Middletown council divided on proposed $1.3 billion ‘Hollywoodland’

Artist renderings of the proposed "Hollywoodland" development in downtown Middletown, which city officials say would bring $1.3 billion in investment and thousands of jobs to the city. CONTRIBUTED

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Artist renderings of the proposed "Hollywoodland" development in downtown Middletown, which city officials say would bring $1.3 billion in investment and thousands of jobs to the city. CONTRIBUTED

Mayor says she plans to vote against emergency legislation; three others in favor; one uncommitted.

After attending a 6 1/2-hour City Council meeting, followed by a 90-minute executive session, members appear to be divided on the feasibility of a $1.3 billion proposed entertainment, event, dining and retail project in Middletown.

On Tuesday night, council members and residents who packed Council Chambers heard the first reading of an emergency legislation that would allow City Manager Jim Palenick to enter into an agreement with Main Street Community Capital to design and build “Hollywoodland” on more than 50 acres near the Great Miami River and historic downtown.

Explore5 things to know about the proposed $1.3 billion ‘Hollywoodland’ project in Middletown

About 20 Middletown residents, mostly from the Historic District, expressed their concerns during the citizens comment portion of the meeting. They’re worried about the additional traffic that the estimated 3.5 million yearly visitors — the amount of people who went to Kings Island in 2019 — would bring downtown and how their quiet neighborhood would be disrupted.

Among those who spoke against the development were Larry Mulligan, former Middletown mayor; Marty Kohler, former city planner; T. Duane Gordon, former executive director of the Middletown Community Foundation; and Cathie Mulligan, longtime educator and member of the Middletown City Schools board of education.

Mulligan said it felt like the city was “rushing through this.”

Kohler, who wondered if there is a demand for hotels downtown, asked council to “please vote against this project.”

Cathie Mulligan, who lives on South Main Street, said she has “many doubts to the success of this project” and it will “change the neighborhood.”

Gordon and his husband, Matthew Dixon, live on South Main Street and Dixon’s law office is on North Main Street. Gordon said their home and business are less than 100 feet from the proposed project.

“It will impact us deeply at home and work,” he said.

On Wednesday, the five council members were asked about their opinions of the project that has been discussed for months in executive sessions.

Mayor Nicole Condrey said she was concerned about the proposed financing of the project, its location, miles away from the interstate, and whether the developers could complete such a massive project.

“It’s like they want us to roll the dice and I don’t like to gamble,” Condrey said. “I’m all for a calculated risk, but this is more than that. This is a risky gamble.”

Councilmembers Tal Moon, Monica Nenni and Ami Vitori said they support the project.

Moon said it’s “difficult to wrap my head around” a project of his magnitude and he thinks it’s important to communicate plans with concerned residents.

Nenni said she has lots of faith in the city staff and Palenick and said the project has the ability to “really transform” the city.

She believes that if council rejects the plan, the developers may take the idea to a neighboring city. She doesn’t want that to happen.

“It creates a better Middletown,” Nenni said.

Vitori said the $1.3 billion investment shows the builders “see the value of our community.”

Vice Mayor Joe Mulligan said he was still studying the information and hadn’t decided how he’s going to vote on Oct. 21.

Mulligan wants to get residents’ opinions and “not rush into a decision,” he said.

He likes that a company is investing in the city and creating jobs that will fund some of the city’s core services.

If the legislation is considered an emergency as it is now, it would have to pass by a 4-1 margin. If it’s changed to a non-emergency, it would have to pass 3-2.

The Hollywoodland concept is the first for Main Street Community Capital. It has plans to build several similar projects, said David Elias-Rachie, one of the principles.

Elias-Rachie said Hollywoodland Ohio “will work. You have the tools in this state.”

Palenick praised the work of the city staff, the developers and the financial experts. He pointed at them at the meeting and said: “My reputation is on the line.”

The ‘Hollywoodland’ development is expected to include:

  • A destination Marriott hotel and attached, publicly owned convention center with roof-top bar, themed restaurant and assorted amenities.
  • A second, family-oriented hotel and water park.
  • A third, historic, boutique hotel located within the adaptively-redeveloped First National Bank building.
  • A major, indoor entertainment and concert venue for large, nationally and internationally acclaimed artists and touring Broadway productions.
  • An indoor amusement park containing multiple, themed entertainment-based rides, virtual reality experiences, immersive entertainment opportunities and integrated retail, food and beverage.
  • Structured and integrated underground deck-based publicly-owned parking with more than 3,000 spaces.
  • On-site, mid-rise, luxury, market-rate apartment units and/or condominiums.
  • Permanent, pre- and post-production motion picture studio sound stages and support offices and infrastructure.
  • Multiple, restaurants, bars, brewpubs, and cafes, and a likely comedy club.
  • Integrated fashion, electronic, lifestyle, convenience, and recreational retail.

SOURCE City of Middletown

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