Butler County cities still vying for brownfield redevelopment dollars

Butler County cities are still hoping to get some of the $500 million in state money to remediate brownfields and tear down eyesores such as the Middletown Paperboard site and the former Forest Fair Mall.

When the state biennial budget passed, it allocated $150 million for commercial and residential demolitions and $350 million for brownfield remediation. Each of the 88 counties were automatically awarded $500,000 for demolition and $1 million for brownfield remediation, which is the removal of hazardous materials left when industrial, or even commercial such as dry cleaners blight is downed. No local match was required.

Fairfield, Hamilton and Middletown applied for the brownfield remediation grant. Fairfield submitted a $1.4 million application to clean up the old Fairfield Cleaners site. Hamilton wanted $1.2 million to clean up the old Mohawk Fine Papers’ Beckett Mill property. Middletown was hoping to get the full $1 million no-match grant allotted to the county for the $2.8 million project to down the gutted Paperboard site.

Fairfield was the first county application in and was awarded a little more than $1 million.

“The city is excited to receive the grant award to clean-up the Fairfield Cleaners site. When the state committed $500 million to brownfields and vacant properties, our department made it a priority to ensure that some of those funds made it to Fairfield,” Economic Development Manager Nathaniel Kaelin said. “As a mature, largely built-out community, we need to continue to redevelop and repurpose some of the older parts of the community.”

Middletown missed the filing deadline for the Paperboard project but the Warren County Port Authority was awarded $1 million for Towne Mall Galleria redevelopment. Prior to the state grant program the city had asked the county commissioners for $2.4 million — as part of a larger $6.6 million request — of their $74.4 million coronavirus relief funds for the project.

The commissioners have said they want to invest in the project and will hear more about it today. City Councilman Rodney Muterspaw said the city is still trying to get part of the state pot of money.

“The former management missed the deadline and that was catastrophic for us. Thank God the county came through and said we will help you with because that’s a $2 million hit to us, it was a $2 million mistake...,” Muterspaw said adding if they get the state grant. “If we did end up getting that, which I don’t know if we will because it’s late in the game, then the county would not have to help us.”

Hamilton Economic Development Specialist Stacey Dietrich said there was an issue with their application for state funds, they needed more data, but they are still pursuing funding just not as much. A large portion of the property is under a purchase agreement with Becket Lofts LLC for a $50 million investment to construct at least 250 market-rate apartments.

She said they plan to apply for $204,000 from the state for a more in-depth study of what needs to be done to clean up the property and “we have an end user and they would take on that remediation cost and demo based on the scope of their project.”

Todd Walker, chief communications officer for the Ohio Department of Development said they received 204 applications from 59 counties totaling $262 million for the brownfield grant by the Jan. 31 deadline and extended the second round of funding until the end of this month for counties that did not apply or didn’t use their entire set-aside. He said they will be announcing more brownfields awards “in the near future.”

The Butler County Land Bank was in charge of applying for grants for the demolition portion of the program. The county is guaranteed $500,000 and the Land Bank applied for $9.5 million. The bulk of the money, if approved, would go to topple the old Forest Fair Mall — now called the Cincinnati Mall — along Interstate 275 that straddles Fairfield and Forest Park. The total mall demolition is estimated at $10.5 million and there is a $2.6 million local match the developer would cover.

Land Bank Executive Director Seth Geisler submitted 51 projects including the mall, 26 Hamilton eyesores, 15 Middletown properties, 4 others from Fairfield and one each from New Miami and Lemon, Liberty, Ross and St. Clair townships.

Geisler said all he has heard from the state is it will be “months” before they hear about the awards.

Walker said the Demolition and Site Revitalization Program deadline was February 28.

“We received applications from 79 counties totaling $172.1. million,” Walker said. “We are currently engaging counties that did not fully utilize their set-aside, this number may change in the next few weeks.”

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