With the recent publication of the draft South Main Street Corridor Plan, a public meeting (open house) has been scheduled to allow interested parties to learn more about the draft plan. This meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the upstairs training room of the Urbana Municipal Building at 205 S. Main St. ADA access is available to the training room via a chairlift.
The draft plan also is viewable by visiting www.burtonplanning.com/urbana_mainplan.
Comments will be accepted at the upcoming meeting in written format. In addition, comments can be submitted online through the plan’s website. The deadline to submit public comments about the draft plan is Friday, Jan. 31.
As part of the planning process, the consultant collected information on the natural and built environments to understand strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the planning area. This SWOT analysis closely reviewed biological and ecological factors, land use, transportation facilities, housing conditions, economic conditions and demographics.
The SWOT analysis, stakeholder interviews and a public opinion survey were used as the basis for a future development and implementation plan within the draft South Main Street Corridor Plan.
After the public feedback portion of the planning process, adoption of the plan will be the final step in this planning process, with the short-term goal of having this plan adopted by the Urbana Planning Commission, Urbana City Council and the Urbana Township Board of Trustees.
An implementation strategy for the goals and strategies outlined within the plan includes potential timelines. The timing of the implementation strategies are defined as immediate (within six months of plan adoption), near-term (within two years of plan adoption), mid-term (within five years of plan adoption), and long-term (five or more years after plan adoption).
$40K will be spent to look at challenges facing Urbana, county’s 3 villages
“We want development to occur where there is available or nearby infrastructure. We are an agricultural community and we want to be able to preserve agricultural land as well,” she added.
The study will cost $40,000, and it will be paid for with funds set aside by Champaign County commissioners to be used for economic development, Bailey said. The study aims to compare municipalities in the county to others in the state that are tackling similar problems such as aging housing stock, a fair number of blighted properties and limited land for new housing developments.
Bailey said the study will be similar to the one recently conducted in Springfield that looked at what the city could do to attract new housing opportunities.
The Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis for Springfield was released in August and made six major recommendations to city officials.
Those recommendations included playing into preexisting assets, continued focus on downtown revitalization and rehabbing existing housing stock.
Bailey said her organization is looking to do the same in Champaign County and wants to use the findings of their study to make the area more marketable to developers. She said that includes looking at what new housing options would work best in the county, whether that would be smaller single family homes or loft apartments in recently renovated buildings.
“One of the big things that we are looking at right now is what type of housing is in demand,” she said. “We are seeing more loft apartments in downtown Urbana for example. We want to continue that trend.”
Bill Bean, the mayor of Urbana, said his city is landlocked and there is not much land available to develop new single family homes. He said, instead, some property owners in downtown Urbana are turning the second and third stories of their buildings into loft apartments.
“Instead of growing out, we are growing up,” he said.
Bailey said in the city’s Monument Square, she estimates 10 loft apartments and says more are currently being developed.
However, the city’s last major housing development was completed in the early 2000s. The subdivision known as Parmore Estates, on the eastern edge of the city, consisted of 90 single family lots as well as two condo sections of 20 lots each, according to its developer Bill Parker, who is the president of Par-Mee Development Corp.
He is currently working on a subdivision called Park Place of Urbana. The first phase of that project will consist of 13 small, patio/single family homes along Powell Avenue, which is expected to be completed in the next two years, Parker said.
Bean said, however, land for new housing developments can be hard to find in the city. He said it depends on whether property owners are interested in selling their property or are working with a developer.
“In order for us to grow, we need to get developers to look at us. We need to let them know what we have to offer,” he said.
Bean said he believes the housing study will be a good tool for future development not only in Urbana but also in the county as a whole.
Greg Kimball, the mayor of Mechanicsburg, said his village has similar housing problems such as the lack of available land for new developments and a limited number of developers operating in the area. He said there is also a fair number of nuisance properties in the village.
Kimball said he hopes the study will help them work around those issues as the village hopes to reassess its housing stock while working to increase property values.
Contact this reporter at 937- 328-0355 or email Hasan.Abdul-Karim@cmg.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
Estimated population of Champaign County in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau
Number of cities and villages in Champaign County that will be examined as part of the housing study
The cost of the housing study, which is expected to be completed in January
The Springfield News-Sun has provided extensive coverage of housing and employment issues in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories on wages, job opportunities and a recent housing study conducted in Springfield.
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.
“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
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.
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