Proposed $1.3B Hollywoodland plan stalls when majority of council members don’t vote

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
Caption
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

Future of riverfront, downtown development unclear after Thursday’s meeting.

In the nine months since Middletown City Council heard about a proposed riverfront development, the scope and cost of the project expanded, the developers changed their company name and now the plans are stalled due to ethics concerns.

Council was scheduled to vote during a special meeting Thursday on the proposal or table the decision until the Dec. 7 meeting as suggested by the developers, Main Street Community Capital LLC, formerly OZ Hotels & Resorts. They wanted seven weeks to answer some of the residents’ concerns expressed during recent council meetings.

Explore$1.3 billion Hollywoodland project called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to transform Middletown

But after hearing Thursday night from about 20 Middletown residents, most of whom said they don’t support the proposed Hollywoodland $1.3 billion entertainment and destination complex, the five-person City Council didn’t have the necessary majority three members needed to vote on the project.

Of the five council members, Monica Nenni and Ami Vitori, said they’re concerned about possible ethics violations because they operate downtown businesses near the proposal and Vice Mayor Joe Mulligan said he would recuse himself because his family lives near the development.

Only Mayor Nicole Condrey and councilman Tal Moon appeared ready to vote Thursday night. Condrey said she doesn’t support the plan and Moon said he supports the project that was expected to bring 3.5 million visitors annually to the city.

Nenni, who has two years left on her four-year term, and Vitori, who is not seeking re-election, said they contacted the Ohio Ethics Commission and legal counsel about potential violations if they vote because of conflicts of interest.

Now, it’s unclear when council will vote on the proposal.

“It’s really frustrating,” Condrey said at the end of the meeting. “We will punt it.”

Thursday’s meeting, the third consecutive when the Hollywoodland project was the hottest agenda item, drew an overflow crowd that packed council chambers.

At the end of the meeting when Ben Yoder, the city’s law director from Bricker & Eckler LLP, said no vote could be taken, several people yelled from the back of the room the issue should be tabled until after two members of council are elected Nov. 2.

A statement from the city, in part, read: “City of Middletown Charter requires the affirmative vote of a majority of the members of City Council to adopt (or to deny) any piece of legislation. No such majority was obtained this evening, therefore no action will be taken on this matter unless the legislation is included on a future Middletown City Council meeting agenda and acted on by a majority.”

City Manager Jim Palenick said the city would use $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funds and would combine that with financial support from the state. City Council approved spending $250,000 in March on a redevelopment study to determine whether a large-scale, hospitality and destination entertainment-focused project could be “economically viable and sustainable,” the city said.

The city expects to spend $700,000 to $800,000 more in legal, engineering, lobbying and professional consulting services and activities in support of the public improvements, according to the staff report.

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


HOLLYWOOD DEVELOPMENT PLANS

  • 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

WHAT RESIDENTS ARE SAYING

Twenty-two Middletown residents spoke during Thursday night’s special City Council meeting and a large majority said they’re against the proposed $1.3 billion Hollywoodland, an entertainment and destination project planned near the Great Miami River and historic downtown.

Here are some of their comments:

Steve Hightower, president of Hightower Petroleum: He called Hollywoodland “an opportunity to do something great” and the city “cannot be afraid of progress.” Then he added: “A city without vision will perish. We have been dying for a long time in this city.”

Pastor Lamar Ferrell, Berachah Church: He told council members they have “a very difficult job” and asked them to “pause” and make a decision they “can live with.”

Marty Kohler, former city planner: He wanted to know why a project of this magnitude appears to be rushed and that causes citizens to “lose faith and trust in local government.”

Josh Laubach, owner of Rolling Mill Brewing Co. near where Hollywoodland is planned: He questioned why the developers from Main Street Community Capital LLC, weren’t investing in the city. He said that shows they “care very little about this town.”

Joseph Cox: He told the five council members their vote will “control the city’s destiny” and residents are “clamoring against this.”

Renae Fossum: She encouraged council to reject the proposal. “It’s just plain wrong.”

Brian Duba: The longtime attorney said he has read the “massive contract” and some of the language doesn’t make sense. “It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said. He said the city could spend $7.5 million in ARPA funds and get nothing in return.

James Stiver: He said growing up in Middletown as a young boy he dreamed of becoming a teacher and joining the circus. He taught in the Middletown district for 35 years, he said. “Right now as I speak, I have accomplished both.”

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