An abandoned site can be a significant safety and financial liability to a community. Urbana’s 605 Miami Street was just that.
Vacant since 2008, the once thriving manufacturing site became a community eyesore and was prone to persistent vandalism. But its prime location and existing utilities had too much potential for Urbana. The community sought out partners to revitalize the site, including much-needed financial support from JobsOhio.
A Major Undertaking
The former home of Q3 and Johnson Manufacturing had everything a company would want: space; nearby highways; proximity to major cities; current and future rail service; and existing utilities, including water, sewer, gas, and electric, thus making it an ideal site for revitalization.
Many companies were interested in the site, but costs to clean it up were a deterrent. The property needed an overhaul to eliminate the ongoing threats to public health, safety and the environment for it to be a viable site. The Journey BackCleanup began in 2015, but the magnitude of remediation needed was beyond what Urbana could accomplish on its own. A collaborative including JobsOhio, Honeywell International Inc., the Dayton Development Coalition, True Inspection Services, the Champaign Economic Partnership and the Champaign County Board of Revision was able to take the project to the next step.
Compelled by the potential for economic impact, JobsOhio committed almost $890,000 from the JobsOhio Redevelopment Pilot Program toward demolition, environmental remediation, asbestos abatement, removal and disposal of waste, and site preparation.
After months of hard work, the remediation is almost complete and final permitting is anticipated to reach the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency by May 2019. Once received, the site will be marketed nationally to attract a new tenant. Because of Urbana’s dedication to the site and the community, it successfully led a movement to turn an abandoned area into an economic opportunity.
To date, JobsOhio has committed over $240 million in revitalization, leveraging an additional $11 billion in capital investment and creating more than 15,500 jobs in Ohio. JobsOhio is committed to working with communities across Ohio to revitalize abandoned properties and return them to sources of job creation and economic growth.
(This article appeared on page 22 in the 2018 JobsOhio Annual Report. To view the entire Annual Report, click below.
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
“It’s been a great start to the first day in our new school,” Superintendent of Urbana City Schools Charles Thiel said. “As I stood out front helping to direct traffic I realized the number of kids and families and adults are all a part of the programs of our schools. We were spread out throughout the city, but when you combined them into one building there is a lot of people that are using our resources and being part of the school program.”
Overall, the opening went well, he said.
The district pushed back the start date so the building could be finished before the start of school. The new building has a number of advancements that the old schools didn’t. For one, air conditioning.
“It has been wonderful for us and will continue to be wonderful to have the air movement and circulating so we have fresh air in the building,” Thiel said.
The school also has updated security features that force people wanting to enter the building to be cleared by staff before doing so.
“We have a whole series of video cameras in the building and outside the building to monitor what’s happening,” Thiel said. “There is a lot more security than we ever had at our old buildings. They just didn’t consider those things back in (the early 1900s.)”
READ: Urbana City Schools will start school late due to construction
Everyone being in one building is a good change, he said.
“It’s great to be able to say to a 3-year-old that’s going to preschool that you are going to stay in this building until you get to the eighth-grade,” he said. “You will become comfortable in this building.”
It’s been a little more than three years since Franklin University stepped in at the last minute and acquired Urbana University’s assets. But in that time, Washington, the executive vice president and provost, estimated Franklin has poured more than $15 million into Urbana’s facilities as part of a long-term plan to attract new students and shore up a campus that was on the verge of closing for good.
“I don’t think there’s a place you can see that we haven’t impacted with investments,” Washington said.
Officials from Franklin provided a two-page list of the improvements made since its acquisition of Urbana University in 2014. The improvements ranged from relatively small projects like removing tree stumps and repairing the grass soccer field to renovating the university’s physics and biology labs.
The improvements also included relocating the campus’ Johnny Appleseed Museum, developing a Graduate Services Office, ramping up wireless accessibility campus-wide and signing on with a new food service vendor.
Urbana University’s financial situation still isn’t in the black a few years after Franklin’s takeover, Washington said. But along with developing new academic programs and building better ties with local businesses, the improvements are part of a larger plan to drive up enrollment and make the campus a thriving part of the community, he said.
The university has always played an important role in the city and Champaign County, he said. But many people throughout the region still don’t realize Urbana is home to a private university with a history that dates back to 1850.
“Years from now, I would love it if everybody in the community believed it was a college town,” Washington said of Urbana.
Coming off probation
Urbana University had a long history in the city, but it has also faced financial challenges for years. Those problems became critical in 2014, when lean enrollment, a handful of failed business decisions and effects of the Great Recession meant Urbana couldn’t take on more debt to survive. At that time, the university nearly shut down entirely, until Franklin University, based in Columbus, stepped in.
A handful of local banks accepted millions of dollars in losses to wipe the debt clean, allowing the transaction to occur. As part of that deal, Urbana now functions as a division of Franklin but retains its name.
Local leaders have said saving Urbana University was critical because it employs more than 200 staff and faculty members and provides a potential pipeline of skilled workers for local businesses.
A 2017 economic impact study by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education estimated that Urbana University provided more than $60 million to the economies of Champaign and Logan counties for the 2015 to 2016 school year. That study considered the university’s impacts from operations, student spending in the community and capital investment.
Urbana had been under academic probation since November 2014. But that was wiped away in July last year when Franklin University received approval by the Higher Learning Commission to make Urbana University a branch campus.
Taking the Urbana campus under Franklin’s accreditation was a critical step as Franklin looks to develop new academic programs and provide better service to students, Washington said.
“There’s work to be done here and as we grow our goals are designed to create a sustainable university,” Washington said.
Boosting community ties
Washington said drawing more students to the university also means developing closer ties to alumni, providing more reasons for students to stay on campus and working more closely with local businesses to provide job options for students.
The university hosted its first-ever night football game last fall, an event that drew about 3,500 alumni and other guests to the campus. The university also hosted its spring game at night this year, and there are already plans to host additional night games this fall as one way to make the campus more entertaining for students and to develop better relationships with alumni, he said.
There are some signs that the work is paying dividends, Washington said. He noted the university received about 420 applications for new students last year, but that figure has about doubled to more than 800 applications for the upcoming academic year.
“To offer the programs we want to offer, we have to have a sufficient number of students to support those programs,” Washington said.
Another key, Washington said, is developing closer ties with area businesses. The university has developed a program called UrbanaWORKS, which will provide students with leadership skills while tying educational programs more closely to the needs of local businesses.
Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership, said the university is making a more visible effort to work with local companies and determine what training is needed to match current demands. The CEP is the economic development agency for Champaign County.
She said Washington is part of a team developed to address the needs of local businesses. That group recently visited Honeywell Aerospace in Urbana and is scheduled to meet soon with Bundy Baking Solutions, a local manufacturer.
“They are intimately getting involved in the community,” Bailey said of Urbana University’s recent emphasis on local business.
The community is also embracing the campus more than may have been the case in the past, she said. Last year was the first year community members hosted a block party in downtown Urbana to welcome students to the campus at the start of the school year, and a similar event is scheduled for August.
“The university is making certain they’re a part of the community and the community is making certain they’re engaging the university with different events and activities too,” Bailey said.
[Read More at SpringfieldNewsSun.com]
“The zoning right now is for manufacturing,” Bailey said. “But we’re looking at whether it would make better sense on the east side to make it more of a mixed use environment because there would be space for retail, offices and manufacturing combined if that was the need.”
Once complete, Bailey said the complicated project will remove a property that was a nuisance to the city and local first responders. Once redeveloped, the goal is to use the property to attract more jobs and investment to the city. The abandoned Q3 site at Miami and Beech streets has been an eyesore in Urbana for years, creating concerns about safety, vandalism and drug use on the property. In 2015, a fire destroyed much of the building.
City officials took control of the property under the conditions that overdue taxes were cleared off the books and funding was secured to perform necessary demolition and clean up contamination at the site. The process to acquire the site and secure the necessary funding was a lengthy process, but once the work was underway, the project moved forward fairly quickly, said Kerry Brugger, director of administration for Urbana.
“The bulk of the demolition, the buildings that are going to come down, for the most part are down,” Brugger said. “They’re working on slab removal, and they’ll finish up and (do) soil remediation that needs to be completed.”
There is work left to do on the existing buildings on the site that will remain there. The city contracted with True Inspection Services, an Urbana-based developer, to clean up and redevelop the site. Other partners included Honeywell, with whom the city contracted to clean soil on the rear west side of the site.
Once the work is complete, the city will seek a Covenant Not to Sue from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. That designation will show the site is cleaned up and in good condition, a key to allowing the city to eventually transfer the property.
True Inspection Services will initially take over part of the property once the work is complete and work with the CEP to find candidates to occupy the site. The company is also renovating the remaining buildings for office space or warehouse space by next year.
“We anticipate the cleanup and remediation part of the project should be done in the next eight weeks,” said Joe Timm, vice president for True Inspection Services.
There are prospective tenants for the property, Timm said, but he declined to disclose them because the project is still months from completion. He said the company had previous experience renovating the former Buckles Motors dealership and converting it to office space and warehousing. Finishing the Q3 project will provide several benefits to the city, he said.
“It will add some jobs to the community and increase the tax base,” Timm said. “It will definitely be good for the community, along with getting rid of an eyesore.”
Melanie Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the company, said the project is on schedule and no delays are anticipated.
The medical group will also host a groundbreaking open house event and ceremony at Memorial Hospital in Marysville as part of a separate project. The company is undergoing a $50 million expansion and renovation of Memorial Hospital.
That project involves construction of two buildings, both an inpatient pavilion and an outpatient pavilion on the main campus at 500 London Ave. in Marysville.
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.