$200 million destination project off I-75 moving forward

3,000-seat event center would anchor Middletown development

There are limited entertainment options to draw motorists off Interstate 75 in Middletown.

There is Liberty Way in Liberty Twp. to the south and Austin Landing in Miami Twp. to the north.

Now it appears the city of Middletown is ready to join those entertainment destinations if plans for a $200 million investment in the East End come to fruition.

City leaders and developers have referred to the project as “transformational” when discussing plans for 50 acres at the southeast corner of Ohio 122 and Union Road.

Middletown City Council last week held a public hearing beginning the process of changing the zoning to allow for the development.

Developer Todd Duplaine, on behalf of the owners, Fischer Family Foundation and the city of Middletown, said the plan is to construct a 3,000-seat, multi-purpose Event Center, Class A retail and office space, hotels, restaurants and a variety of residential products on the property.

While Duplaine said the project is in its early stages, he’s confident, with the support of Middletown and Warren County leaders and private and public partnerships, “this thing is going to happen. We just have to keep solving problems.”

The project would attract full-service, high-end hotels, premium and fast-food restaurants, townhomes that would sell in the $325,000 to $425,000 range and a medical complex that could complement the two East End hospitals, he said.

The biggest draw would be the multi-purpose Event Center that has the potential to host youth sporting events, mid-level concerts, conventions and high school graduations. To those residents concerned about excessive traffic, Duplaine said the center won’t be another 13,435-seat University of Dayton Arena.

The project could improve the quality of life for local residents and generate sales and property taxes, according to Duplaine.

He called it “a good, first-class front door on the East End.”

Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey thanked city staff and Duplaine and his team for the time and dedication spent on the project that is “pivotal to the refreshed identity of the city,” she said.

Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahall has said the goal is to have the final closing on the project in the middle of the fourth quarter of 2023 with construction beginning the first quarter of 2024 with completion in 2026.

The city is pledging upwards of $4.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in support of the project. The city also will be responsible for installing certain public infrastructure improvements on and around the project site at an estimated cost of about $21.7 million to be funded through bonds secured by TIF revenue.

Martin Russell, executive director of the Warren County Port Authority, said tourism, the largest industry in the county, generated $1.4 billion in 2021. He believes the Middletown project, located in Warren County, has the potential to create additional tourism dollars that will be spent throughout the region.

He said the city of Middletown and Warren County have “joint and mutual desires.”

This project is similar to what former City Manager Jim Palenick envisioned at the Towne Mall Galleria space.

In November 2022, council unanimously approved City Manager Paul Lolli cancelling the city’s purchase agreement with George Ragheb, the California-based owner of the Towne Mall. Before that, council unanimously approved the city spending $1 million of the total $16 million price tag to purchase the Towne Mall Galleria, located just off I-75 near the Ohio 122 exit.

But after “conducting extensive due diligence efforts” and examining the final financing costs for the redevelopment of the properties, the city concluded that acquiring the properties at the previously agreed to price was “not feasible,” according to the staff report.

Russell said while he originally preferred for the development to be located at the Towne Mall, he believes once the East End project is complete, it may “help the Towne Mall in the long run.”

Other private development will want to be located near the Event Center, residences, hotels and restaurants, according to Russell. That would give the mall “a second shot” of redevelopment, he said.

But right now, the East End development is top priority.

“This project, on its face, was too good to let go someplace else,” Russell said after the meeting.

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