What’s next for the Forest Fair Village redevelopment?

Nearly 70.7 acres of the 90-plus-acre mall are in Forest Park; Vandercar is seeking to rezone 49.5 acres from Planned Business to Industrial Park.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Forest Fair Village, which straddles the cities of Forest Park and Fairfield, has a new suitor in hopes to do something productive with the property.

For decades, the property that has seen a number of owners and names — including Cincinnati Mills and Forest Fair Mall — has struggled since its early years of operations when it had seemingly thrived. It was hoped that Hillwood Construction Services would buy the property as they had a plan to develop an industrial park. But those plans are null as the Dallas company made a business decision and walked away from that project.

The property is a logistical challenge beyond splitting two cities. It is also in two counties and falls within three school district boundaries.

Vandercar, a Cincinnati-based developer, is seeking to purchase and develop the troubled property for an undisclosed amount from Cincinnati Holding Co. LLC, and has started the rezoning and development process with Forest Park, which the city council held the ordinance to a first reading on Monday, June 17. The second reading is set for July 1 when a vote could take occur.

The idea Hillwood had pitched a couple of years ago is similar to what Vandercar is seeking to accomplish — an industrial park. But Vandercar looks to have a mixed-use component on the Fairfield side, according to the plans presented to Forest Park. Nothing at this point has been discussed or pitched to Fairfield, according to the city’s Development Services Director Greg Kathman, who declined this week to offer any comment on the possible project.

Nearly 70.7 acres of the 90-plus-acre mall are in Forest Park, and Vandercar is seeking to rezone 49.5 acres from Planned Business to Industrial Park.

Cincinnati Holding Co, LLC owns the property initially developed as a large enclosed shopping mall. Vandercar’s vice president of development and design, Steve Dragon, couldn’t be reached for comment before the Journal-News print deadline, but the company is seeking to purchase the property as it requests a zoning change, according to the application submitted.

The change in Forest Park, a northern Hamilton County suburb, would allow Vandercar to develop a four-building industrial park within Forest Park. According to the proposal, the requested changes would not alter the previously proposed development, and maintain similar types of uses, such as two retail locations, a proposed fueling station and two out parcels.

The zoning change would be for the eastern, or rear, section of the property, which is just more than 49.5 acres. Vandercar is asking to change that zoning to the Industrial Park District classification, which would, according to the application request, facilitate the demolition of the enclosed mall, enabling the construction of new developments aligned with prevailing market needs and demands.

The planned business park zone would have buildings “meticulously designed to cater to the requirements of modern retailers, service providers and restaurants,” according to Vandercar.

Demolition of the site would cost between $10 million and $20 million, and the Butler County Land Bank is the grantee of state funds to help pay for some of that demolition. The county land bank held a sub-recipient agreement with the previous developer, Hillwood, and can transfer that agreement to a new developer, said Seth Geisler, executive director of the Butler County Land Bank.

That funding is $7.9 million, and the land bank has an extension for the funds through Dec. 31, 2025, which is the current deadline for projects to be completed according to the fiscal year 2022-23 Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program guidelines.

“If another extension would be needed and if possible, we would have to work with the Department of Development and any potential sub-recipient,” Geisler said.

Development of this site is important, he said, as evident by the approval of the previous project by the Butler County Land Bank Board of Directors in February 2022. This was done with the expectation of job creation and the removal of blight, including the parking garage that sits almost exclusively in the city of Fairfield.

“For us to move forward with the project and a new potential sub-recipient, I foresee the Butler County Land Bank board of directors expecting the same out of the new site plan,” he said. “Our objective is to remove blighted properties that will improve the quality and safety of communities, increase land values, return properties to the tax rolls and to support opportunities to develop property that will help spur economic development and create jobs.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

In the Vandercar application, the change in zoning “is vital to accommodate the evolving demands of the industrial market and foster job creation within the area.”

The proposed three buildings ― which would be 301,804 and 336,560 and 248,640 square feet, respectively ― are slated to exhibit what the company called “institutional quality” and are suitable for single or multiple tenants. These structures are intended for a variety of uses, including light industrial, manufacturing, high-tech and medium-tech manufacturing, warehousing and distribution.

The two retail spots, which face Winton Road, would be up to 50,000 and 120,000 square feet, respectively, with permitted outdoor sales at the larger of the two spaces. The two out parcels, which are near Interstate 275 are 1.5 and 1.7 acres, respectively.

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