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.
“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.
Insurance premiums may be lowered in Urbana for local businesses
Going into January, the fire division’s classification was a four within the city and a nine for areas covered by the division and outside the city limits. The PPC rating system grades fire departments from 1 to 10. Class 1 represents an exemplary fire suppression program and Class 10 indicates that the area’s fire suppression program does not meet ISO’s minimum criteria. The four main components of the PCC rating system are fire flows, emergency communications, water supply and fire department capabilities. Prior to this year, it was difficult for areas without hydrants to receive below a nine since water supply accounts for 40% of the overall grade.
On April 22, ISO released the results from the survey completed by the division in January. The fire division received a Class 3 rating within the city and a Class 3X rating outside the city. The “X” after the three is a new classification that ISO believes has a better predictive value for insurers in evaluating both commercial and residential property. Urbana Fire Chief Dean Ortlieb said he believes that since both classifications are lower there is a likelihood that commercial and residential properties will have lower insurance premiums in the coming years.
Ortlieb credited Mayor Bill Bean, Director of Administration Kerry Brugger and city council for supporting the fire division and creating a road map to success. He said former Fire Chief Mark Keller and his staff deserve all the credit for putting systems in place and recording the data based off the previous PPC report. He also credited Water Superintendent Joe Sampson and his staff in working with ISO personnel.
“When I came to Urbana, I was impressed with the working relationship with the fire division and water department,” Ortlieb said. “This relationship has directly helped our community in fighting fires and saving lives. It now might also have the benefit of having lower insurance premiums for our community.
“When we started this process in January we broke down each part of the scoring system and made sure we had the data to support it,” he said. “I was pleased when we received the results, but not completely satisfied. I think we can do better. Although the fire division received high scores in five of the nine rating categories, we lost several points in the other categories by not having enough personnel for proper deployment and manning of equipment. If we can increase these numbers it is possible to even go lower in the classification ranking. We are still digesting all the numbers and developing processes within our control to improve on our next score. It is my hope that in time that we might even be able to make some changes to improve on the deployment and manning of equipment.”
Key development projects
Thanks to economic development investments by private businesses working with the CEP, Urbana – for the first time ever – ranked 41st in the Site Selection magazine’s 2017 list of top U.S. micropolitan communities.
Recent successes include the new Navistar distribution center, Memorial Health’s medical building, expansion of Weidmann Electrical Technology, opening of Nutrien Ag Solutions, Sutphen Corporation’s new Service, Parts and Refurbishment Center, expansion of Old Souls Farms hydroponic operations, expansion of Advanced Technology Products and purchase of the former Robert Rothschild Farm property.
Champaign County manufacturing jobs have grown from under 3,000 jobs in 2013 to nearly 4,000 in 2018.
Major projects for 2019 include:
The CEP is partnering with schools and businesses in numerous ways to help make sure Champaign County has the skilled workforce required by new and expanding businesses.
Results of these partnerships include:
For more information, call the CEP at 937-653-7200 or browse CEPOhio.com.
Makes good use of vacant building
Nearly $30 million in new projects were started in 2017 in Springfield, down to $16.8 million in 2018. But much of the investment and construction on permits spilled over into the next year as major projects can take years to complete.
“Just because you see the number and the valuation down in 2018 does not mean necessarily that the economy was down,” said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development. “It just means the timing may have been in 2017 when the permits were filed.”
In 2017, the city pulled 519 permits, but it pulled nearly triple that number at 1,533 last year, despite the sharp decline in total valuation. During a healthy economy, there’s typically an uptick in activity, but it doesn’t always translate to dollar value, he said.
“Depending on the types of expansion , they may have a little bit less valuation necessarily than a new construction, s o I think it’s really the type of investment versus the volume,” Hobbs said.
Instead of high dollar new construction, 2018 was full of several smaller permits like remodels at Walmart and Kroger, leading to the large number of permits despite lower values.
The economy saw strong growth in 2017 and many businesses began investing money in the Miami Valley, including Clark and Champaign counties.
“They had the extra funding or whatever was needed, so they took advantage of it in that year,” Jene Gaver, Springfield’s chief building official.
Several big projects boosted values across the region, including Wittenberg’s $40 million indoor athletic facility and Topre’s $55 million expansion in Springfield.
In Champaign County, more than $70 million in permits were filed in 2017 including Navistar’s $12 million manufacturing warehouse, a new Memorial Health facility, renovations on a new ColePak building and additions at KTH Parts Industries and Weidmann Electrical Technology, said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the Champaign Economic Partnership.
In 2018, Champaign’s permits dropped to $2.6 million in valuation.
“It’s just that the big projects did happen in ‘17 with openings in ‘18 and then for ‘18 we didn’t really have major projects going on, but I think we’re going to see more permits this year again,” said Bailey.
Looking into 2019
Springfield leaders echoed Bailey’s optimism, with Gaver saying he expects 2019 to outpace 2017. In 2018. the permits were smaller sprinkler, fire alarm and mechanical permits that followed the major construction values of 2017.
“It’s just timing, honestly. I project that in 2019 we’re going to see an uptick because there are a couple of bigger projects that are continuing into 2019,” Hobbs said.
Last year, Topre announced plans of another $73 million expansion. Along with the growth comes 138,000 square feet and 204 jobs at the Champion City Business Park. Topre has had back-to-back expansions since it first built in the city in late 2016.
Silfex also plans to finish its $223 million facility in 2019. When complete, the project will add 400 total jobs to Springfield.
A major housing development near the Tuttle Road Walmart could bring 226 new homes as well. Construction could begin as early as March or April on the 37 acres with homes meant to handle increased hiring in the region.
Other projects include a second phase to senior housing Community Gardens and a $5.5 million parking garage with funds from the state, county and city.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on . I mean , it’s just we’re constantly busy,” Gaver said.
Local investors in Champaign County are working on a proposal for a new Cobblestone hotel in Urbana. Mercy Hospital in Urbana is also continuing facade changes.
A potential downtown project could turn an Urbana building, along with North and South Elementary schools, into affordable senior housing. If that project develops, 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.
“If we see this hotel start being built , we’re hoping that’s going to spur more activity along that same corridor,” Bailey said.
How development impacts Springfield
Higher permit values are a good thing because they often represent more real estate taxes. Many of the big values that received incentives are about to expire, so the counties could pull more taxes, Bailey said. But it’s also a trade off because some new projects could also receive incentives.
“If you’ve got these high permits, usually it means you’ve got manufacturing coming in,” Gaver said. “When manufacturing comes in, it means more people; more people means more housing, so it just kind of trickles down.”
When commercial is up, usually residential is down and vice versa, but Hobbs said he expects both the be up in 2019 when hundreds of jobs could come to Springfield.
“The more money that’s generated here in the city of Springfield , the more people to come in here and spend money , the more places will be open up and survive,” Gaver said.
Even though permit values didn’t have high dollar values in 2018, it doesn’t mean the companies weren’t expanding and improving, Hobbs said.
“There is investment that goes on in companies that may not actually require the point of a permit , but that doesn’t mean that they’re not investing in , you know , infrastructure or they’re not investing in equipment or those kinds of things,” he said.
Clark County, which has its own building department had $14.6 million invested in permits last year, down slightly from the $15 million in 2017.
Parts of the planned $43 million Speedway expansion could also show up 2019 permits, boosting those values. The expansion could bring 200 new full-time workers over the next few years.
“There’s no science still , you know, it’s just like doing your budget , you kind of guess what’s coming in ,” Gaver said.
Local permit values
The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering business and economic development in Clark and Champaign counties.
by Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen
The Urbana City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the residential rental development proposed by Flaherty and Collins Properties to redevelop South Elementary School, North Elementary School and the Douglas Inn for senior apartments at a regular council meeting on Tuesday. A copy of this resolution will accompany Flaherty and Collins' tax credit application to the Ohio Housing Finance Authority by the Feb. 15 deadline.
"I think this is a fantastic opportunity, and I think Urbana would be very welcoming to this," said council member Doug Hoffman. "We've got three distinct structures that I think really need this for the revitalization of the properties. These properties don't get fixed up any other way, at least not in the near future, and it also helps some of the other entities in town like the school and the downtown. I think this is just fantastic."
"I'm really excited about this," added council member Pat Thackery. "We have a housing issue in the community anyway, and if we get some senior housing, that's going to open up some housing that seniors are moving out of so others can move in there, and that's going to help the housing overall. I'm excited. And we need exciting things like this to happen in town and they're happening."
As part of the proposed development, the council unanimously passed another resolution authorizing the acquisition of certain properties, an agency agreement with the Community Improvement Corporation of Champaign County to negotiate with a buyer to purchase and develop said properties, declaring said properties to be no longer needed for public purposes and to authorize the sale of said propertes.
CIC Economic Director Marcia Bailey explained that the Urbana school board passed a resolution last week approving the sale of North and South elementaries to the city for a dollar a building. The school board set the purchase price of both buildings at $354,000, to which Flaherty and Collins has agreed.
"I see a trend where all the good things that seem to keep happening are coming through collaboration, through another party and party deals," Hoffman said. "Everything's happening with two and three and four, even five people involved, and I think that's not anything that we've had for a long time that I can remember. The group that we have up here now is working some pretty nice deals for the city, and I think our citizens recognize that."
The Douglas Inn is privately owned and further action will not be required fromt he council to authorize its sale.
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
Key among questions at the meeting regarded tax reform legislation that was passed this week by the House and Senate. Regarding the legislation’s plan to reduce the federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, he said, employers will “plow that extra 14 percent back into their businesses … That is a good thing for all of us and a good thing for our country.”
Jordan also spoke about his desire for a second special counsel to be appointed to investigate the FBI’s activity in the Clinton investigation.
Last month, in another meeting organized by the CEP, Jordan spoke with representatives of local manufacturing companies.