sharp Architecture, Springfield, and say that they are 10-11 months from closing on the property sale and beginning construction, which they hope will happen in summer of 2019.
On July 24, the Urbana City Council unanimously authorizing a fee waiver of up to $500 in support of Flaherty & Collins’ application to the affordable housing program of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, including but not limited to water and sewer tap fees, construction permit fees and zoning fees. The resolution affirmed that the city council supports the efforts of Flaherty & Collins to obtain the necessary financing resources to redevelop all three buildings.
Flaherty & Collins also obtained tax credits through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and state historic credits, all of which add points to the competitive application to the affordable housing program, due in mid-August.
“The big win was we got a tax credit allocation through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, that was announced in May, and we still have some smaller pots of money to run after,” said Julie Collier, vice president of development with Flaherty & Collins. “We’re about 10-11 months from closing and construction start. We still need to come up with plans and get our arms around specific construction costs, which we’re doing and putting a lot of work in there to date, but there’s still some work to do. Some of it is just going after some other funding pots. We’ll hear back on those by the end of the year and have some better thoughts and direction then. Our hope is to close June/July of 2019 and start construction then.”
Marcia Bailey, CEP’s economic development director, the Ohio Revised Code allows the school district to dis-invest of the two properties no longer needed. Rather than demolish the buildings, the plan is for them to be purchased by the city for $1 each under an already-signed purchase agreement. Then the CEP will act on behalf of the city to sell the buildings to Flaherty and Collins.
“The city council agreed to do all of this,” said Bailey. “We had the city schools that were willing because they didn’t want to see the buildings demo-ed either, and it’s a cost savings for taxpayers not to have to pay for the demolition. But the city council agreed that they will take on the buildings … That was an important component, because if the city had not agreed to do that we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now.”
When ready to complete the sale of property, Flaherty & Collins will work directly with private owner John Doss to acquire the Douglas Inn.
“Just seeing the Douglas get put back into use again is a very positive thing for the community,” said Community Development Manager Doug Crabill. “Seeing those school buildings be reused rather than being torn down and vacant lots gives us a good feeling, because at least we know there is a plan for re-purposing those buildings.”
“It’s something we’re used to doing and we feel like there’s usually an extra need for senior housing in communities, and in communities like Urbana there’s a need to help older (buildings) continue their life,” said Collier. “It’s two-fold for us because we’ll help save some important buildings in downtown Urbana, and we’ll also fulfill a housing need for local residents.”
The future Legacy Place community will be for residents 55 or older making 60 percent of the area median income or less, roughly $24,000 to $25,000 a year. Bailey said that in addition to providing a built-in customer base for downtown Realtors, the project will be an example to members of the Moving Downtown Forward committee to inform developers how to move projects ahead in downtown Urbana.
No plans have been finalized, Bailey said. But local economic development leaders plan to meet with potential local investors as early as next month.
The study estimated the project could generate between 15 and 20 new jobs, depending on the size of the hotel, if it’s built.
“This meeting is just to generate the interest of other community leadership,” Bailey said.
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 the county hasn’t had a new hotel in years.
Elton Cultice, airport manager at Grimes Field in Urbana, has told the News-Sun he often reserves rooms in Springfield for events at the airport because of the few options available in Champaign County. That means less business for local restaurants and other businesses in Champaign County.
The CEP hired a consultant from Core Distinction Group to conduct the feasibility study. Staff from that company couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. The study was based on interviews with area businesses and local attractions that typically draw visitors overnight, as well as traffic studies from 2011 and 2014 provided by the CEP.
That included staff from local tourist attractions like the Ohio Caverns. The study also consulted with other entities that might draw residents for overnight stays or business purposes, including Urbana University and a small number of manufacturing firms.
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 a 2013 study by Tourism Economics.
Along with as many as 70 to 80 rooms, the Core Distinction Group’s report also recommended the potential hotel provide meeting areas with space for about 50 guests, a pool and a workout area. In the end though, all those decisions, including how many rooms are included in the final plans, will be determined by any investors who push the project forward, Bailey said.
The hotel would be built within Urbana city limits, she said, but it’s too early to discuss any specific locations for the property.
If and when the project might move forward is still unclear, Bailey said. But if a decision to build the hotel is finalized this year, she said it’s likely the project could ramp up as early as 2019.
Bailey said the hotel would likely be a name-brand chain.
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.
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