Could Middletown replicate Marcum apartments success at Swallen’s lot?

Could a large downtown lot be redeveloped into residential housing in downtown Middletown?

Members of Middletown City Council, city staff and some key stakeholders took a field trip Thursday to The Marcum Apartments in downtown Hamilton to explore the possibilities of building residential apartments on the property where the city garage and Swallen’s store once stood on Verity Parkway.

Jim Cohen, president of Blue Ash-based CMC Properties, and his team met with Middletown council members about The Marcum project and its success since it opened in late 2018. He believes that the success in Hamilton can be recreated in Middletown.

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“We recast buildings into to new lives and Middletown is a perfect candidate for this,” Cohen said. “I wouldn’t consider downtown Middletown without the coffee shop (Triple Moon Coffee Company).”

Cohen said having the Cincinnati State campus nearby would also be a plus and called the city’s efforts at Middletown Regional Airport “amazing.” However, he said the city will have to work to overcome its past image of having drug issues. Cohen said Hamilton also had to overcome some image issues.

He recalled being attracted to Hamilton’s downtown and other amenities downtown and around the city because aspects reminded him of his hometown in Boston, Mass.

“People thought I was crazy but the locals (representatives) kept saying ‘believe in us,’” Cohen said. “CMC Properties was concerned about getting $1,000 a month for rent in Hamilton… We’ve had phenomenal success in Hamilton.”

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Cohen said the company did a lot of pre-leasing of its 102 apartments and while they were expecting a lot of empty nesters, they also picked up more Millennials than anticipated. He said the complex was at full occupancy within 90 days of receiving the certificate of occupancy from the city. As of Thursday, the occupancy rate remains at more than 90 percent, he said.

“We have a mix of everything in the 18 to 85 age range who want to have an active lifestyle,” Cohen said. “People want to go to an authentic downtown. You can’t recreate this today. You have to build a new product to compliment the downtown.”

The complex features apartments with one to three bedrooms, varying from 800 to 1,410 square-feet. Market rate rent runs between $900 to 1,500 a month. Cohen said he expects to see a return on the investment in four to five years and the city is looking at a 50 to 100-year payback.

Located at 115 Dayton St., the $15 million mixed use development sits on three acres where the former Mercy Hospital garage was located. The four-story, L-shaped building, which also contains five retail spaces and some garages for tenants, over looks Marcum Park as well as the Great Miami River and various trails nearby. Cohen said there was no need to put a fitness center because the Great Miami YMCA is located a block away and the new Spooky Nook sports complex is just across the river.

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He also stressed the importance of having a strong public/private partnership. He praised the efforts and creativity of City Manager Joshua Smith to overcome obstacles the project faced, adding that the “the relationship between the city manager and developer is critical.”

Cohen said the city of Hamilton contributed the land, built the $6 million Marcum Park and the RiversEdge Amphitheater and concert series across the street, provided $2 million in streetscaping and agreed to a 15-year tax abatement. In addition, Hamilton also created a grant program that if a tenant worked and lived in the city for two years, they could receive a grant to pay down their student loans.

Other recent successes by CMC Properties include the Loveland Station project, a project in the Milford area and are working on other projects in Lebanon and Mason. CMC Properties also own Olde Towne Apartments in Middletown.

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After the tour, Traci Barnett, executive director of the Middletown Community Foundation, said she would like to see this type of project in Middletown

Council members agreed with Barnett and were excited about the possibilities.

“It’s a beautiful building. I’d love to see something like that in Middletown,” said Councilman Talbott Moon. “As it is with all projects, it comes down to money and feasibility.”

Councilwoman Monica Nenni agreed and could see the impact The Marcum is making on Hamilton. She also liked the way the building was seamlessly integrated into the downtown and park landscaping.

“Anything that could make an impact like that in Middletown would be a good thing,” Nenni said.

Councilwoman Ami Vitori said a similar project could work in Middletown.

“This is a blueprint that’s been successful elsewhere,” she said. “It can help the entire city by bringing new people to Middletown.”

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