The future of the Manchester Hotel and the adjacent Sonshine Building remains uncertain after attorneys for developer William Grau were permitted to withdraw from the case against the city of Middletown. FILE PHOTO

Manchester developer hopes a settlement with Middletown to move forward

Last week, a Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster granted a motion by Cincinnati-based Keating, Muething & Klekamp to withdraw their representation of developer William Grau in a year-long legal dispute with Middletown. The case remains active as Grau obtains a new attorney.

“The Manchester Hotel LLC, Snider Building LLC and ML Group Design & Development are ready, willing and able to move forward with the project and hoping to reach a speedy development with the city that will allow us to resume demolition, begin abatement and complete the project in a timely fashion that will in turn benefit the downtown Middletown revitalization effort and spur economic growth,” Grau said.

MORE: Middletown, developer to enter mediation in dispute over buildings the city sold for $1

Jennifer Ekey, Middletown’s economic development director, declined to comment on the city’s position or if Grau’s organization has applied for state or local incentives, citing the issue remains in pending litigation.

Last December, the city invoked a reverter clause in the 2014 Sale and Development Agreement, claiming Grau did not fulfill the agreement or make sufficient progress. Grau purchased the properties for $1 each from the city by agreeing to redevelop the buildings. He said he was going to invest about $10 million to redevelop the Manchester as a boutique hotel and the Snider Ford building into a microbrew and pub.

The improvements to the Manchester Hotel, which closed in 2011, were to be completed by Nov. 15, 2016, and the Snider Building was to be brought in compliance with applicable state and local building, zoning, and building maintenance codes within 24 months of closing, according to a letter the city sent Grau in October 2018.

Neither deadline had been met as of Oct. 4, 2018, according to the city’s letter, which gave Grau 60 days to complete the contract obligations and was told to have all personal property removed from the 97-year-old building by Dec. 4, 2018.

MORE: Middletown’s fight to reclaim a historic downtown property continues with coming hearing

Grau’s attorney filed a complaint on Dec. 18, 2018 and claimed interior demolition work commenced on June 20, 2018, and the timeline for completion had been extended.

Oster issued a temporary restraining order on Jan. 3 pending court hearings that have since been continued. As part of the temporary restraining order, Grau was to obtain general liability insurance for the properties and install secure fencing that previously existed around the Snider Building. Until the subject had been fully litigated, no one could enter, alter or make any encumbrance on the buildings.

MORE: Middletown could once again own the former Manchester Inn — which they sold 4 years ago for $1

Grau told the Journal-News via text that it is the intention of all companies involved “ to work with the city of Middletown to redevelop the Manchester Hotel as a boutique hotel and conference center and the Snider Building as a microbrewery and distillery as planned.”

MORE: Sale of Manchester Inn finalized

Grau said the Manchester Hotel LLC, Snider Building LLC and their development partner ML Group Design and Development LLC have secured $14 million in funding for the redevelopment, which includes a $10 millon loan. He said a hospitality management group has also been secured to operate the Manchester Hotel and the Snider Building microbrewery and distillery.

The balance of the funding would include state and federal historic tax credits, and the incentives previously outlined in its agreement with the city and other incentives offered by the city.

MORE: Closing Manchester Inn a ‘tough decision’ — necessary step for a more secure future

Grau said he hopes an agreement can be reached with the city that is mutually beneficial.

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