A short stretch of a main Lebanon thoroughfare, just north of its historic downtown, could soon see a transformation totaling more than $25 million in development if plans on multiple projects move forward.
If all goes as proposed, new projects will include: a $450,000 veterans memorial, a $15 million development featuring restaurants, a brew pub, apartments and town homes, a $7 million fire station and a $3 million event center.
They would be built in the coming year along the 0.7-mile stretch of Broadway Street between Berry Intermediate School and the Warren County Fairgrounds. Some of those plans have been approved and are ready to move forward, while others are still being considered by the city council.
One piece could be affected by a council decision on another proposal. In August, the city council and local school board weren’t ready to sign off on an amphitheater proposed by Jim Cohen, developer of six acres of city property at 511 N. Broadway. Cohen proposed the amphitheater on the lawn at Berry, the community’s historic school.
Cohen, head of CMC Development, could not be reached for comment on how the amphitheater decision would affect his willingness to go forward with the overall project.
“At this point, I cannot say what CMC’s position would be on the project without the proposed amphitheater,” City Manager Scott Brunka said in emails after the meetings Tuesday with the school board and city council on the project.
Instead, officials called for public meetings and more detailed plans before moving forward on the amphitheater.
City council approved construction of a veterans memorial on land also owned by the school district along Broadway in front of Berry Intermediate School.
Brunka said the project was expected to cost about $450,000, including a monument by Lebanon-based Laser Imaging, which also created the veterans memorial in Springboro.
Restaurants, brew pub, housing
The council was supportive of Cohen’s proposed $15 million development, despite a range of subsidies including a 15-year abatement on property taxes on the improvements.
A brew pub with a streetside beer garden and two popular restaurants have signed letters of intent to open new locations on the frontage on Broadway. Cohen would also build 18 town homes in a four-story building and 86 apartments in three-story buildings behind the commercial strip.
Councilwoman Wendy Monroe said the tax abatement “really doesn’t faze me,” realizing the residents of the apartments and town homes Cohen wants to built are expected to spend about $1 million a year at Lebanon businesses.
Brunka said Cohen hoped to begin construction early next year. The council and staff also noted Lebanon was in competition with other communities for such projects.
“If you snooze, you lose,” Monroe said. “My concern is we don’t do anything and we just get the leftovers.”
The city should be able to tax earnings of $2 million by workers at the restaurants and brew pub Cohen is proposing along Broadway.
Letters of intent presented to council indicated that Cozy’s Cafe & Pub, Two Cities Pizza and the Casual Pintwould be part of the development. Cozy’s Cafe & Pub has a Liberty Twp. location, Two Cities has a Mason location and the Casual Pint is based in Knoxville, Tenn. with three other locations in the region.
Two Cities co-founder Sean Spurlock said a location proposed in a CMC development in Hamilton, the Marcum, hadn’t fit the company’s expansion plans.
“While that location did not work out for us, we are very interested in the prospect of locating to the proposed development area in Lebanon,” Spurlock said in a letter to Cohen.
Jan Collins, the Cozy’s proprietor, wrote, “From what we have seen thus far, the city of Lebanon project is the one.”
Cohen is also seeking a sales tax exemption through the Warren County Port Authority, as well as other subsidies.
The city had been considering putting a new safety complex on the former city maintenance garage site at 511 N. Broadway. Purchase of a fairgrounds tract for the fire station would leave the former garage site open for Cohen’s development.
Consultants reporting to the city council estimated the new fire station could cost as much as $7.5 million. City officials were projecting fire station cost closer to $5 million.
“It’s definitely something we are going to have to look at,” Brunka said.
The council seemed ready to support purchase of the six acres on the southeast corner of the fairgrounds for $210,000.
A November levy is expected to seek part of the funding for the new station, which would replace the downtown station. That site is expected to be acquired by LCNB for parking for the new administration building in downtown Lebanon.
On Tuesday, commissioners continued to press for budget cuts to bring the cost of a fairgrounds event center to less than $3 million budgeted.
Deputy Administrator Martin Russell, who also directs the Warren County Port Authority, told the commissioners the project could make budget if it were taken on by the port authority. That could result in in the event center being owned by the port authority and leased to the fair board.
A similar arrangement exists at the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village, which is owned by the port authority and leased to the convention and visitors bureau. As a result, no sales tax is paid on the construction, because the county fairgrounds land is tax exempt.
Cohen listed the sales-tax exemption — at the expense of Warren County and the State of Ohio — through leases with the port authority among the incentives he wants on the 511 N. Broadway development.
Commissioner Dave Young questioned Russell’s suggestion that revenue from the city buying the fire station land would help the event center project make budget.
“We’re selling a county asset to make up that gap,” Young said.
Russell said the event center plan had already had been downsized from 21,000 to 17,000 square feet. Commissioner Shannon Jones said further cuts could leave it less unmarketable.
“I would be really cautious about building something and they don’t come,” Jones said.
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