Redevelopment of Lebanon’s former city garage site, on the drawing board since 2015, is to be delayed again.
The Lebanon City Council agreed Tuesday to give the developer of a $15 million downtown redevelopment project there a 90-day extension because of COVID-19 concerns.
At the work session, available to the public via live stream and on YouTube, City Manager Scott Brunka said the city and developer Jim Cohen were about to close on transfer of the property for the project when Cohen asked for the extension out of concern on how the economic downturn expected as a result of the pandemic would affect the project’s financing plan.
“They need a little bit of time to see the ramifications,” Brunka said.
Mayor Amy Brewer expressed support.
“Understandable,” Brewer said before agreeing to sponsor the legislation approving the extensions.
In 2015, the city decided to use racetrack redevelopment funds — set aside after legalization of racinos in Ohio — to raze the city garage. This was a key step toward realization of long-range plans to stretch the downtown business district and brighten the northern gateway to the city.
The city council approved the original development agreement with the company formed by Cohen for the project in November 2018. The existing deadline dates were set in July 2019.
The city has agreed to develop a park next to the development, to include 18 homes, 84 apartments and 12,500 feet of commercial retail space just north of Berry Intermediate School.
The project is now also expected to include property north of the former city garage site and part of the school-bus garage parking lot.
Road improvements calming traffic and establishing roadside parking are also to be financed by the city.
The company formed by Cohen has been given a wide range of other financial incentives.
In the past month, stay-at-home restrictions have stifled the economy and prompted dire predictions for the long-term effects.
“Due to the economic impact that the coronavirus is having, the developer has requested a 90-day extension to the project dates outlined in the development agreement,” Brunka said in an email before the meeting.
Recently Catch-a-Fire Pizza, currently operating from MadTree Brewing taproom in Cincinnati, was announced as the first business in the development’s retail strip.
“The ideal time to break ground on this would have been April 1,” Cohen said before Tuesday’s meeting.
The extension would give Cohen until Oct. 31 to break ground.
He said the extension was needed “given where we are right now in the crisis.”
Initial excavation could still be done, but framers and dry-wall workers used in later phases could be at risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus, Cohen said.
Cohen said an ongoing project would be different, but wants to “take a deep breath because we can.”
“Right now there are more questions unanswered than answered,” Cohen said. “We’re certainly going to put the safety of the workers before anything else.”
The extension, to be voted on April 14, would take the completion deadline into 2023.
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