Community leaders have known for some time that Champaign County needs more available housing options to attract new businesses – and their workforce – and to support growth of existing business.
Recommendations to help Champaign County provide the full range of current and future housing needs will be unveiled at a public meeting, 8:30 to 11 a.m., February 14, in the Champaign County Community Center Auditorium.
The recommendations are part of the Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis for Champaign County, developed by the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) and commissioned by the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP).
CEP Director Marcia Bailey said that the housing market analysis will be shared first with local county, city, village and township officials before the public meeting.
“The February 14 public meeting is open to all citizens and will provide information of special interest to business leaders, developers, real estate professionals, builders, property owners, financial institutions and others interested in helping Champaign County thrive,” Bailey said.
She added that an evening session will be scheduled for late February or early March and additional public meetings will be announced to provide residents multiple opportunities to learn more about the study findings.
The GOPC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on helping improve Ohio communities through smart growth strategies and research. The GOPC regularly provides expert analyses to public, private and nonprofit leaders at the local, state and national level.
Bailey said that the study is designed to serve local leaders as a guide for making decisions that support a broad range of housing options for all segments of the population. And to attract new residents, including young families drawn by jobs and people looking for a quieter lifestyle within commuting distance of their jobs in metropolitan areas.
The study covers the county as a whole, as well as the four primary population centers, Urbana, Mechanicsburg, St. Paris and North Lewisburg.
The GOPC conducted the study with the guidance of steering and advisory committees composed of local government officials and representatives of financial institutions, developers, builders, property owners, real estate agents and business owners.
Examples of recommendations made in the study include:
By Jenna Lawson, Springfield News-Sun Staff Writer
The last bit of needed funding has been secured to push forward the ‘Legacy Place’ senior housing project in Urbana.
Sourcing all of the funding has been a tedious multi-year task undertaken by several different parties — but soon residents will start to see the fruits of labor.
“This is going to be a reality,” said Champaign Economic Development Director Marcia Bailey. “It’s not just sketches on a piece of paper. It’s going to be a reality.”
In August, the developers of the project — Flaherty & Collins Properties — applied for a grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati with the help of community partners.
“(The developer) has indicated to us if they’re able to secure that grant, then they can move forward toward a closing to this project,” said Doug Crabill, Urbana’s community development manager.
Crabill, as well as Marcia Bailey, director of Champaign County Economic Development, have been working with Flaherty & Collins Properties, a developer based in Indianapolis that has expressed interest in the project, to secure the funding for “Legacy Place.”
The project would convert the Douglas Hotel, as well as the former North and South Elementary Schools in Urbana, into affordable senior apartments.
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“It’s exciting that another piece of the puzzle has been approved for funding,” said Champaign Economic Partnership Executive Director Marcia Bailey. “Nothing is finalized yet, and we’re not quite ready to sign for the property, but the city, Urbana City Schools and the CEP have done everything we can on our end and now we’re continuing to work with Flaherty & Collins to get this project to the final stages.”
According to ODSA, Legacy Place is only the second project to be awarded in Urbana. The awards are planned to assist private developers in rehabilitating historic buildings in downtowns and neighborhoods that, once rehabilitated, drive further investment and interest in adjacent property.
“The historic preservation tax credit is another way we’re investing in our communities,” said Gov. Mike DeWine in a news release. “These investments can spur development in a neighborhood or downtown.”
“Partnering with communities and developers across Ohio, we’re preserving historic sites that make Ohio unique,” said Lydia Mihalik, director of ODSA. “We’re creating new opportunities for small businesses and housing.”
The Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit program is administered in partnership with the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office. The state Historic Preservation Office determines if a property qualifies as a historic building and if the rehabilitation plans comply with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
Bailey said that in addition to providing a built-in customer base for downtown business owners, the project will be an example for the Moving Downtown Forward committee to inform developers how to move projects ahead in downtown Urbana.
According to information from the ODSA, the Douglas Inn was constructed about 1870 in the Second Empire style with a mansard roof. The structure has been vacant since 2004. 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 Julie Collier, vice president of Development for Flaherty & Collins Properties. “It’s two-fold for us because we’ll help save some important buildings in … Urbana, and we’ll also fulfill a housing need for local residents.”
The two schools, built in 1901 and 1921, served the city’s children until they became vacant in 2018. Bailey said the Ohio Revised Code allows the school district to dis-invest of the two properties no longer needed by the school district. Rather than demolish the buildings, the plan is for them to be purchased by the city for $1 each under an alreadysigned 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 (demolished) 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.”
On March 19, the Urbana City Council unanimously passed a resolution of support for the developers of Legacy Place to apply to the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program. Flaherty & Collins also obtained tax credits through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.