Liberty Center faces $700K debt payment shortfall by 2021

Liberty Center could be more than $700,000 short on debt payments by January 2021 if fund projections don’t increase, according to a firm’s assessment of the center’s finances.

That forecast from CPA and advisory firm Clark Schaeffer Hackett came as a new company prepared to take over leasing, managing and marketing the mixed-use facility in Liberty Twp.

Birmingham, Alabama-based Bayer Properties takes the reins today from Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), following a decision to switch things up by Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance Inc., which owns the 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use development.

The shortfall is projected to arrive by July 2020, when payment is due on an Ohio Water Development Authority loan, according to the firm’s cash flow projections. The Liberty Community Authority, which pays the debts with fees it collects from businesses, faces its next shortfall for that payment.

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The 2020 snapshot also forecasts that there may not be adequate resources to pay a bond payment and another OWDA payment that come due in December 2020.

Altogether, projected shortfall by Jan. 1, 2021 is more than $705,000, according to the LCA.

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The LCA is responsible for maintaining garages and stormwater systems at Liberty Center and paying off the debt incurred to build those. To do so, it uses a facilities charge of one half of one percent, which the public pays during each transaction at a Liberty Center business. It also uses an assessed value charge levied against the properties on the site, but it is unable to create additional revenue streams or adjust collections.

What can boost the total fees collected by LCA is an increased amount of businesses filling vacant spots in the $350 million project, more money being spent there or both.

Liberty Center’s financing was in the public eye earlier this summer after developer funds meant to pay off bonds for the project were more than $211,000 short for the last payment.

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Officials said in June that U.S. Bank dipped into a Butler County tax increment financing fund to make up the difference, so all the payments were made.

LCA board members said they’re hoping to receive detailed communication about strategies and steps that Bayer Properties takes in the face of these looming shortfalls.

LCA Chairman Phil Morrical said he is “encouraged” that Apollo recognized there was a need for some changes and that it is in the process of making them.

Liberty Center is Bayer’s first property assignment in Ohio. With the addition of Liberty Center, the firm has expanded its portfolio by more than 2 million square feet this year. Ten members of the Bayer Properties team visited Liberty Center for two days the week before Thanksgiving to get a better understanding of the site, Turner said.

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