By: Jenna Lawson, WHIO
View video of the announcement on WHIO's website
There were many points in the last five years that community partners thought ‘Legacy Place’ might never happen.
It took time to capture nearly $13 million in funding sources, including historic tax credits – not to mention delays due to the pandemic. But on Thursday, partners announced the funds were released and they are able to move forward with the project. It’s possible construction could start within the next week.
‘Legacy Place’ transforms the Douglas Inn in downtown Urbana and two former elementary schools (North & South) into affordable senior housing. 51 units will be created for those 55 and older, with six of them being devoted to people with disabilities.
“It’s just a real renaissance for Urbana,” Mayor Bill Bean told News Center 7′s Jenna Lawson.
Duane Miller, with development company Flaherty & Collins and also president of F & C Legacy Place, said the project accomplishes two goals: turning three vacant properties into useful properties and filling the need for affordable senior housing in Urbana.
“I love to jump into the skin of a community that’s looking for help and looking for opportunities to spur on their own development,” he said.
The Douglas has been vacant since 2004 and has long been a large eyesore on the southwest corner of Monument Square. The building has somewhat deteriorated and was the target of multiple arson fires in 2019.
The former owner of the property, John Doss, has done work to stabilize the structure. The elementary schools, despite being about 100 years old, are in solid shape, partners said.
The timeline for the project will move quickly. Developers estimate about six months to complete both elementary schools and a little over a year to finish the Douglas. Partners are hopeful that the project will have a positive domino effect on other aspects of Urbana living including neighboring businesses and housing.
“We may see some of those seniors who may move in here and now their single family homes are available for a new families to move in,” said director of the Champaign Economic Partnership, Marcia Bailey.
Bailey added that this solution also preserves the history of all three buildings for the community to enjoy for decades to come. “Having these buildings standing as they are and being repurposed is a huge win for our community,” she said.
Other partners in the project include the City of Urbana, Urbana City Schools and Resident Supports and Services, Inc., which provides housing for seniors and adults with developmental disabilities.
Champaign County voters narrowly passed a five-year, 0.5-mill levy in April to build a new senior center on Patrick Avenue near Water Street. The current facility is located at the corner of Thompson and Walnut streets.
Passing with a 3,613-3,512 vote, the levy is expected to generate an estimated $458,000 a year, which Miller said will be used to repay a loan the senior center will acquire from Civista Bank. In 2019, the bank donated 2.2 acres behind its 601 Scioto St. location for a new senior center.
The senior center moved to its current site, a former church, in 1980. The senior center also owns and rents the house just south of the former church. Miller said these properties will be sold.
The new building and parking lot will offer many improvements, Miller and Barnhart said.
“There will be three times as much parking, at least 46 spaces,” Miller said.
The one-story 9,452-squarefoot structure, designed by Beasley Architecture & Design, will include larger pantry and kitchen areas, walk-in freezers, a large activity room, as well as game, meeting and conference rooms that will provide privacy when needed.
Members no longer will need to maneuver stairs and ramp, and carts of groceries no longer will need to be carefully guided up and down the ramp.
Barnhart said she looks forward to more pantry space and room to expand outreach services.
“We are always faced with a lack of space at our current center,” she said.
Both she and Miller said the need for senior center services will increase.
“Our senior population is growing tremendously in the county,” Miller said. “Right now, probably 23% of (the county’s) 40,000 are seniors.”
That includes diversifying as well as adding to available housing stock in the county, fostering more development of new homes and the redevelopment of old ones as well as preexisting buildings that can be converted to apartments and lofts.
One of the tasks of the housing consortium could be to look at existing zoning and rules in the county and what can be done to make them more conducive to current housing needs, said Marcia Bailey, the director of the Champaign Economic Partnership. That includes also focusing on multi-family housing options, instead of just on single family homes.
“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,” Bailey previously told the News-Sun.
A point she said they will continue to focus on.
Efforts to boost the local housing market were temporarily put on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, Bailey said they are looking to hold conversations next month and hope to have the housing consortium up and running in the near future.
This follows a series of discussions held in the beginning of the year that went over some of the findings of the comprehensive housing study, which was conducted by the Greater Ohio Policy Center.
That organization, according to its website, “is focused on improving the communities of Ohio through growth strategies and research.
Bailey said that she wanted to continue having those conversations as housing is an issue that will not soon go away. She said that having available housing stock and looking at ways to grow the population is key to economic development in the county.
The News-Sun previously reported that lower housing stock, coupled with high demand has led to a continued stable market in the area even during the pandemic.
The study commissioned by the Champaign Economic Partnership looked at common housing challenges in the city of Urbana as well as the villages of Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and St. Paris. It also compared municipalities in the county to others in the state that are tackling similar problems such as having aging housing stock, a fair amount of blighted properties and limited land for new housing developments.
In Champaign County, it was noted that 75% of homes there were built before 1990, according to the Greater Ohio Policy Center.
Additionally, there has been a total of 324 permits filed in the county since 2010 for the construction of single family homes.
It was also found that about 80% of new home construction since 2010 has occurred outside municipal boundaries in the county.
“It can be within a township or another unincorporated territory,” said Maria Walliser-Wejebe, a research associate with the policy center, earlier this year.
The study cost about $40,000 and came from funds set aside by the Champaign County Commissioners that are to be used for economic development. In addition, the analysis offered a total of 22 recommendations that followed six main themes.
The recommendations fell into the categories of prioritizing down towns and main streets, ensuring that local governments are strong partners to development, protecting existing housing stock and preventing it from declining, having creative financing and funding strategies and maintaining affordability.
Graham 8th graders inducted into the program were Isabella Branam, Isaiah Branam, Whytney Faulkner, Ian Grider, Seth Huffman, Sarah Lewis, Elijah Melms, Tucker Nave, Mikal Rice, Landyn Simons and Robert Thomas.
Urbana 8th graders inducted were Madison Allen, Olivia Bean, Logan Dale, Trinity Ferrell, Jaminson Gansaulies, Zavian Groom, Amari Jones, Harley Lahrman, Taylor Ruthergord and Annabelle Sabchez.
The students will be the first in their families to receive college degrees.
So far, the Clark State Foundation has partnered with the Urbana and Graham school districts in Champaign County and with the Springfield City, Tecumseh Local and Clark-Shawnee Local school districts in Clark County for this program.
Applicants must be eligible for the free/reduced lunch program; achieve at least a 2.0 grade point average in the fourth quarter during seventh grade; and have parents who have not earned a bachelor’s degree at the time of application.
Eighth graders obtain applications from guidance counselor offices in September. After an interview and evaluation process, the top applicants in each participating school are inducted into the program.
To remain in the program, students must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average and at least a 93% school attendance record, participate in at least 75% of program activities, exhibit good citizenship and take courses that prepare students for college.
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).
Columbia Gas contractors will work street by street to install new main lines and service lines to each customer’s home or building.
Gas service will not be impacted until it is time for Columbia Gas to connect the customer to the new gas system at the meter. For most customers, gas service will be interrupted approximately two to four hours. Customers will get advance notice of this service interruption.
If the gas meter is currently inside, it will be moved outside.
Any surface that has to be disturbed will be repaired by Columbia Gas. This includes sidewalks, driveways, lawns and landscaping.
Once this work is complete, customers will have a gas system with state of the art safety features.
The work and clean-up are expected to be completed during spring of 2020.
Columbia Gas of Ohio has invested more than $1.5 billion in communities around the state to replace aging gas lines over the last decade. This is paying off in safety, with leaks reduced by almost 40 percent.
Residents can contact Luka Papalko, external affairs specialist for Columbia Gas of Ohio, with questions or concerns at 614-420-1376 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.columbiagasohio. com/replacement for more information on the construction process.
Submitted by Columbia Gas of Ohio.
Safety features to help with crossing the street included in $1.8M cost.
The flashers signal to drivers to stop when someone wants to cross the street. Center splitter islands were also added to the crosswalks so someone can stop there if necessary to finish crossing safely.
The project has been a test of patience for downtown Urbana business owners. Carmazzi’s Delicatessen and Candy and Cafe Paradiso owners Pat and Patsy Thackery said the quadrant of the square where the candy store sits has been the staging area for construction crews’ equipment and supplies.
“We’ve had no parking, so yes our business is down (at Car-mazzi’s) but we are confident that as soon as everything’s done, it’ll be back to normal,” said Patsy Thackery.
But Pat Thackery said business at Cafe Paradiso, on the quadrant of the square east of Carmazzi’s has actually picked up. He said their best weekend in 13 years was when Cafe Paradiso’s corner was closed for construction.
Thackery, also a city councilman, said over the years he’s witnessed several accidents on the square.
City officials have previously said over a three-year study period there were 60 crashes.
Thackery said he’s hopeful that the improvements are a step in the right direction to keep people safe.
“We moved back here like 26, 27 years ago, and this is the biggest project I’ve seen,” he said. “I think all said and done — spring when the flowers are planted — everybody is gonna be proud of this circle.”
Over at Oxner’s General Store, cashier Charma Brown said the completion of the project wrapped up just in time. Downtown Urbana’s Holiday Open House is happening this weekend, where stores and restaurants will be open with extended hours for customers.
She said pedestrian safety comes first and foremost, and she’s already noticed drivers slowing down and being more aware of people crossing the streets.
“I just think if people will be patient, work together and embrace it — the roundabout is going to be a fantastic change for Urbana,” Brown said.
Funding for the project comes from an Ohio Department of Transportation Safety Grant, an ODOT Small Cities Grant, an ODOT Urban Resurfacing Grant and funds from the Ohio Public Works Commission for water main replacements.
Water mains downtown were also improved.
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the roundabout will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Legacy Park.
Contact this reporter at Jenna.Lawson@coxinc.com
The News-Sun has walked readers through the phases of the Urbana roundabout reconstruction since the project began in May. Urbana will have a ribbon cutting on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
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