Middletown council approves study to consider $75M project near Great Miami River

This 10.9-acrea lot could be used for a hotel, convention center, retail space and dining in Middletown, according to city officials. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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This 10.9-acrea lot could be used for a hotel, convention center, retail space and dining in Middletown, according to city officials. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Middletown City Council unanimously approved Tuesday night an emergency resolution allowing the city to spend $250,000 on a feasibility study to determine whether there’s a market for a $75 million mixed-use project near the Great Miami River.

City Manager Jim Palenick told council the project would be located on the 10.9 city-owned acres. The project could include a mix of a hotel, convention center, shopping and dining, he said.

He said the land is located in an Opportunity Zone that allows for preferential tax treatment and Middletown could take “full advantage” of those benefits.

“These are reasons why this can work,” Palenick said.

For the last six months, Palenick, city council and David Rachie, one of the developers with OZH&R, have discussed the project. Rachie and Palenick worked on a similar project when he was city administrator in Racine, Wisc.

Rachie said his company receives numerous requests for development and chooses only a few projects. He toured downtown Middletown and called it “very quaint.” He sees potential in the downtown businesses, future development and has been impressed by the city staff and leadership, he told council.

“We look for special places,” he said of his firm.

Another benefit of a project in Middletown: There are more than 18 million people who live within a 2.5-hour drive of the city, he said.

Prior to Tuesday night’s council meeting, Palenick and Rachie talked about their plans for the project in an exclusive interview with the Journal-News.

Palenick predicted the project has the potential to “transform” the downtown.

“It’s very viable,” he said. “I’m very excited.”

After the feasibility study that may take five months, Palenick said the city can make a “go/no go” decision.

If council approves the project it would take 18 to 24 months to complete, he said. By that time, the coronavirus pandemic will be over and people will be excited about traveling again, he said.

“Perfect timing,” he said. “We can’t wait to get started.”

They also envision the Sorg Opera House, the former Manchester Inn and the First National Bank property benefitting from the project. Rachie toured the Sorg and said 23 billion people attend live music venues every year and that number is expected to rise by 10 billion over the next seven years.

The riverfront project, located near the Sorg, would create “a huge opportunity” for the venue, he said.

Palenick and Rachie also are excited about the location of the project and its proximity to Spooky Nook Champion Mill Sports indoor sports complex and convention center site being built in Hamilton. Spooky Nook is expected to attract 1 million visitors yearly, and many of them will need lodging.

Middletown also hopes to renovate the Towne Mall Galleria and add ice sheets for youth competitive and recreational hockey and indoor go-carts. Palenick believes Middletown’s plan will complement, not compete with Spooky Nook.

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