Makes good use of vacant building
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.
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."
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.