Middletown opens bid process to operate senior, event center

City purchased Central Connections for $1.8 million with ARPA funds, but wants to get out of business.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

MIDDLETOWN — The city of Middletown has opened the bid process for the operation of the senior and event center, according to city documents obtained by the Journal-News.

Last year the city purchased Central Connections for $1.8 million with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc.

City officials said staff, in accordance with direction provided by City Council, issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the operation of Central Connections. The city will welcome all proposals for the building and services for Middletown seniors, the city said.

The care and wellbeing of Middletown citizens will remain “a top priority” when considering proposals for Central Connections, said Clayton Castle, communications manager.

The deadline for submissions is 11 a.m. March 19, according to the RFP.

The purpose of this RFP is to “engage with an event center management partner or regional non-profit with the vision and experience to create a signature destination for events, celebrations, meetings, and other gatherings in southwestern Ohio to work with the city in a public-private partnership to fully realize the property’s potential and benefit to the community,” the RFP read. “The selected operator’s presence will grow both event center operations and senior center programming and services to Middletown’s senior community.”

The overall objectives include:

  • Operate and grow event hosting and food and beverage service at the center.
  • Provide the city with in-kind or direct financial support to expand, staff and operate senior center services at the facility.
  • Senior center operations must be allowed to continue within the senior center portion of the facility during weekdays during regular business hours. Day-to-day senior services primarily only use the non-event center portion of the facility. The successful proposer may, with proper coordination of schedule, utilize certain meeting areas and other rooms in this portion of the facility as long as senior service/activities are not unduly impacted.
  • The successful proposer may use for its operations all or some of the office space in the facility.
  • Potentially reinstitute other ancillary services for seniors such as “meals on wheels” food preparation and delivery in the future by the successful operator or a related third party.

Two weeks ago at a City Council meeting, Pastor Scott Johnson from Crosspointe Church of Christ, 5630 Ohio 122, said the church building has been sold and Central Connections is the perfect location to move the congregation and take over operations.

Church services will be held at Crosspointe until the end of May, he told the Journal-News after his presentation. He said it would be “a no-brainer” if the city of Middletown sold Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave., to the church and allowed it to preserve the senior center and partner with a non-profit to operate the 600-seat event center.

He described a possible partnership as “a true victory for our senior citizens.”

Johnson said the church’s elders have not discussed a purchase price of Central Connections, which has a $2.15 million appraised value for its land and building, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

Central Connections found itself in financial difficulty after then Executive Director Diane Rodgers was terminated in July 2023. She is under investigation for possible theft, though no charges have been filed, according to Middletown police.

This is the second time Middletown residents have invested in the center. Voters approved two five-year, 1-mill senior levies that generated $7 million to provide or maintain senior services at the center. The levy expired on Dec. 31, 2022 after 10 years.

Counting the $1.8 million purchase price, $8.8 million in taxpayers’ money has been spent on the center in the last 12 years.

Since the city took over operating the center, hours have been reduced and senior services cut.

Central Connections: A timeline

Nov. 6, 2012: Middletown taxpayers pass a five-year, 1-mill levy to provide or maintain senior services at the Middletown Area Senior Center.

Aug. 16, 2015: The name of the Middletown Area Senior Center is changed to Central Connections.

May 2, 2017: Middletown taxpayers renew a five-year, 1-mill levy to provide or maintain senior services at the center.

November 2021: Diane Rodgers is hired as executive director. She says she moved from Reno, Nev., where she oversaw a senior center and worked with the homeless population, to be closer to her daughter who lives in New York.

July 29, 2022: Rodgers signs for a mortgage loan through First Financial Bank for $450,000, then does a loan modification that increases the amount to $650,000, according to the Butler County Recorder’s Office. Her signature and job title are listed on the loan that matures on July 29, 2024.

Nov. 1, 2022: Ribbon-cutting is held to celebrate the $1.5 million in renovations of Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave.

Dec. 31, 2022: Senior citizens center levy expires after generating $7 million over 10 years.

May 5, 2023: D.E.R. Development Co. files a lien against Central Connections, saying the company is owed $266,594.52, plus allowable interest.

May 31, 2023: Rodgers files vandalism report at Central Connections. Middletown police say that leads to the investigation of center’s finances.

July 24, 2023: The Council on Aging terminates its three-year contract with Central Connections. Fifty employees are laid off.

July 25, 2023: Nearly 75 senior citizens and former and current employees of Central Connections attend a meeting in the café with Rick Fishbaugh, board president, and Rodgers.

July 27, 2023: Rodgers is terminated as executive director of Central Connections and escorted out of the building by Middletown police.

Aug. 3, 2023: During a special City Council meeting and after an executive session, City Manager Paul Lolli announces council has agreed to move forward with the possible purchase of the Central Connections building and land and for an unknown amount that will come out of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund.

Aug. 5, 2023: In an email to the Journal-News, attorney Tyrone Borger, who is representing Rodgers, writes that he and his client have been “informed that there is an ongoing investigation. As such, while my client would like to comment and clear up several misconceptions. She is taking my advice and refusing to comment on any allegations at this time.”

Aug. 9, 2023: Middletown Police Chief David Birk says his department is working with the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation into the criminal investigation into the finances of Central Connections.

Aug. 11, 2023: Central Connections announces more layoffs and the closing of the cafe and bar. The hours are reduced to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Aug. 15, 2023: City Council votes unanimously to allow City Manager Paul Lolli to enter into a lease agreement with Central Connections. The lease is $50 per month. By the end of 2023, the city has the right to purchase the building and property for $1.8 million.

Aug. 21, 2023: Vincent “Scott” Smith, husband of the former executive director, arrested and charged with seven counts of passing bad checks, all felonies.

Aug. 23, 2023: Smith appears in Middletown Municipal Court for his arraignment. Judge James Sherron sets Smith’s OR bond at $5,000.

Sept. 6, 2023: A Middletown detective testifies that Smith’s signature on the seven bounced checks doesn’t match his signature on a court document. The charges against Smith are bound over to a Butler County grand jury by Middletown Municipal Court Judge James Sherron.

Sept. 19, 2023: Middletown City Council authorizes city manager to enter into an agreement to purchase Central Connections property for $1.8 million, using ARPA funds.

Oct. 4, 2023: A Butler County grand jury declines to indict Smith of passing bad check charges.

Oct. 12, 2023: City of Middletown closes on the purchase of Central Connections.

Jan. 20, 2024: During a special City Council meeting, a representative from a task force says the recommendation is for the city to lease the property to a company that can operate the senior center and event center.

Feb. 6, 2024: Pastor Scott Johnson from Crosspointe Church of Christ tells City Council his church is interested to taking over operating Central Connections.

Feb. 20, 2024: City of Middletown seeks RFPs to operate senior and event center.

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