A 1-percent lodgings tax hike approved Tuesday in Warren County is expected to finance a $15 million sports complex anchoring a 1,400-acre planned community.
The Warren County commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of the tax hike. A vote was delayed in January due to questions about the county’s willingness to own the complex to be located on 109 acres of the land to comprise Union Village.
The complex, on the drawing board for more than a decade, is to be built on land transferred from Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices to the county in exchange for tax abatements on commercial and residential development of the project expected to grow to 4,500 homes in coming decades.
Through a new community authority also approved by the county, property owners will be assessed to help pay for infrastructure and amenities in the community, projected to grow to more than 12,000 residents and draw as much as $1.5 billion in commercial investment.
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As a result of Tuesday’s vote, people staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns in Warren County, including visitors drawn to events at the sports complex off Ohio 741 and Greentree Road in Turtlecreek Twp., will pay 4 percent in county lodgings tax.
Virtually all of the county lodgings tax goes to the visitors bureau, including the new 1 percent to be dedicated to debt on the complex.
Still, supporters predict this will be more than offset by an increase in the number of hotel visits, growing hotel profits, as well as sales tax paid by players and their families during visits to what is already billed as “Ohio’s Largest Playground.”
“It will help Springboro and Franklin more than it does me,” said Michael Hogan, manager of the Marriott in Mason, where teams visiting the region for tournaments often stay.
According to the Ohio Department of Taxation data from August 2016, Hamilton County has the highest lodgings tax in the area, 6.50 percent. Warren County would be the second highest at 4 percent. Montgomery, Greene, Clark, Butler, Clinton and Clermont counties all tax lodgers 3 percent.
Cities and villages also tack on lodgings tax.
Phil Smith, director of the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which will operate the sports complex, and supporters spoke in support of the tax.
Some question whether there is sufficient demand for the sports complex, along with one in Butler County at the Voices of America Park.
But Smith said rather than competing, his office already collaborates with Butler County to draw large tournaments.
“We’ll work together even more,” Smith said to draw even larger events bringing more people to the area.
Ben Yoder said the Warren County Park Board was anxious for the sports complex to open across Ohio 741 from Armco Park.
Visitors are expected to rent picnic shelters, buy rounds on the Armco golf course and food at the park’s concessions stand, Yoder said.
“That’s our one good chance to to raise revenue,” said Yoder, reducing the park board’s need to turn to the commissioners for funds to improve the county system.
No opponents chose to speak during the meeting, but residents on New England Way, across Greentree Road from the other section of the sports complex, have expressed concern about how it would affect their lives.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they aren’t negatively impacted by this,” Commissioner Tom Grossmann said.
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Grossmann also questioned relying on taxes primarily from people not living - or voting in Warren County - to fund the complex.
“The person who’s not here today is the guy who’s paying the tax,” he said. “What’s the justification?”
Commissioner Shannon Jones said those visitors unwilling to pay the tax could make other arrangements or stay elsewhere, but would find the lodgings taxes even higher in neighboring Butler and Hamilton counties.
Next Martin Russell, a deputy county administrator and director of economic development, said the county would begin locally shopping for one or more banks or other institutions with the wherewithal to finance the project.
Barring a delay, construction of the sports complex is expected to begin this year so competitions can be held next season.
Work on the first section of Union Village, including housing and a town center, is to begin next spring, across Ohio 741 from Otterbein’s main retirement campus.