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.
“Basically, we wanted to put something together that was of value to multiple layers of our community,” said committee member and property owner Jamon Sellman in a welcome statement. “What we call ourselves is Moving Downtown Forward. And if you look at the committee members, we have a real mixed bag, which we believe is a very positive thing. We have property owners, we have building officials, we have zoning officials, we have the CEP represented, so we have multiple sectors … We’re trying to bring more living, more playing downtown so that we have walking traffic that is wanting to spend their money downtown and therefore we all thrive.”
Sellman said the committee’s goals include attracting new residents to downtown Urbana, assisting public and private development projects, providing information and resources to assist all types of downtown stakeholders and partnering with the city of Urbana.
Other committee members include city Zoning Officer Adam Moore, city Community Development Manager Doug Crabill, county Building Regulations Director Dana Booghier, architect Sarah Mackert and multiple property owners.
“In terms of strategy, you want to start early, and you want to go into things without any surprises so that you can avoid as much stress as possible,” said Mackert.
“I will say that developers are high risk, high reward for a reason, but if you have vision and passion I think you can really accomplish a lot.”
Developer Jason Duff presented examples of business owners who invested in the city of Bellefontaine and explained how similar investors may lead to a vibrant downtown Urbana. He also suggested putting up street signs that would direct pedestrians to less prominent businesses within the downtown area.
Communities partnering together
“In my mind, if we could make it uniform through the villages and the city of Urbana and partner with what Bellefontaine has already done … I attended the St. Paris Village Council meeting on Monday and they are putting signs up exactly like Bellefontaine,” said Bailey.
“They went up today, so they’ll have them for the (Champaign County Preservation Alliance) Home and Garden Tour … why not do that in Champaign County and Logan County so that we all have that same pattern so when a visitor comes in they know automatically these are way-finding signs and this is how I’m going to find businesses, restaurants and whatever I’m looking for. It may sound like a minor thing but it’s not, not when you don’t know where you’re going.”
“Sometimes, even if things have been done the same way for 20 years in this town, I hope that there’s some innovators in this room who will say ‘you know what, we’re going to take our town back,’” Duff said.
“‘No longer will we play by these rules. We’re going to take our town back because it’s the right thing to do.’” The meeting closed with a panel taking questions from attendees.
The next meeting of the Moving Downtown Forward committee is scheduled for July 19.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304