Butler County officials adapting proposed Millikin Road Interchange to changing times

Preliminary estimate for a new Millikin Road interchange at Interstate 75 in Liberty Twp. is $72 million.

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Preliminary estimate for a new Millikin Road interchange at Interstate 75 in Liberty Twp. is $72 million.

As officials hone funding options for the proposed $72 million Millikin Road interchange in Liberty Twp., they are putting fresh eyes on potential development opportunities to make the most of the project.

Financial analyst Andy Brossart has conservatively estimated the interchange project, when fully phased out, is going to be worth $388 million in new investment. There are about 700 undeveloped acres slated for commercial development in the Millikin Road area, and the intersection and Cox Road extension to Ohio 63 would open better access to 1,200 acres — which would hold the equivalent of 12 Liberty Centers.

The Butler County commissioners are spending $15,000 for a consultant to take another look at the area surrounding the proposed interchange. Liberty Twp. is looking for an investment, likely in the neighborhood of $10 million.

“It has to be well thought out and has to be validated as an innovative, new development plan. I don’t know what that is,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “I know Liberty Twp. is working on it and we’re just trying to help and try to figure out what the new normal is going to look like.”

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the Journal-News that just like the county’s investment in huge projects like Liberty Center and the new Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill mega sports complex and convention center under construction in Hamilton, the commissioners need some assurances.

“It’s such a significant investment for the county, they want to ensure they have a third-party assess the property development plan and schedule and validate the valuations that are being proposed,” Boyko said. “Because that’s the foundation for the financing of the project. Before the commissioners commit to any kind of investment they have to believe it’s going to generate a return.”

With retail developments in a fragile state even before the pandemic, Dixon said developments they try to woo to a new interchange area don’t compete with Liberty Center or other Butler County businesses.

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According to the West Chester Twp. website, since the 1997 construction of the Union Centre Boulevard interchange there has been more than $3.8 billion in real and personal property investments; more than 40.5 million square feet of retail, corporate office, entertainment; and industrial development generating more than 43,600 jobs in the Union Centre area. Officials are hoping for similar success at Millikin Road.

“Millikin Road is not developer-driven like Union Centre was, they had a developer that was putting money in and building,” Dixon said. “This is not initiated by a certain developer, it’s sailing out there on its own. It’s kind of like some people say, ‘Well, you build it and they’ll come,’ that’s not going to work.”

Brossart told the Journal-News his company’s main area of expertise is not to predict future development possibilities but to assign potential values of an interchange to justify a tax increment financing (TIF) district.

He said there is about a 10-year build-out window, and the value to the area could initially be $25 to $30 million.

“There is a large hospital (Atrium) that has 90 acres or something like that out there so there is a belief there is going to be a hospital, noting though that they are exempt from taxation,” Brossart said. “So there will be some medical office but I would say the bulk of our analysis centers around commercial, light industrial and logistics pushed way far away from the interchange.”

The Butler County Transportation Improvement District is directing the process for getting the interchange approved at multiple levels. TID Director Dan Corey said officials have already cleared several major hurdles.

Corey said the feasibility study has also been approved, and officials are in the middle of another major component, convincing the federal government the interchange is needed. He said they have applied for $450,000 from the Transportation Review Advisory Council to continue engineering the project.

The Liberty Twp. trustees made the interchange a top priority years ago because they say they need to grow their commercial base to help lessen the cost burden of services on their residents, and they will build the project in phases to avoid larger potential debt.

“It makes a whole lot more sense to build out slowly and it may alter the end result as you go through the process,” said Trustee Steve Schramm.

Trustee Christine Matacic said the township is partnering with the city of Monroe in establishing a Joint Economic Development District as one cog in the financing machine. A JEDD helps protect the investment township is making against the threat of annexation.

It also allows the township to spread the financing responsibility to those who will benefit from the improvement, namely the new businesses who will populate the newly developed area. Townships are not permitted to charge income taxes except within a JEDD and only people who work within the district are charged, not the residents.

“It helps us pay debt off for the Millikin interchange, so the people who are actually benefitting, the businesses and employees that work in that area, are actually then paying for some of the services for that area,” Matacic said. “It’s not a savings to our residents but it keeps those costs in check.”

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