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.
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
Joshua Keeran | Urbana Daily Citizen, Employees of SVG Motors and Trenor Motors gathered in the Scioto Street dealership Friday during the announcement of a change in ownership. Pictured in the center shaking hands are SVG Motors President Steve VanGorder, right, and Trenor Motors President Roger Tehan Jr., left. VanGorder said the plan is to keep as many former employees of Trenor Motors as possible while also hiring additional staff to join SVG Urbana.
by Joshua Keeran, Urbana Daily Citizen
One of the Urbana’s oldest operating businesses is no longer. Trenor Motors, family-owned and operated since 1926, was acquired Friday by SVG Motors.
Headquartered in Dayton, the SVG auto group consists of two new and used car dealerships – SVG Chevrolet in Greenville and SVG Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Eaton – along with SVG Motors, a used car dealership in Dayton.
Steve VanGorder, president of SVG Motors, said he has been in talks with Roger Tehan, owner of Trenor Motors, for the past two-and-a-half years about the possibility of acquiring the Urbana dealership.
“I’m very appreciative of Roger Tehan and his family for affording me this opportunity to be able to do this,” VanGorder said. “This is an honor to be a Chevy, Buick and GMC dealer. I’m living my dream. This is what I’ve always wanted, and I’m on top of the world right now.”
He added the plan for the 90-plus-year Urbana staple is for it to continue to operate as a Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealership under the name of SVG Urbana.
“We feel this is a great community, and there is no reason why this store can’t sell and service a lot of cars,” he said.
“In my opinion, (this location) is the best piece of real estate in the county – in between the two most traveled roads (routes 29 and 36) going through the county.”
VanGorder said the dealership will tie in perfectly with his other stores, which will allow SVG Motors to continue to be home of the “Superior Value Guarantee (SVG).”
“(The dealership) just seems like it fits what we are doing with the synergies of all our other stores with our marketing and advertising,” he said. “It will allow us to have a larger footprint digitally and on television. We will also be able to offer our customers bigger discounts because we have multiple locations.”
Changes In Store
[READ MORE at UrbanaCitizen.com]
URBANA — A historic, vacant building in the heart of downtown Urbana might get new life if tax credits are approved by the state.
The building that once housed Little Nashville, a bar just south of the roundabout, has been empty for two years and investor John Doss with Dye and Doss Insurance wants to change that.
“I didn’t really see any prospects of anybody doing anything with it,” Doss said as to why he decided to take up the project. “And besides that, in the ’40s and ’50s, my grandfather owned it. So it’s kind of a sentimental place.”
His insurance office is just south of the old bar. An application for historic tax credits filed with the Ohio Development Service Agency shows the total cost to renovate the 4,475-squarefoot building will be about $222,000. The building will house one office inside and have two residential spaces on the second floor.
Doss has requested $31,000 in tax credits, which are sold to investors to provide money for the development. He said he hopes to have the project completed by next summer.
“The historic tax program is a pretty good deal and it is really nice for small buildings,” he said. “The tax credits makes this project a viable thing.”
Putting buildings to use in downtown Urbana helps everyone in the community, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign County Economic Partnership.
“We have a beautiful downtown with our historic overlay,” she said. “The more we can preserve and restore those buildings, the better our downtown will be.”
She took a tour of the building with Doss after he bought it about a year ago and said it has a lot of opportunity.
“Any new business is more than welcomed,” she said. “The foot traffic will benefit every business in downtown Urbana.”
READ MORE from staff writer Parker Perry at the Springfield News-Sun.