“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
By Joshua Keeran - Urbana Daily Citizen
The Urbana Planning Commission on Monday granted final site plan approval for construction of a 355,319-square-foot warehousing facility in the Urbana Industrial Park on the city’s south side.
Limited construction at the Phoenix Drive site began earlier this month after Planning Commission members approved Damewood Enterprises Limited’s preliminary site plan in January. While Damewood Enterprises will own the facility, it will be leased to Navistar to be used as a distribution center.
Monday’s final site plan approval is contingent on Damewood Enterprises and Dublin Building Systems – the project’s building contractor – addressing the few remaining comments the city’s Technical Review Committee asked be revisited and incorporated into the final site plan drawings. [Read the full article on UrbanaCitizen.com]