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.
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.
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.
$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.
“(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.
Click here to read full article on SpringfieldNewsSun.com.
“We do a lot of work in weak-market cities like Springfield, Toledo and elsewhere, but are more interested in making sure our communities are vibrant, sustainable places that people want to stay in and places that people want to move to. So, we do research to understand what are the challenges and opportunities in the state.”
In the analysis, GOPC plans to examine all components of the county’s housing market, including existing market housing conditions, obstacles and opportunities for housing, and housing affordability. The group then will provide recommendations to strengthen the housing market’s competitiveness in a draft to the steering committee by October, then as a final report by the end of the year.
“What we are wanting to provide you with is a road map for how to move forward on the goals that you are setting for yourselves,” Goebel said.
Goebel said that the finished product would sync closely with the comprehensive plan now being finalized by the Logan Union Champaign (LUC) Regional Planning Commission.
A similar report GOPC is finalizing for the city of Springfield contains 16 recommendations divided into six categories, providing what Goebel said is a concrete set of to-do items after she leaves.
A preliminary finding is that most of the people who work in Champaign County also live here, but that more who work here would move here if there were more housing options.
While there is a statewide need for market-rate housing such as single family homes and rehabilitation projects, Champaign County also needs housing affordable to low- and moderate-income individuals, Goebel said.
Goebel said that the study would focus on the municipalities of Urbana, Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and St. Paris, which contain almost 50% of the county’s population.
GOPC researchers will spend the next several months gathering and analyzing data about Champaign County real estate as well as interviewing developers and other stakeholders. For more information, contact the GOPC at 614-224- 0187.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304.