‘An absolutely huge deal’ for Middletown: Development at Ohio 122, Union Road approved

MIDDLETOWN — City Council took the next step toward bringing a mixed-use, multi-million development to the East End.

Council unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday that authorizes City Manager Paul Lolli to enter into a preliminary development agreement with Woodard Development and the Warren County Port Authority concerning the planned development of a project on 58 acres at the southeast corner of Ohio 122 and Union Road.

“This means great things for the city,” Lolli told the Journal-News after the meeting. “It’s an absolute huge deal. Every day we are getting closer to realizing that a small idea will be a transformative thing for Middletown.”

For the last several months, after the city pulled out of purchasing the Towne Mall Galleria for a similar project last year, the city, Woodard and the port authority have been “working diligently” to bring the development to reality, according to a staff report.

Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahall, who made the presentation during the City Council meeting, said the preliminary development agreement creates “legal framework” among the three parties and defines their “roles and responsibilities.”

Final details will be outlined in a development agreement to be executed later this year, according to a staff report.

Cahall said the goal is to have the final closing on the project in the middle of the fourth quarter of 2023 with construction beginning the first quarter of 2024 with completion in 2026.

According to the provisions of the agreement, the city is pledging to work toward the acquisition of the remainder of the project’s property, establishing a new tax increment financing district to support the funding of public infrastructure construction, and pledging upwards of $4.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds in support of the project.

The city also will be responsible for installing certain public infrastructure improvements on and around the project site at an estimated cost of about $21.7 million to be funded through bonds secured by TIF revenue.

Woodard is tasked to be the master developer of the non-event center portion of the project and backstop the eventual debt financing of the public improvements facilitated by the TIF district. Woodard will construct “a first-class” mixed-use development that may include a dense mix of apartments, townhomes, retail, outlots, restaurants, entertainment, office, medical office, and a hotel in coordination with the city, according to a staff report.

Woodard will invest about $72 million in the project site over an eight-year period, according to the city.

The project will be anchored by an arena and event center.

The port authority is designated as the developer/financier for the event center portion of the project through a conduit debt issuance and other actions to be taken by the port, according to the city report.

In November 2022, City Council unanimously approved Lolli cancelling the city’s purchase agreement with George Ragheb, the California-based owner of the Towne Mall. Before that, council unanimously approved the city spending $1 million of the total $16 million price tag to purchase the Towne Mall Galleria, located just off I-75 near the Ohio 122 exit.

But after “conducting extensive due diligence efforts” and examining the final financing costs for the redevelopment of the properties, the city concluded that acquiring the properties at the previously agreed to price was “not feasible,” according to the staff report.

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