Former Forest Fair Mall demolition is again delayed

Schools receive most of property taxes and must be involved in incentive talks.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The demolition of the former Forest Fair Mall that straddles the border of Fairfield and Forest Park has been delayed again as the developer works out tax incentive packages with both entities to facilitate redevelopment of the 90-acre site.

The Butler County land bank sought and received an extension of the $7.9 million state grant until the end of 2025, to down the eyesore that sits along Interstate 275. Before developer Hillwood Construction Services actually buys the site — currently valued at nearly $10 million on the Butler and Hamilton county auditor’s websites — they are seeking tax incentives and rezoning from Fairfield and Forest Park in Hamilton County.

Fairfield Development Services Director Greg Kathman told the Journal-News the city hasn’t received any official incentive or rezoning requests yet.

“My understanding is that they will probably look for some property tax incentive either in the form of abatement or TIF financing,” Kathman said. “They’ve not really engaged with us yet, the Forest Park side of the line is a little more important because they have more land involved and two school districts.”

Since the schools receive the lion’s share of property taxes, they must be involved in incentive talks. The schools are typically given cash payments to make up for the lost tax revenues.

Chris Anderson, Forest Park’s director of community development, told the Journal-News Hillwood is negotiating a tax incentive package with City Manager Don Jones. Jones couldn’t be reached for comment.

“They’re negotiating with the city manager,” Anderson said. “I have not received a zoning application yet, I expect that one will be forthcoming before the end of the year. They don’t want to submit that until they get this other issue taken care of.”

Ben Davis with Hillwood said he can’t comment until they own the land, but told Fairfield officials recently they would retain and improve the existing Kohl’s department store and plan to build four speculative buildings. Closest to I-275 will be two buildings, one 300,000-plus-square-feet and the other 262,000-square-feet. The other two buildings would be nearly 354,000 and nearly 269,000 square feet.

“These buildings are prominent in Fairfield and West Chester,” Davis said. “(It’ll) be a very similar look and feel and function of the buildings we would deliver.”

He told the land bank board previously these would be light industrial buildings that could have a value of $150 million and potentially produce 900 to 1,500 jobs.

Hillwood met with the both city councils and when he visited Fairfield in April the plan was to submit a formal rezoning application within 60 to 90 days and expected a five-to-six-month rezoning process.

They hoped to take title of the property, which was put under contract in October 2021, by the end of the year, begin construction in late 2024 and deliver buildings by mid-third quarter of 2025.

The land bank is involved because the developer asked them to apply for a demolition grant through a state program that provided $150 million to help raze commercial and residential eyesores. The land bank won $8.7 million of it and $7.9 million was earmarked for the mall demolition, there is a $2.6 million local match the developer pays.

The land bank received a grant extension until next June earlier this year and this latest delay takes the mandatory demolition completion deadline to the end of 2025. Land Bank Executive Director Seth Geisler said the tear-down will take nine months to a year.

The grant wasn’t awarded until last fall so it would have been impossible to get all the puzzle pieces together and the huge structures downed by the deadline.

The other 43 Butler County demolitions included in the grant award cost $972,856 with $94,668 in local match money. They were completed by the original deadline in June. There were 25 in Hamilton, a dozen in Middletown, three in Fairfield Twp. and one each in New Miami and Liberty and St. Clair townships.

The land bank has no say over what is eventually developed on the 90-acre site, the municipalities have full control. Fairfield Mayor Mitch Rhodus told the Journal-News previously while he would be thrilled to see the eyesore demolished, he isn’t wild about warehouses at the city’s front door.

“Getting it demolished is a great idea, we’ve been wanting it done,” Rhodus said. “We’re very encouraged but we’re more concerned with what’s going to be the next product. It’s a gateway to the community so we’re concerned with what plans and what companies want to bring to us.”

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