Two of Ohio’s fastest growing townships are bouncing back from the economic doldrums of the past several years with a slew of new commercial development, including everything from shopping centers, restaurants, hotels and banking to medical offices, business offices, manufacturing and storage facilities.
Both West Chester and Liberty townships are seeing a jump in the amount of new commercial building permits issued, creating not only buildings in both communities, but short and long-term jobs, as well.
West Chester is up to 14 such permits issued so far this year compared to seven in all of 2013. Liberty Twp., which had three such permits last year, is up to 22 this year due in large part to 15 permits for 2.14 million square feet of development at Liberty Center, including buildings and parking garages.
That’s a sign, experts say, that better days have not only returned, but can be expected to follow in the months and years ahead.
Thomas Hall, professor of economics at Miami University, said the revival of commercial construction is tied to cyclical changes in the economy.
But rather than searching for and moving into existing space, businesses are opting to build new structures out of necessity, he said.
” New buildings have a lot more electricity requirements than the older ones had,” Hall said. “One of the problems is that a lot of old existing buildings don’t work real well for modern businesses because they don’t have the electricity connections that are necessary. The choice is to go out and build a new building or rehab the old ones and rehabbing the old ones is pretty expensive.”
In addition, there hasn’t been a lot of construction going on nationwide since the recession, he said.
“You would expect it to eventually bounce back because some of the older buildings have gotten torn down, new businesses come along and want more commercial property, so yeah, you’ve got to build it,” Hall said.
Dr. Rebecca Molina, who is bringing a 3,910-square-foot dental office to Towne Centre Drive just off Hamilton-Mason Road, said she chose to have a new structure built rather than expand in the Liberty Building across the street or look for new existing space. That’s because constructing a new space is more cost effective, won’t affect her daily business during construction, and can be better built to suit her needs.
Renovating existing space for dental use is a very involved process and is not like moving a traditional business, such as a law office, Molina said.
“The plumbing for dental is very specific and a lot of times what they need to do is … get under the concrete slab of the building to put plumbing in and it becomes very expensive,” she said.
Building a new commercial building, as opposed to continuing to rent, is a worthwhile investment, Molina said.
“I’m almost 10 years (into my career), and when you have another 20 or 25 or 30 years ahead of you, renting a space as big as I was going to build is very costly and you end up with nothing at the end of it,” she said.
Developer Mark Sennet is bringing more than 38,000 square feet in retail and office projects to six acres on Cincinnati-Dayton Road between Wyandot Lane and Bethany Road in Liberty Twp. He also applied Wednesday to rezone 6.4 acres on Hamilton-Mason Road in West Chester for a proposed retail and office project that calls for 18,540 square feet of development in its first phase, with 16,850 and 11,000 square feet in its second and third phases.
Although the township’s land use plans shows commercial use extending along Cincinnati-Dayton Road as far north as Kyles Station Road and along Ohio 747 from Princeton Road to Ohio 4, Sennet said the reality now is that Liberty Twp. has limited commercial property fronting main thoroughfares.
That’s one of the major factors that go into his decision, and the decisions of others, when it comes to developing land in Liberty Twp., he said.
“If you think about it, from the Ohio River to Dayton, it’s just an ideal place to be because of the logistics,” Sennet said. “I-75 runs Michigan to Florida and we happen to be outside of the (Interstate) 275 belt north, so … people who are in (Cincinnati), who want a new house and quick access to the expressway, and some work at GE and Ford and other places, they came to West Chester.”
In addition, West Chester and Liberty townships offer “great interstructural planning,” Sennet said.
Another factor attracting developers and businesses are large-scale projects like the $350 million mega retail Liberty Center project, which is scheduled to open next October, as well as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops announcing they would open West Chester Twp. locations in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
“Those are big draws,” Hall said. “People come from far and wide to go to those stores. I would think they would attract smaller retailers. They’re going to magnet and I think … some other retailers would want to piggyback on that.”
Caroline McKinney, Liberty Twp.’s economic development director, said Liberty Twp. is 2 percent commercially developed today and, as outlined in its most recent Vision Plan, the end goal for commercial development is 18 percent.
McKinney said the township anticipated this year’s surge in new commercial building growth because they’ve been working on the Liberty Center project since 2008.
She said Liberty Way Interchange, Liberty Center, the expansion of Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus and the addition of a proton therapy and research center there all have been, as expected, catalysts for growth and sparked additional interest in the area.
Mike Juengling, West Chester Twp.’s community development director, said the township’s land use plan shows about 6,355 acres set aside for commercial development, of which about 1,462 acres remain to be developed.
Juengling said it is gratifying that investors continue to find high-value development opportunities in West Chester and that the community’s reputation continues to attract development.
“As a government, we continuously strive to work with stakeholders to sustain and improve upon the existing system of infrastructure and invest in those features that make West Chester one of the best places to live in America and a place where businesses prosper,” he said.
For each new commercial building constructed there are obvious beneficiaries, such as the companies that produce the materials that go into the buildings, including roofing, masonry, tile, electric components and other elements, Hall said.
Workers who constructing the building receive additional income, allowing them to spend more, he said.
In addition, new construction raises property values in the area, potentially making neighboring property owners wealthier, Hall said.
There are also benefits for residents who own property in either township.
“Business is going to bear more of the tax burden,” Hall said. “Property owners should benefit if the politicians don’t just spend all this money, just squander it away.”
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