Liberty Center working to create new events, add tenants to boost winter visitors

The company that took over leasing and management of Liberty Center a year ago is looking to implement changes to help improve the overall experience at the $350 million Butler County development, officials said.

The center is seeing increased attendance to all its events, concerts and movie nights, according to John Taylor, Liberty Center’s general manager, who started in the role after the transition took effect last September.

Liberty Center’s goal for the winter is to offer new events and bring more shoppers to its indoor mall, The Foundry, as well as the entire complex, Taylor said.

“Last year … the mall itself and the area seemed to go dormant and that’s the first time I ever experienced that in my retail (career), coming from a warm climate area,” Taylor said. “I think we’re (going to) have a focus this winter and this holiday season of doing more to make sure the center stays active.”

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Those plans come after a state audit obtained by the Journal-News earlier this month showed the Liberty Community Authority owes Butler County nearly $840,000 for infrastructure bond repayments made in 2018 on the mega mixed use Liberty Center. Including two payments from a county fund toward bond payment shortfalls this year, the LCA owes the county just over $1 million in all.

Each month, LCA takes in revenue from two sources, a facilities charge from commercial activity and a property assessment charge. Those revenues are designed to provide the funding necessary to cover bond payments. The county fund is only used if those revenues are inadequate.

The audit showed revenues from those sources totaled $1.376 million last year, and two bond payments are almost $2.3 million.

The announcements of two new businesses coming soon have generated buzz among Liberty Center tenants and patrons, Taylor said. In the Game is set to open, “more than likely,” in the first quarter of 2020, and Agave & Rye, which has locations in Lexington and Covington, will open Oct. 27, Taylor said.

“We’re excited to bring (Agave & Rye) in and looking forward to going after someone who brings that vibe of OTR and Covington area up here to some of the younger families and the people who don’t want to make that drive to Cincinnati but still want to attend those places and those type of (businesses),” Taylor said.

Tenants at the center, during the most recent meeting with Liberty Center officials, said they’ve seen a “direct effect” on attendance as a result of the increased amount of events, the newly implemented Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA, which allows patrons of area bars and restaurants to purchase an alcoholic beverage and walk around the center with it.

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“When we do have events, they see a 20 to 30 percent increase in sales during that time thanks to DORA, specifically,” Taylor said. “A lot of tenants are working to understand how to better serve the public and work within what DORA provides.”

Having tenants compliment JLL for its work at the center is “a first sign of things turning around and things starting to change,” he said.

“Not only is it business-wise, but it’s also (their) overall feeling and motivation-wise,” Taylor said. “They’re getting involved. They’re actively doing things that work with their neighbors, so we’re excited about that.”

In additional, Liberty Center is working to bring temporary tenants for the holiday season and will continue to work with Giorgio Karras, one of three JLL vice presidents tasked with handling retail leasing at the center, to find local tenants, Taylor said.

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“We’re having multiple talks with people for different spaces available out here,” he said. “This property shows really well and I think if we can get people out here to see it … we can make a deal to have them here.”

It helps, he said, that Cincinnati Children’s Sabin Hall, one of two Liberty Center event spaces, “stays booked up” with numerous events while Unity Chapel by TriHealth hosts weddings “from time to time,” Taylor said. Center officials have met with AC Hotels by Marriott representatives on how to increase that, he said.

“I think there is more that we can do and we’d like to see ourselves do more. What we’re working to figure out is how can we better serve those people who are using it,” Taylor said.

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